Both sexuality and disability are complex terrains, offering a realm of possibilities that are often made unnecessarily complicated and unattainable by the mental maps we draw of them and the artificial barriers we erect.
Disabled people might not have many spaces where they can speak openly about their sexual experiences or even sexual curiosity. There is a heavy monitoring of disabled young people especially, and this can mean that exploration, which is often how many of us discover sexuality, can be limited. Moreover, since the experiences of disabled people are not seen in popular media such as films, we can (and probably do) imagine we will have the same or similar experiences as non-disabled people – which is often not possible.
I cannot let anyone see the stretch marks, the cellulite, the saggy breasts. I cannot reveal my hideous body. I feel anxiety well up inside me even as I visualise this eventuality. I read about ten ways for a fat person to have meaningful sex. I learn that throwing a cloth over the bedside lamp will help hide my flaws.
What vindicates the argument that women with disabilities (WWDs) should be deprived of sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights is scary. Harmful stereotypes of WWDs include the belief that they are hypersexual, incapable, irrational and lacking control. These narratives are then often used to build other perceptions such as that WWDs are inherently vulnerable and should be ‘protected from sexual attack’.
In the spirit of the Games, I watched the Netflix film Rising Phoenix which documents the history of the Paralympics and its impact on the world in making visible the topic of disability. It also tracks the personal and professional journey of some of the top Paralympic athletes who share their challenges, frustrations and motivations.
Everyday Feminism’s comic illustrates the complexity and diversity of sexuality, revealing how sex can sometimes be pleasure-affirming and sometimes not, and asks us to talk about ALL KINDS of sex – the good, the bad, and the hilarious.
Dr. Lindsey Doe debunks myths around disability and sexuality, at once carving out space for affirming and inclusive discussions and challenging negative and harmful stereotypes. Emphasising the sexuality of people with disabilities as rich and diverse, Lindsey wonders what inclusive sexual and reproductive health and rights really mean.
There have been several recent examples of actors, movies and events being called out because of their lack of representation, like for the Oscars. With social media it is easier to create and distribute diverse art and also to voice the need for diversity. So it needs engagements and awareness in society. Change will happen once enough people demand that change.
The social value of the platonic relationship needs to be restated: Too many boys today grow up with the idea that their relations with women (who are not their mothers and/or sisters) are confined to an oversexualised romantic bubble.
Trans rights activist Kanmani Ray succinctly lays down the concerns around the Act, points out how its language reinforces the gender binary and highlights the fact that while seeking to protect the rights of trans people, the Act in fact discriminates against them.
The discursive power vested in audio-visual media can prove to be emancipatory if it seeks to re-write the scripts of love, to expand it to include various subjectivities, disturb the patriarchal gendered dynamics that it is based on by introducing a story that allows the audience to imagine it in various different ways.
While pop culture will continue to exist in the mainstream, it also provides us the scope to create alternative narratives and/ or counter-narratives that question, challenge and unpack the existing stereotypes and norms.
In fact, once when I referred to Sheriff Callie (a cartoon character) as a man, I was sternly told she is a woman. Doc McStuffins, another of their favourite cartoon characters, is a smart girl who can fix anything. She inspires my nieces to think boldly.
When representing sexuality, these stories went beyond dramatic and one-dimensional representations of sex and sexual orientation.