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The Challenge of Accessibility: Desire, Fantasy and People with Disabilities

Still from a Hindi film 'The Dirty Picture' (2011). A brown woman has open black hair, is wearing a black bindi, and a bright-coloured, deep-neck blouse. A man behind her is touching her waist. There are piles of oranges in the garden around them. They both are singing a song.

Every fantasy is a deeply personal experience, shared or otherwise, and related or not to sexuality. Fantasy – the absence or presence of it, the denial or acceptance of it, the joy or the distress of it – plays a big role for most people in the way they construct their sexuality (or that of another) and in the ways in which they experience sexual pleasure and desire. Familiar images and voices author or echo common fantasies and construct mainstream sexuality.


The image above is from an article in Super Streetbike Magazine, which says, “Motorcycles are damn sexy. So guys, it goes without saying that the motorcycle you ride makes a powerful statement about your sexual prowess.”

Let’s do the quick deconstruct first.

Sexuality = much more than sex, physicality, and ‘going-all-the-way’, to include emotional, mental, social and personal experiences, relationships and constructs.

Fantasy = Not-reality, born of the imagination, evolving with the imagination.

The relationship between the two = They help build each other, so sexuality and sexual fantasy mix in a way that is hard to separate.

Leather and motorcycles is a reality for some people, may be a part of how they construct, express and present their sexuality, and may be based on fantasy or may lead to fantasy. Equally, a fasting woman with flowers and a sieve in hand through which she looks for the moon (as part of a traditional ritual in which she prays for the long life of her husband) is playing out a shared and carefully constructed, collective fantasy within a patriarchal society. It is part of the  sexuality in the relationship of marriage, within the frame of  prescribed custom.

Images in popular media and commercials create, recreate and reiterate common fantasies that are expressions of sexuality, in a particular, defined context of age, body, and sexual identity that is accepted.

The general attitude towards sexual fantasy, and the reflection of such fantasies in popular imagery, erotica and erotic porn is constructed on assumptions of ableism.  There are other fantasies though, that reflect or are born of the sexuality of their creators and consumers, persons who do not fit into the accepted age, body or sexual identity. The voices ahead are part of a growing conversation that we need to listen to.

Voice 1:

“In her sexual fantasies, she is a fit and impetuous blonde who dominates her male partners. In real life, she is a …”

Voice 2:

“…you will have to ‘storyboard your sex’, as I like to say. You can sit with your prospective partner and lay out exactly what will work for both of you. You can discuss what gets you off, what might hurt, and what might feel funny or amazing… ”

Voice 3:

“We talk to each other. We do whatever we want. We ask each other whatever we want. At the end of the session…”

Voice 4:

“Being bound, and gently but firmly had.”

These four voices reflect experiences that shed much light on sexuality and fantasy, but perhaps not quite in the way we understand either of the two. Insights into the personal experiences behind Voice(s) 1, 2, 3 and 4 will only come from hearing them out, putting them in context.

Voice 1 continues the description thus: “In real life, she is a virgin who relies on an electric wheelchair, her body touched only by home care aides and medical personnel.” This voice is referring to Laetitia Rebord, in her thirties, who has experienced sexual discrimination as a person with a disability and says of it, “A disabled person is seen as a child” … “So inevitably, child and sex don’t go together.”

Voice 2, which sounds like a plan of action for sharing a sexual fantasy with another, belongs to Andrew Morrison-Gurza, a disability consultant who campaigns and catalyses discussions on queering disability.Just before the business of storyboarding sex, Andrew says, “There is a misconception in our society that good sex is spontaneous, hot, and surprisingly silent. In my experience this is particularly prevalent in queer hookup culture. Each partner is simply supposed to read the other in that exact moment, and from this create this sexual fantasy. That all sounds amazing, but we all know that that is not true life or reality.”I think one of the things this means is that true life and reality need a little well-constructed fantasy.

Voice 3 belongs to Daniel Doriguzzi, approaching 50. He has a condition called Friedreich’s ataxia that affects physical coordination and speech. His complete sentence is,“We put ourselves in a bubble and become a normal couple. We talk to each other. We do whatever we want. We ask each other whatever we want. At the end of the session, we break the bubble.” There it is. The perfect understanding of shared fantasy. He is referring to his sessions with Aminata Gregory, a trained sex therapist and sexual assistant.

Voice 4 is part of a description reflecting a study of the experiences of older people in a book called Early Bird Special!!! And 174 Other Signs that You Have Become a Senior Citizen. The full quote is,“… ‘I never daydream anymore of making it with movie stars, or athletes or even villains,’ they say. ‘I no longer fantasise about being bound, and gently but firmly had,’ they lament…”

Andrew’s storyboarding example is such an interesting way to approach sex. Storyboarding is also pretty much the way a fantasy works; it’s a storyboard in the head, except that it’s collaborative, with a consenting partner who is deriving pleasure from being a part of it.

When a fantasy is being shared or acted out with others, the operative words are collaborative, pleasure and consenting. If it’s not consensual, pleasurable or collaborative, yet drags another person into it, it is more likely to be harassment, violence, or abuse.

Strewing flowers upon another’s pillows to fulfill your sexual fantasies, if the other is not interested, is at the very least, sexual harassment and depending on the context could be terrifying for, and abusive of, the recipient of such attention. Whips and restraints, used consensually, between consenting partners playing out a shared fantasy, may not in fact be abusive.

Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality is an odd thing; it needs thought and it needs to be talked about.How do we discuss this if we don’t have all the voices that reflect the diversity of human experience? How do we talk about it if we don’t speak about fantasies, sexuality, and the relationship between the two?

Three of the voices above share a similar context: that of people who experience disability. The fourth voice reflects another context: ageing.Their perspective on all things in life, including sexuality, impacts and is impacted by this experience.These voices are amongst the rare few that reflect these diversities.

Images and stories, the fantasies based on constructions of sexuality,and merchandise for sexual role-play caters to a particular type of fantasy – that of the body and therefore to a particular type of person who lives in that body. This is within the accepted ‘norm’. A person with a different kind of body, one with an impairment, or of a different kind of intellect and a different category of psychosocial experience may not find anything on the shelves in terms of writing, audio books, toys or other means of expressing sexuality through fantasy.

While it’s true that much of a fantasy, like much of sex and sexuality, is in the mind, it is also true that expressions of sexuality based on fantasy require or may lead to some degree of activity, of doing. Some people have taken up the challenge of accessibility and you will find a product called an accessible vibrator on the Net: “The Rumble is incredibly lightweight, and truly ergonomic – so it’s comfortable to hold, without putting much strain on the hand.” Or this: “If someone has limited pelvic movement, the thigh harness that straps around the leg is a great option for an intimate lap dance.” These are significant discoveries. They imply a respect and acceptance of great diversity amongst human beings, just as much as they imply an acceptance of the role of sexuality and fantasy in well-being.

Finally, I came across information about a study of sexual fantasies, open to participants in 2014, on Dr Justin Lehmiller’s blog, Sex and Psychology. There was an invitation to participate in “The Largest Study Of Sexual Fantasies Ever”. I sent out a Tweet to him to ask about the results of this survey and he Tweeted back saying he’s still working on an extensive report. I look forward to reading that when it’s done. I hope it reflects a wide range of voices and experiences.

Meanwhile, it’s time to think about our own take on sexuality, fantasy and diversity. We all have the right to story ourselves or re-story ourselves, to identify and construct our own sexuality, understand and explore our sexual responses in relationship to ourselves and to others. Fantasies are a part of those stories of self, sexuality and relationships.

हिंदी में इस लेख को पढ़ने के लिए, कृपया यहां क्लिक करें।

Cover image from the Hindi film The Dirty Picture (2011).