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Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

A zine exploring the intersection of

Disability & Sexuality

Summer 2015 - intersecti0ns.wordpress.com - @Lntersections


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

INTRODuction I confess I had never really been much of a fan of zines. They seemed an irrelevant and edgy throwback to the 90s with little purpose today. But since being involved in their production my opinions have thankfully changed: the problem wasn’t the medium, it was the fact that the first zines I’d read had little to no relevance to me. I am disabled. The way I interact with my body & my sexuality is, for me at least, radically altered by this fact. In line with a neoliberal perception of disabled personhood, I feel my gender, sexuality and worth dissolve; my interactions with my body are stilted and to be avoided at all costs. Since reaching out on the subject of disability & sexuality, I have learned that I am not alone in struggling with this intersection. This zine exists as a space to explore and chronicle the interactions we have with our bodies in light of our disabilities & illnesses - mental, physical, or both. This intersection splinters further, to gender, race, body politics, class. As I was beginning to attempt to advertise this zine on multiple platforms I found it difficult to make it clear just how open it was to submissions from people with all kinds of bodies, minds, and experiences. When visualising what I wanted this zine to become I was flummoxed about how to go about actually collating and publishing it: I have no eye for detail, a complete inability to draw, have never been labelled anything close to “neat” and am possibly one of the most uncreative people you could ever come across. I harbour a deep envy for anyone who can, with little effort, make something look beautiful and artistic. So with this introduction also comes an apology: this is the first time I’ve ever used anything like InDesign. It’s also the first time I’ve ever tried to make anything ever, that wasn’t a picture of me riding a horse aged 3 or whatever. Creating in ways that aren’t writing was something I gave up almost before I even started school, out of shame. So I really and truly apologise for the mish-mash nature of this zine: it’s clearly attempting to be something it’s not. It’s an embarrassing mix of clean lines and more traditionally zine-type elements. But I must confess that part of my fear of zines did stem from the fact that many seemed to have gone out of their way to seem grungey and handmade. I’m curating a zine with disability as one of its major themes - if the text weren’t legible for the sake of a zine-y feel, I’d be doing the community a disgusting disservice - on top of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do that even if I tried. With that awkward apology out of the way: I hope this collection of texts and images serves as a source of solidarity for you as it has for me. It has been a huge learning curve for me to both create the zine and experience each and every submission to it. My only regret is that I was not able to facilitate and support each and every disabled person who expressed the desire to submit something but was, in the end, unable to. - Jessica @smalltownmoon


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

Contents

Biohazard - Peri Meyers

Illness/Gender - Anon CN: smoking, self-destructive tendencies, gender dysphoria, privacy & violation thereof, consent, acrophobia (fear of heights), gatekeeping, systemic ableism/disableism & transphobia, reclamation of ableist language The Brilliant Eunuch - Nick Blake // @Nightwarbler CN: Autism, bullying Untitled submission - Jack Wright CN: PTSD Three Phases - Florence Lucas CN: periods, pain, anxiety, mental illness, depression, eating disorders, weight loss, body image, sexual contact with dubious consent, trauma, being triggered, demisexuality Untitled submission - Mel Berrill CN: Depression, gendered treatment thereof On coming out - Jenny CN: heteronormativity, accessibility Portrait photography of Em Travis - Jessi Lloyd CN: nudity, body image When I am Well - Mel Berrill CN: Depression, suicidal thoughts Sexuality in a Multiple System - Anon CN: multiplicity/plurality, micro-aggressions, both in terms of sexuality and in terms of multiplicity; dysphoria mention You and Me (and OCD) - Sarah CN: OCD, relationships


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

Contents (Cont.) the anansi burden - Eve CN: experience of a sexual violence survivor, description of physical PTSD symptoms, fear surrounding intimacy and sexual intercourse, impact of anxiety and depression on libido, taking medicines, war imagery, death, reclaimed use of the C-word Untitled - Dorian Stripe // @thewildestsea CN: Kink, kink communities & the inaccessibility thereof, physical health conditions, gender dysphoria, D/s relationship, spouse-as-carer bpd fragments - Amy Clark CN: BPD, mental health Broken - Sarah Gibson // gendersgrowontrees.wordpress.com CN: ableism including slurs, transphobia A poem about love, sex and self-love as a mentally ill trans person The Boy Whose Curiosity Will Surely Kill Him - Anon CN: Liberal use of reclaimed disableist slurs, ADHD, bipolar disorder, death, suicide, fragmenting family relationships, privilege, “passing� Witch - Jessica Wing CN: potential trichotillomania trigger, pain Movement - Jessica Wing CN: chronic pain, suicide mention, pain, ASD Vessel - Sarra F CN: autism, abuse, misogyny, nonconsent, genitals and penetration Cissociation - Laurent CN: dissociation, gender dysphoria, coercive gendering, potential unreality/ depersonalisation


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

illness/gender anon CN: smoking, self-destructive tendencies, gender dysphoria, privacy & violation thereof, consent, acrophobia (fear of heights), gatekeeping, systemic ableism/disableism & transphobia, reclamation of ableist language

sometimes I wish my parents would discover I smoke, then maybe they’d understand how even though I’m ~happy~, I will always be selfdestructive. (maybe) I’m self-destructive because this is not my body. (maybe) I’ve always been self-destructive because this has never been my body. “the right to privacy, of course, would not be pertinent to the case of trans people who lack capacity to consent” 20/08/2015 -

stable///unstable chemical///biological safe///functioning “I have always known I wasn’t like the other girls” s t e p onto the tightrope, one foot in front of the other, look straight ahead, ignore the crowd, ignore the roaring and the screaming and the jeering one foot in front of the other remember if you fall, there is no-one there to catch you you must be ill enough to say you want to change. you must be sane enough to say you want to change.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

This Brilliant Eunuch NICk blake CN: Autism, bullying, unlearning gender roles I have, since the age of 7 1/2, had a diagnosis of Autism. Specifically, it was Asperger’s Syndrome but that particular subcategory has fallen out of favour in recent years. This has marked my whole adolescence and therefore the dominant part of my sexual development. The social obstacles it can cause are fairly welldocumented so I won’t go into excessive detail in covering them; it is simply sufficient to say that it caused awkwardness and shyness. I have a relationship with it which is fairly mixed. I wouldn’t, if I had the choice, get rid of it as that would be negating a rather large and complex part of my personal history. Nor would I celebrate it without reservation, as parts of my life would have undoubtedly been easier without it. Its role in my sexuality is not remarkable in the sense of my own awareness, but in the moulding of how I was gendered, sexualised and de-sexualised in the eyes of others it was a prime mover. The creation and development of sexuality is no Genesis moment, regardless of how Adam and Eve saw each other after the eating of the fruit, but a Nicean Council - a discursive, lengthy and some might say stunting process denoted by authority. To be Autistic was to be in the eyes of the council (consisting of pop psych magazines, peers and some more conservative parts of the medical establishment) to be distinctly unsexual. For the wish fulfilment savant type, there is no time for it. For the sensitive and nervous type, there is no taste for it. Any variation is an outlier in this model. I would point to my experiences attending a special school and my interactions with others there to disprove this, but one of the few things more pernicious than pop psychology is armchair anthropology. Instead, I turn to my own life. For part of my schooling I went to a mainstream secondary for GCSEs, and gained first hand insight into an outside view of my condition. “She likes you”, one boy said to me in school, gesturing to an acquaintance. I felt a flutter. She was attractive, and seemed genial, and I wasn’t accustomed to being liked. Then I soon found out that they were dating, and he was simply having me on. People tried to push my buttons, see if I was sexless or some kind of pervert. I was both a weird savant above it all, like Plato’s ideal of older men with passions like still water, or a sad wallflower who needed coaxing or coaching, to go from innocence to experience. I thought I was simply some kind of brilliant eunuch to them, but it wasn’t quite that simple. Did I need teaching a lesson in the vulgar, or was I a lonely pervert who needed dating tips? All of the above, I think. These contradictory positions were held in the minds of my contemporaries so that only in leaving that place could I become something other than an ascetic scholar, or a hermetic onanist. That isn’t to say it gave me any sense of sexual identity or certainty. To become accepted, assimilated, I observed and I imitated. Jokes, attitudes, I internalised all of them. I became a dude, a bro, and that ghastliest of chimeras, the dudebro. I like a great deal of different sorts of people, but I would not be friends with the person I was at that time in my life. My memory, my aptitudes that were in part good and in part because of my disability, made me a chameleon in a junkyard. This persisted while I gained some sexual experiences all of them heterosexual. I was afraid to give any credence to anything gay that may have popped into my head or heart over the years - until I came into contact with feminists and feminist theory. It began to click, bit by bit. I started to unlearn what I had learned. Over the years I learnt instead gentleness and softness, and that a man could do both and it was fine. I learnt that it was ok for men to explore sexuality, and I did so, coming out piecemeal but without definitive labels. Most recently, and perhaps most importantly, I learnt that being a man wasn’t the only option.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

I learned these codes of conduct, these ideas that weren’t mine, to shrug off the labels and preconceptions others had of me, simply to take on others which were even more toxic and coercive. Couldn’t I just be a man, I thought, that was a simple way of doing things. Conditional acceptance, given a few hundred conditions. I set my sights low then, perhaps as I was just trying to survive adolescence which is fraught enough anyway, and followed where others pointed. I saw only their signs, their paths. With the indepencence and hindsight of adulthood, I now come to a point where I can look, and I can choose for myself. It is exhausting enough just to imagine me being honest with myself back then, so the bravery of teenagers who feel they can question these things at that age is beyond my comprehension. I would say that all this has had a happy ending, but this is no ending. I am not a fixed point, as much as I tried to be. I am a traveler. The paths go on for many miles and in as many directions. I will go with them, until I find myself tired from the journey, and I shall lay down and rest.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

UNTITLED JACK WRIGHT CN: PTSD

The thing is people are bright mirrors set in different forms with endless moving parts or none reflecting at will the depths of nothing then the wheeling heavens of sparks you shower them with mirrors, faithful, show anything inconstant but alive alike. The thing is light shines on any mirror and filters through aeons of darkness. The thing is you can die and still walk the earth drained yet bleeding, somehow you rise, somehow you rise somehow you rise, but mirrors are blank. Your flesh left cold, you stare at this silver back there is nothing of yourself but the monster that took you.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

Three phases florence lucas CN: periods, pain, anxiety, mental illness, depression, eating disorders, weight loss, body image, sexual contact with dubious consent, trauma, being triggered, demisexuality SCAPEGOAT “I like the idea of sex, I just don’t get aroused.” That, of course, was because my reproductive system wanted to rip my body apart like it did to others in my family. The cystic time bomb that grew in my fallopian tubes, the pain that left me unable to move for hours at a time, was easy to blame for why I was so “weird”, why masturbation repulsed me, why I didn’t experience arousal but still liked the idea of sex in a detached way. It was much easier than the real answer, which was trapped behind a wall of people denouncing “Tumblr special-snowflake sexualities”. “that slight twinge of anxiety I had when we talked about having sex” It’s obviously my anxiety that made me flinch. I’m just anxious. His hands were just cold and I was anxious. Because obviously I’m aroused. 17 and I’d never been wet before, but I was now (but not properly, I’d discover later). That must mean it was time. Sometimes your mental illness is a great scapegoat. Sometimes not understanding your sexuality makes you do things you will regret later. You should have asked yourself why, in that moment, you were anxious. Take solace, at least, in knowing that he had to stop there, never managed that, because your body would not yield that far. Protected from that invasion by your defensive sexuality. ABSENCE “I’m conscious of my skeleton. I can feel it under the skin of my arms and below my breasts. If I lift up my shirt, I can see the bars of the cage that holds my heart. The sharp bones that jut out from my hips - a place that ought to be rounded and juicy, sensual, inviting - keep me awake at night. My own jagged body gets in the way.” My skeletal body, to my mind at least, could not be sexual. It was too hideous. It lacked femininity. It was shutting down, anyway; doctors were only surprised it wasn’t doing it faster. Accordingly, I felt nothing. No arousal, no attraction, nothing. Just the pain. My tiny body managed to hold a truly vast void within it. LEARNING “I have no expectations. You don’t need to do anything. I’ll sleep on the floor and still be so happy to be there with you.” At first I thought it was the trauma that made me always want cuddles. The way the term “demisexual” was explained to me didn’t seem to fit. Demisexuals weren’t supposed to really like sex, apparently. It was a revelation that I loved sex when I still had flashbacks to intruding hands and the feeling of discomfort and powerlessness with the one who’d neared that place before. It took me a long time to learn both the labels of “victim” and “demisexual”. It was a process of learning myself. Learning, too, that there are people who will take medical conditions and use them to excuse themselves. Learning that when you attach so strongly, people find it even easier to hurt you. But also learning that some people want to listen, want to help, want to make you feel good, whether that is with amazing sex as you want it, or massaging a sore abdomen, or helping you stay grounded when you’re triggered. Sexualities and disabilities say a lot about you, but how people respond to them says even more about them.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

Untitled submission mel berrill CN: depression, gendered treatments thereof

transcript // depression is sexy in men but it is not sexy in women. withdrawal and seclusion and retreat are what sexy men in sexy books do, but for women it is just failing. there is nothing sexy about a depressed woman. all she can do is fail to meet standards, “let herself go”. “everybody gets sad”, they say, “you can cope”, they say, because coping is what you are made for, not being in your own right.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

On coming out Jenny CN: heteronormativity, accessibility So it’s fairly recently come to my attention that I’m disabled. Obviously it’s a privilege in itself to have the kind of disability one can grow up not really registering, but it is also very much a relief to realise why some things are harder, more tiring, take longer for me to do than for other people. It’s a relief not to have to blame some deficit of moral fibre when my executive function has gone limp and is flailing about and the dishes still aren’t done. It’s not ideal, obviously, but it’s better. I’ve been aware for quite a while that I’m not a straight person. I’m not totally stuck on any one label but lesbian is fitting well enough just now so that’s what I shall go with here. It’s a similar sense of relief, of making sense of things. The approach to the realisation, the one where I was blaming myself for not being able to make myself fit somebody else’s paradigm, when it turned out the whole paradigm was wrong for me, definitely had some parallels with discovering I’m disabled. Though coming out to myself also brought with it a great sense of exhilaration and pure joy that I must say realising why I struggle to read books has not. But perhaps that will come. Because discovering my sexuality offered solutions – a way out of the heteronormative world that was chafing so badly. There were people I could meet, things to try out! And this is also true of disability. There’s a diagnosis to pursue, and that comes with the possibility of treatment. And I’m sure that will come to be optimism. There’s also the way it makes you see the world differently – just as you suddenly start noticing very viscerally quite how underrepresented minority sexualities are in the stories we tell in and about the world, you also start noticing how disabled representation is even worse. And as you start to feel solidarity with other LGBT+ people and to include them in your life and to care about what happens to them, you also begin to feel solidarity with other disabled people in a more real way, and get more angry, the right amount of angry, about how they, how we are treated. But I’m still waiting to feel real joy about discovering a name and a reason for my various impairments. And I also waited quite a while to be in a position to feel that about my sexuality. It’s possible to internalise a lot of crap. Everybody does. Blazing through some of that to find a bold, honest sort of life takes a lot of effort, and a lot of vulnerability. On which note, disability and sexuality are both intensely, embarrassingly personal topics to make announcements about. I remember quite a long time ago a straight acquaintance bragging about how cool and tolerant they were – ‘if someone came out to me, that would just be, like, nothing’. Well, I thought, I’m not coming out to you then, because it isn’t nothing. It isn’t nothing for the person who has to do it, again and again, wave cheerily and put their hand up to being Other, making sure to do it early enough so people don’t feel like you’re keeping secrets, but at the same time careful not to make a big deal about it cos you don’t want to look selfcentred or make it all about you. And that feeling when you judge slightly wrong, or even correctly but the wind is blowing the wrong way, and suddenly you realise you’ve created a space of vast vulnerability and probably more intimacy than this brief acquaintance can comfortably absorb, and the air gets sucked out of the room and you’re like ‘oh shit’. This most recently happened to me when disclosing my disability. So what shall we do? How can I feel as proud of my disability as I am of my sexuality? Would I want to? Shall we have a disability pride march? Sounds like a great plan - apart from all the obvious and probably insurmountable issues of accessibility. I keep starting a new paragraph here to avoid having to strike a suitable ending tone of optimism. Or pessimism, I suppose. Because the truth is I haven’t got an answer for this, but I am interested in its unfolding, and in its communal unfolding. As a lesbian alone, it is hard to be out and proud. In a community, it is obvious we have many advantages over the hetero world. We need each other. And we need each other in the disabled community too, to remember that our definition of accessibility is better, our ways of seeing the world are truer and more interesting, our stories matter.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

The following 2 pages contain a **content note for nudity**, & contain 4 images of Em Travis, taken by Jessi Lloyd. * Why take nudes on black and white film? For all it’s been done before, there’s still something that holds my interest in the contours, curves, and corners of bodies. In stripping away colour, black and white photographs emphasise shadows and shapes, and often seem to me to convey emotion better than their colour counterparts. Shooting on film (as compared to digital photography) takes away the option of taking a thousand photos and picking the best one, or taking one photo then repeatedly tweaking little things to make it better. I find it pushes me to get the best shot I can on the first go, while at the same time forcing me to give up on perfectionism. These aren’t my stories. I was invited to write this introduction specifically to comment on how they address the intersection of disability and sexuality, but I found that I couldn’t. All I can say is why I chose the medium I did to capture them. Black and white film nudes give me something to hold in my hand and put in an album – something that I had to scan to put in this zine – and something that can tell a story in a way nothing else can. Jessi Lloyd


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

when I am well mel berrill CN: suicidal thoughts

when I am well, I push my body through the day without thinking my mind lets my body be and my skin feels cloth my muscles feel aches my eyes are allowed to drift when I am well having a body is not a crime or a punishment I do not have to inch myself across the bed like an insect stuck in a glass. when I am ill my mind wants death and yet my body keeps on existing, defying me it is a struggle and a contradiction that strikes at my heart and when I am well I forget.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

sExuality in a multiple system anon CN: multiplicity/plurality, micro-aggressions, both in terms of sexuality and in terms of multiplicity; dysphoria mention PREFACE We are not disabled. Actually, that’s a lie. J considers hir chronic depression a disability. And we’re probably socially disabled by being a complicated “us” and not a simple “me”. And when we get right down to it medical models consider our brain “disordered”. But our plurality is not a disability. It’s just… atypical. First things first: there are bodies and brains that house more than one person. The words we’ve mainly seen used to describe this situation, by people who are in it, are “multiplicity” and “plurality” for the concept of multiple people living in one brain, and “multiple system” or “plural system” to collectively describe all the people living in one brain. Some people find it helpful to think in terms of computers – brains and bodies are hardware, people are operating systems. Many physical machines run just one operating system, but others dual-, triple-, or otherwise multiple-boot a plurality of operating systems. We are a multiple system, and we are writing this piece collectively and semi-anonymously. We will refer to ourselves as individuals in the third person and by our initials and pronouns: J (ze/hir), P (she/her), and S (he/him). We often don’t disclose our multiplicity – in such situations J is the person who interacts with the outside world, so for example: as far as J’s parents are aware, ze is a single person, and we are J.

SEXUALITY IN A MULTIPLE SYSTEM

What J lacks in gender, ze makes up for in sexuality. Ze is bisexual, polyamorous, and plenty of other adjectives besides. P, on the other hand, is [mentally] about eight years old and – unsurprisingly – sex repulsed. It seems inaccurate to describe her even as asexual, and we tend to use the phrase ’non-sexual’ when the question comes up. S is far too busy being a cat to care about sexuality. Besides, he’s a neutered kitty. As far as we can tell, he’s basically asexual and swings between sex repulsion and total apathy to the topic. This is all fine, of course. It just makes it tricky for the three of us to share a brain and a body. J would be upset and frustrated by a life without sexuality. P freaks out if she notices certain body parts, especially if they’re displaying physical signs of arousal. S, well, frankly he doesn’t care. We considered leaving him out of this and just writing about the two of us, but he would’ve complained. In the immortal words of @ProBirdRights, “[S] am feel uncomfortable when we are not about [him]”. Aside from S’s outward selfishness, the three of us care about one another. We want to be happy as a system, not just as individuals, and that means meeting everyone’s needs and wants. It means finding time for J to be sexual, alone or with partner(s), without impacting P’s life too much. It means J being careful about what ze thinks and does while P’s around (as any adult has to be careful about such things while caring for a child). Above all it means communication and compromise.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

J has to make sure everyone else is asleep, or happily distracted, before ze can safely, comfortably, think sexual thoughts. P needs to give J clear “alone time”, when ze can know that she isn’t paying attention to the outside world.

PARALLELS IN MICRO-AGGRESSIONS

Shortly after ze came out to hir parents as bisexual, before ze came out to them as agender, hir mum passed the “news” on to her mother (J’s maternal grandmother). She surprised us all by being broadly accepting, but made a note to J’s mother to the effect that she should “steer [J] in the direction of the [gender “opposite” that ze was assigned at birth]”. When questioned, she explained that, statistically, different-gender relationships had a higher “success rate” than same-gender relationships (we have no idea where she got this from). She had J’s best interests at heart, but the comment came off as bigoted. A few weeks ago as we write this, J was talking with hir parents about the use of they as a singular pronoun. Hir dad told the story of a time he’d told a family friend that J was using they/them (which ze does for the benefit of people who find it easier than ze/hir), and this friend had commented “they? J can’t be two people. That’s not fair!”. J responded with “I don’t see why not”, and hir mum immediately said “oh I hope you’re not”. When questioned, she explained that people with multiple personalities are usually unhappy and that they’re hard to live with (we have no idea where she got this from). She had J’s best interests at heart, but, well…

TO CONCLUDE

There’s a lot we’re still working on. Gender, and how we deal with dysphoria, is an ongoing conversation. We’re slowly “coming out” as multiple to various groups of friends. We are constantly working on balancing the amount of time each of us spends fronting (that is, in control of our body and interacting with the outside world), to keep everyone happy and safe. We’re in this, together, for the long haul. We are still – and will continue to be – learning to love ourselves, and love one another. Corny as it sounds, that’s what all this comes down to.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

You and Me (and OCD) sarah CN: OCD, drug mention

I can climb the beautiful palace, But I don’t see the view. Because of the flashing unwanted thoughts? The brain occupied elsewhere desperately battling to be here. Because of the drugs? The drugs that try to quieten the brain but quieten elsewhere too. Just because? The you knowing I will later have to scrub from head to toe. The me making you handwash midway. The me not being fully there with you. The constraints… Well, it’s not very desirable to you or me, But it seems to be to my OCD.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

1.

4.

sometimes in the middle of lust or love

nowadays it’s different sometimes

without warning, without provocation, my cunt closes up in terror. anxiety leaps forward tightening its grip around the curves of my back with anansi-like burden. my throat shuts shop, then, too.

summertimes the living is easier than easeful death I remember that my body is not a battleground I am not a field to be plundered

I retreat deep inside myself curling inward like tremulous crushed flower petals that weep syrup so saccharine— more so, Eve, than the honey of his lies. white pills bitter tasting on the tongue go down slowly. I become a glassy eyed doll. I retreat: I flee my body, leaving it to the crows

my sexuality is not a flower to be plucked my body is a gift for my taking scarred strong it is mine I may do as I will with every inch of it. sometimes a swansong escapes my trembling lips it has not

2.

it has

sometimes he knows.

never been my last

3. I—

the anansi burden eve CN: experience of a sexual violence survivor, description of physical PTSD symptoms, fear surrounding intimacy and sexual intercourse, impact of anxiety and depression on libido, taking medicines, war imagery, death, reclaimed use of the C-word


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

untitled dorian stripe CN: Kink, kink communities & the inaccessibility thereof, physical health conditions, gender dysphoria, D/s relationship, spouse-as-carer

“Behave yourself,” I say, sternly, to the bright-eyed woman below me, in our marital bed, shaking with desire. “Make me,” she grins through her teeth, in the bratty manner which makes her so sexy, so wonderfully kinky. And, inside my head, I panic suddenly. When I met my wife, I wasn’t physically disabled. I was mental, and pregnant, but I was the epitome of butch, and much stronger than her, and able to be sexually dominant, as well as fitting my role as the bigger spoon. This worked for both of us, and our kinks are perfectly matched – I, a domme who likes to be challenged, and her a brat, who likes to push her boundaries. Physically restraining her and a large dose of playfighting in which I always win, and know that I have won rather than have been surrendered to, are both a large part of how our sexually charged encounters go. Now, I’m weak, and weakening. I have several health conditions which have developed since the birth of our son, which mean I am exhausted, constantly dislocating my joints, in horrendous pain 24/7, only able to travel by wheelchair and, most notably, weak. I have absolutely no chance of overpowering her in the way we’ve both grown accustomed to; of using a paddle well enough to make her gasp; of having enough precision to provide a single tail lick in exactly the right spot. I fail with the dexterity needed to fasten wrist and ankle cuffs, I tire long before I’m finished fucking her. This is an intersection of sex and gender and disability which is never spoken about. The inherent power dynamic of a carer and caree means that our relationship roles have been almost completely reversed, and in direct following, matching our old sex life is difficult. We can’t switch roles – I still have a desperate need and desire to be in control, but no physical strength to back it up. My wife still wants to release her inner demon and lose herself in the moment, but now she must remain somewhat disconnected from the situation in order to control how much fighting back she does. It has meant it is hard to attend kink events or socialise within the community – the vast majority of events are based at places almost laughably inaccessible. My favourite one is based in a building with several narrow staircases, incredibly dark corridors and a pool downstairs which makes the tiles wet and slippery. Even when events aren’t in buildings that I can’t navigate (and I know of exactly zero), they almost always have strict dress codes. “Dress to impress” is considered mandatory. That’s not what I do in the mornings. I throw on the nearest clothes. I dress to show less. Wearing fetish wear, which is uncomfortable and dangerous given my medical conditions, just isn’t possible. I haven’t found a way to return to these events yet. The changes to our sex life haven’t been easy, much like the change to providing me with 24 hour care rather than working to support our family that my wife has undertaken. But, as with everything, my wife shows how flexible, understanding and accommodating she can be. She has made sex accessible to me as possible – reduced the physical element, provided more sensual stimulus, tried to make sure we’re both being satisfied. I am so, so thankful for her. I’d like to say that at the end of this everything is great now, that we found a way to make it work and our sex is better than ever. But that’s not how stories about disability tend to end. I am rubbish at sex, bored and


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

listless, in too much pain or too tired to fully engage. When I do, our previous rampant nature is muted, and I succumb to waves of gender dysphoria that my disability certainly doesn’t help. Why don’t I have a cock, and then we could have ~normal~ sex, why don’t I have any physical strength, why is everything wrong, why is every aspect of my body fighting against this. The questions go around, the whole time. I’m trapped in my disability even in the moment I should be most free. Thankfully, I have an incredibly supportive wife, carer and – yes, still – sub. It’s a horrendous quagmire of misery and heteronormative ideals which make us feel inadequate, but we love each other, we are attracted to each other, and we try and make it clear to each other as much as possible. Unless some miracle occurs, that’s all we can do. And it’s enough.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

bpd fragments amy clark CN: BPD, mental health

one moment i am a cave gaping – one moment the world is copper, words are sharp. i bend easy. i would spit myself out if i could. i draw patterns into my skin to feel anchored. draw myself as a mirror as you, as her, as them. some days i hold onto people so tight that the only story i write is theirs. next day, they’re freefalling whilst i’m still finger-tip clinging to the moon.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

broken sarah gibson They tell me I am broken, Over and over again, Just in case they think my ears don’t work, Just in case I can’t remember. I don’t think like them therefore my mind is broken. Pure logical perfection. The only ones disagreeing are those who are broken, And they can’t be trusted right? Don’t worry they will help me, A pill to make me less sad, Another to help me sleep. Pills that fall through the cracks in my mind. They say my mind does not match my body. How could I possibly love my body? How could I want to fuck with my body? If I do I’m just faking it. They’ll help me though, But they won’t make me a monster, They just want to make sure, You don’t regret being you. They say I should hide myself away, Shroud myself under layers of shame. They call me a deceiver, They say my only worth is to be their fucktoy. They have fancy dictionaries to describe me, They know autogynephilia, but not autonomy. Only the insane could love me, What does that say if I love myself? Where you see cracks, I see intricate patterns of beauty. I am demonic twisted flesh, Homeward bound I spiral down to hell I am not broken. A tiny whisper at first, Growing until it fills my soul. My rage made manifest. I AM NOT BROKEN

CN: ableism including slurs, transphobia A poem about love, sex and self-love as a mentally ill trans person


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

The boy whose curiosity will surely kill him anon CN: Liberal use of reclaimed disableist slurs, ADHD, bipolar disorder, death, suicide, fragmenting family relationships, privilege, “passing” Outwardly, I’ve landed on my feet. I’m white. I’m a boy. I grew up in England with a British passport. My family wasn’t rich but it certainly wasn’t poor. I have been able to travel to foreign countries. I have been able to see things. I’ve been able to read lots of books. I have grown up in a safe, suburban house. I lived in an area strategically chosen for migration by my parents for its good schools and commuting distance to London. So far, so good. Not everyone has had the opportunities that I’ve had. That much is true. However, there’s a sadder story to tell too, and this sadder story is at the same time far less outwardly visible and far more profoundly disabling. My parents constantly bickered. My relatives hardly speak to one another, and when they do it’s rarely emotionally demonstrative, and when it is it’s rarely to demonstrate anything like love. My grandmother hates my parents, especially my father, who had a very difficult life and who loves me and my family and cares for me like no-one else. My grandmother relies solely on me to support her emotionally and physically. Every week I am told that without my constant, unfailing persistence as a sane, stable grounding to her life, she would End It All. She wouldn’t be on this Earth. She’d join her darling husband, mourned for 31 years and counting, in Heaven. My brother and I don’t get on. My childhood was one of some happy memories, but otherwise it was a longremembered anguish of isolation and being told I’d amount to little and that all I should do is shut it, belt up, and get on. I was a desperately disruptive child, no more so than when I was at school. I was diagnosed with severe ADHD, beyond the help of anyone bar the most experienced medical health professional in London, and even then the most he could do was attempt to reduce some of the wilder, more destructive, more savage elements of my disease. And I grew up in the shadow of an illness whose name, recited, still brings a chill to my stomach. I was desperately intelligent, and desperately eloquent, yet that just reinforced the stereotypes even more. Unable to protest, unable to defend myself, unable to hope. The disability tale doesn’t end there. I went to school, was different, was treated differently. I had to sit apart from all the other boys and girls. I was at best a weird creature whose ‘problems’ were to be tiptoed around and communicated through hushed supervisor whispers. I was at worst a troublesome unhealthy mental who ‘was such a shame’ for his poor old mother, driven to her wit’s end as she was by me, the misfortune served to her. Retarded Son. Poor Diane. Due to an easily-above-average-intelligence – in fact, I’m a quicker, more systematic thinker than all but three people I’ve ever met – I was able to just about cling on to words and books and people. That was the irony: I was literary, eloquent, funny. I was so damned funny. I still am. Spastics aren’t meant to be studious but also very socially aware and emotionally easy. I learned to perfect the ability to pass as a normal through school. I became the funny kid, popular among troublemakers and keen to dabble in mayhem. And then in sixth form I learned to perfect the ability to pass as a bookish smart kid, one who was unquestioned in his intelligence and yet caring, benevolent, and open to friends. That’s what I have always been at heart: caring, benevolent, open. I have contained in myself so much love. I have been in love at least twice in my life, possibly up to four times. As far as I can tell, my love was reciprocated no more than once. So full of love and dedication and admiration, I emotionally invest in friendships. My friends are the best people in the world. Due to my intelligence, my anxious tendencies, and my crippling self-consciousness and self-doubt, I am unable to spend more than approximately three minutes without recycling in my head the names of all my friends and how healthy our friendship s and what I must next do – as soon as I can, and with


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

an air of casual, though sincere, affection – to cement my friendship with them further. To those gentle ones my memory runs. I’ve filled their kitchens and living rooms with my schemes, my laughs, my songs, and my broken dreams. I have now said the word ‘love’, and my mention of that word can act as a bridge to the other predominant dimension of my being unhealthy, degenerate, abnormal. (Sexuality isn’t the only other ‘dimension’, for want of a crisper, plainer word, in virtue of which I’m unhealthy. There are still others, but this is a magazine about disability and sexuality.) I’m queer, you see. I can’t say how long I have ‘known’. I have been in love with girls. Boys and girls and men and women have all at different times constituted wank-fodder for me. When I was thirteen I started crushing massively on my then-best friend’s younger brother. I read little in to it. I now and then pleasured myself thinking about boys, but at the same time I was kissing girls and making them cry and making them laugh. The signs of my being other in desire, affection, longing, craving, were at the same time immediately evident and undetected. My parents still don’t know, nor do my siblings. And that’s after me having played with more than my fair share of sweet boys. And a lifetime’s share of nightmare boys. And it’s after being in love with at least two of them. Caribbean blood does something to me, clearly. An obvious, though nonetheless apt, point of comparison to make here is with what I have said above about ‘passing’ as not mentally different, retarded, spastic. I have also – because we live in an overwhelmingly boring, conformist, unimaginative patriarchy – developed an unwritten set of codes for passing as not sexually different, degenerate, queer. The vocabularies might diverge at one point, but to a very real extent the point remains the same. Outwardly, the difference, the otherness, the crippling self-loathing and self-pity isn’t obvious. Inwardly, the difference is a wound that has separated me from anything I have ever wanted, and from everything that a normal child hopes for. Everything I have ever wanted since I was a toddler – happiness and inclusion – are fundamentally unavailable to me unless I artificially feign conformity. Either give up authenticity (and not some loaded metaphysical sense of ‘true self ’ or certainly not one’s ‘destiny’), or give up happiness. One of those two goals has got to go. You, the healthy, the ones who even look like me, don’t have that problem. Why the fuck must I? To the dumb question, ‘Why me?’, the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply ‘Why not?’. One final update, which takes this account pretty much up to the present day. I have manic depression, medically certified and everything. Depression is the irreducible, inescapable, hopeless basic fact of my subjectivity, all of my relationships, all of my projects, all of my life. I am aware that one can take a very affirmative stance on the world and its contents and the agents that navigate it, and that’s precisely what I do. The mental labour that requires can be, is, and will always be, exhausting. I’m haunted by my own mortality constantly. It’s very difficult for me to silence the permanent scream that lies at the heart of all my thinking. When the friends go home, and the TV fails, and the light goes out, all that’s left is that brain of mine. And it haunts and tortures me. I know one day I will die. I know that the world can be a catastrophically horrible and unkind place. Nonetheless, in the face of these probabilistic concessions, I struggle. Faustian striving it surely ain’t, but the summoning of the very willpower to continue to exist at all it surely is. And very few people see it. The constant scream is in all of us. But I’m not stupid enough to be content, or delusional, in spite of trying. I keep a watch over the distance. Heaven’s no closer than it was yesterday. I’ve missed a huge amount of detail in the stories I have told, and I have left many stories entirely closed. But perhaps that’s what happens when you try to speak aloud about your abnormalities. Certainly, it seems to happen when I try to. I am a clear and mostly very effective writer and speaker. But communicating something which is so peculiarly subjective and can’t possibly be lived in its uniqueness by anyone apart from yours truly is a frustrating task. So it’s here that I end my attempt at completing the task. I sign off feeling pretty frustrated at my inability to communicate precisely to my own satisfaction the contents of my head on to the words on this screen. Energy and effort every day, for things that almost everyone else takes for granted. It’s crippling. But I carry on. Gay, ADHD, spastic, manic, mental, pissing-in-public, lonesome, sometimes-asexual, often-obsessive, alwaysahead outsider. But I beat on. It’s the only option besides suicide, and my energy’s invested in too many friends to pack it all in.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

witch

movement

CN: potential trichotillomania trigger, pain

CN: chronic pain, suicide mention, pain, ASD

Curling about my ankles – The base of my spine – Tendrils, digging their heels in, Knitting into my body a new order.

Each syllable each rounded, echoing diphthong conveys nothing, except creating delicate incisions in my ears

What I see is not what Everyone else sees. Depth perception, all the Mind’s ways of enhancing an image – A coarse-skinned hunched Creature, toad-handed, toad-eyed. A brain that functions similarly.

My back is bristling. I have not felt in control of this body ever Let alone “at home in it” “comfortable in my skin”

Like plucking individual hairs I don’t notice, Until more than half are gone, and I Am near-bald.

On this day my legs forget how to walk, On this day my mind attempts to kill me And on this day, again, I fail To speak in ways that appease people Whose thoughts and desires are a mystery to me. I don’t remember doing anything with ease. I cannot even trust my body to hold me upright. Sexuality is something that people who are not me possess. How can someone who resembles a scuffling witch who hobbles and aches who stutters, who falters and forgets own something as precious as this? My humanity and my body – all accidentals and false starts. I lack identity with your movement with myself

Jessica Wing


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

Vessel Sarra F CN: autism, abuse, misogyny, nonconsent, genitals and penetration

This turned out to be a story about how you can be emptied of self and filled to the brim with experience both at once; a story that in the end turned out loosely connected to the misguided origin of the word ‘autism’, back round again. It’s about disability, agency, consent, and being a container. I’m autistic, or close enough to it that it doesn’t matter to me whether the diagnostic process comes up with those exact words on paper in the next year or so. In me it’s a disability that fits the social model perfectly, where disability is caused by society not being built to accommodate your needs, because the nature of it doesn’t often cause pain, injury or distress in itself or in isolation. This even less so since I’ve realised I’m not neurotypical and that that means a whole host of cognitive differences that I’m learning – re-learning – to understand and appreciate. I’m lucky. It was a zine that was the first site of recent identification for me as autistic — the beginning of a journey that’s been going maybe a year now and that I’m growing into in the same kind of way I grew into my queer self. And it’s from a troublesome start. Finding it was one of those moments that has salience because it solves something important to you. You find a new way to put things together, a new pattern, and noticing that pattern with its click of clarity suddenly creates a space to honour and recognize past injuries. I don’t think this is an autistic thing, but it might be. There’s definitely something about the echo being the only way for me to access it emotionally, and never at the time. What I remember reading is the explanation that it’s so easy for someone with an autistic spectrum condition to get drawn into abuse. Narcissistic and controlling abuse especially. It’s reassuring when you meet someone who sets rules, has high expectations; paradoxically, you don’t feel unsafe with them, because the rules are explicit and the expectations made clear. And we’re used to following social rules that hurt us and don’t make sense, so going through this every day just feels like a continuation of the same problem, this defect in you. And here’s someone patient who’s giving you the chance to get better, right? It’s what I believed in my worst relationship. I trusted him, and got deep into the underworld of self-erasure you get into when your partner is abusive, for five years. It’s grounding to know that actually, these specific aspects of autism are what’s so often exploited, like physical weakness. The usual recovery narratives had told me it wasn’t my fault. It can happen to anyone. It’s true. But reading your life mirrored in words like that — it was a moment of realising that autistic descriptors could really apply to me and I wasn’t making it up, and with that, a moment of realising this meant I was okay. Because using someone’s weaknesses to abuse them easily and carelessly, choosing your target based on their weakness, shines as a giant beacon of sociopathic cruelty. So for most of that time I followed his rules, and kept failing, and took the consequences feeling like things were sure to get better eventually, like every survivor. Always in this precarious dance, the push-and-pull of getting something slightly right, slightly wrong. There’s something about the effort to get along that a lot of social autistics experience. That it’s like swimming, or more often like drowning. You have to be a sponge to take in and put out social cues, but because your brain is not wired the same way as someone else’s you lose yourself in being this mirror. That’s one way of drowning.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

My first sexual relationship — no, in fact all of them with men, the capital-R relationships, had elements of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl about them. The central feature of this character is she’s loved for the transformative power of her craziness. My differences made me ‘cute’. My point was to improve the lives of these men by being interesting and different and lovable, and my distress was for them to feel good about comforting me in. It’s already an incredibly disempowering and disablist trope: whatever you’re going through is both dismissed and essentialised. If you’re experiencing x symptom, it’s simultaneously read as an expression of who you fundamentally are (so cute! quirky!) and something not real (you’re just a girl, and mentally ill girls are just crazy). Your whole experience and your whole self is denied. That’s another way of drowning. The thing about drowning is it’s not a position you can consent from. My first boyfriend was keen on me, and sex, and I didn’t really have much agency to say no. Or to say much at all; to have a say. At 15, I felt small, young, and quite mad. Some of the experience is particularly interesting to me to look back on now because of the signs of autism I recognise - that time we had an evening’s conversation on paper because I couldn’t talk, the feelings of floating the gentle psychosis I this year found described coolly in the ICD description of Asperger’s. And, most, the double trouble in understanding if my body was mine: because, first, it was a teenage girl’s, and we know in our bones that under patriarchy our bodies aren’t ours; and second, I didn’t understand it, what it could do for me, or what it was for. It didn’t feel very much like it was for anything, to me, so at least it could be this thing that this guy could get his desires out of and stick his dick into, and I could make it say and do the right things. My head was elsewhere — I was getting over my first love, which had been like a cerebral and body tornado, but I’d never seen the point of connecting the fire I felt inside with actions that were sexual. It didn’t seem to make sense at all, even with myself. It was that boyfriend who gave me my first orgasm, and it was good, too. It was a bright viridian green, shining like a bottle of ink. For a long time afterwards each orgasm was its own unique colour, going through whole pigment boxes of colours, different textures and feelings. That’s one thing I wonder if other people get — not the synesthesia, but the constantly evolving sensory and bodily experience of sex. It stays the same for a while and then moves on. At first you’re worried it’s because you’re getting old, but I’m twenty-nine now and it keeps changing at what feels like the same pace it ever did. Sensations change, muscles do different things. You want different things. Sometimes I don’t want at all. Being allowed not to want is something that means a lot to me, and I’m still working through it. There’s the thing about how your inner experience can be so vivid it’s all-consuming. I hear about people’s desires and crushes and I don’t know, it feels different — it’s one of the things that makes me feeldifferent, like I’m living in a different world, how all day I can be stuck with desire like an animal lashed to a post and it’s there when I’m sitting on the bus, on my bike, watching TV, walking through town. It’s like being preoccupied with anything else except it’s so physical, there’s such a pull and an energy. And then it’s just another of the things that isolates me, that I can’t talk to other people about – that I don’t want to – that is most precious in my head, when it’s something experienced, and putting parts of it into words to share just doesn’t come naturally at all. I don’t desire that. Sharing would mean nothing. So I feel like the way I experience sexuality sets me apart the same way the way I experience the world sets me apart. And that’s what allistics named autism for: the image of someone cut off from the world, turned inward, aut-istic. I still come back to that state sometimes. I had learned back then that my body feels things and is my home but is not always mine in the sense that I can use it to ask for things (like pleasure, like presence, like touch). This makes sense: the autistic neurotype is wired for sensory input, while the neurotypical is wired for socially relevant stimuli, and interaction is a social transaction. Sensing is receiving. Both the receiving and the giving are hard in sex: as with all giving, of couse, I was taught often to give selflessly, meaning not to have a self to experience the action — another way to be emptied out. Just be there to do, like in a conversation, or in compulsory education. It’s so hard to do input and output at the same time. It makes so much difference to know these things now: this is autistic experience, this is what we live and how our brains work, and we work with that. I’m knowing my experience as it’s happening; I know that everything I’m living is real and valid, all the desire or non-desire, all the sensation. And I can consent. I couldn’t when I was empty.


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality


Intersections: Disability & Sexuality

CISSOCIATION LAURENT cw: dissociation, gender dysphoria, coercive gendering, potential unreality/depersonalisation

i. to be queer and neurodivergent comes with its own kind of alienation. ii. in a world that is both hard to connect with and which never tried to connect with us, there is a sense of distance and disconnection. iii. can’t connect with yr narratives about brains, about bodies, when to me dissociation means: forgetting what my face should look like in the mirror, remembering that people gender me, and fear of the thought of myself in someone else’s eyes. iv. sometimes i want to dissect the feeling down to its source: to gender, to race, to orientation, to neurotype. it can’t be done. should it be done? v. this doesn’t feel just intrinsic. vi: here are two kinds of isolation: wanting to be coherent, and wanting to be incoherent. vii. you’re not alone. you’re not alone in feeling alone. viii. i want to be incoherent— but i want to know you.


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Disability & Sexuality

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Intersections: Disability/Sexuality  

Intersections: Disability/Sexuality