Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Disability & Sexuality

“Very often subtle desexualization of people who are disabled or seriously ill occurs. Who wants to be confronted with the possibility of pain and the reminders of mortality when engaged in talk or activity having to do with sex, the ultimate pleasure? And lack of appeal becomes lack of entitlement eventually in many people’s minds. I remember this happening quite early after becoming diabetic.” – Finding the Real Me

Recently, themes of disability and sexuality have been creeping into my life. For starters, I received Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory and the GLQ Journal Desiring Disability in the mail. Both of these texts were key in my undergraduate capstone, but they were checked out from the library. The only material objects I have capitalist desires to own are books and shiny clothing items, so I’m excited to finally own these critical works.

On a much more accessible level, my partner’s recent fascination with the TV Show Nip/Tuck has finally yielded something fascinating for me – a love story between the “sexy” white, male, able-bodied, sex-addict plastic surgeon and a “formerly beautiful” Southern white female who lost her lower legs to Diabetes. Well, I say “love story” but it really involves them reminiscing over a one-night fling they had 20 years ago, getting drunk, and then a very brief sex scene with the male doctor on top. In the morning, she asks him to make her face look like how she felt the previous night. I’m left wondering what exactly that means, but pleased that she specifically said her face, and that throughout the episode she showed no shame for being in a wheelchair, or indeed for being a sexual woman with disabilities.

My partner downloaded the episode so that I could re-watch the scenes concerning their relationship, and I have to say that I am smitten with this, my first time to see people with disabilities portrayed as sexual. There has been a rise of Deaf actors appearing on TV recently (Weeds, The L Word) where white women portray sexy, independent minded and brilliant Deaf academics/artists. I read on the comments of another person’s blog (sadly lost now) that the scene was gratuitous, sensational, and clearly seeking only male pleasure. Now I agree that people with vaginas aren’t only sexually pleased through penetrative sex, however there is nothing wrong with desiring or receiving pleasure from penetrative sex. As for the shot showing her legs…well how else would they film it? She has upper legs and in order to do the traditional sex-scene pan-up of her body it would have looked ridiculous if she was under the covers or otherwise hiding. Why should she cover her legs anyway? I thought it was sexy, and my only disappointment was on finding out that the actress is not physically disabled herself.

In a bizarre similarity, the last episode from The L Word has a sex scene that is also long overdue in its acceptance of transgender bodies as desirable and sexual. Max finally (finally! finally!) had sex as a man. True, he and Alan Cumming had a few hot scenes, but nothing like this. After a disappointing beginning to the fifth season where Max would appear for a grand total of five seconds in order to act as transphobic Alice’s technology pro he has finally had (incredibly hot) sex with artist and ASL interpreter, Tom. Perhaps The L Word has acknowledged that transgender people are part of the LGB community…and that sometimes that means the LGBT community is squiggly around the edges when it comes to identity politics. The rest of the plot of The L Word is about as interesting as a root canal, but I was surprised, and a bit turned on, to see Tom and Max passionately kiss each other and then to watch in amazement as Tom and Max had penetrative sex (with a lovely placement of a condom). As my partner and I watched I turned to her and said, “Look! This is like when we have sex!” For the very first time since I can remember I saw as close a representation of our sexuality and gender identities as I can recall. This episode acted to me as a much over-due apology letter to transgender folks who have been bashed left and right by The L Word. I don’t mind having Alice or Bette, or anyone else, say transphobic things provided Max or Grace, or someone else, is able to counter them. If there’s a dialogue on transgender identity then I am excited to participate but for far too long this show was one sided.

Now, do I really think they’re going to change? No. It’s TV. Earlier in the exact same episode Alice “apologized” to Max and other transgender people for excluding them from her website, however as the scene was being videotaped by Shane the camera continued to bounce all over the screen completely obliterating the incredibly important conversation they were having. Luckily, one still moment occurred when Alice mentioned the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a group that has recently been at the forefront of battling for the rights of transgender women and men. I hope that the cigender lesbians and bisexuals who may have had some transphobia will hear that a lesbian rights group fights for transgender people and therefore rethink some of their fear.

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