Disabled Sexuality: How it’s conditionally getting better (maybe???)

Disabled sexuality, to be frank, makes non-disabled people uncomfortable. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be such an extensive history of non-disabled people making decisions about disabled individuals’ reproductive lives in order to avoid the possibility of them being sexual (e.g., forced sterilization). Disabled people are slowly being provided more opportunities to sexually express themselves, but these opportunities are selective. Disabled sexuality in general is slightly more acceptable, but disabled women’s and queers’ sexuality remains mostly invisible.

Eli Clare (2009) described a story his friend told him during which some boys catcalled her, but apologized later when they saw her ankle braces. Clare used this to discuss why they might have felt bad when they saw her leg braces and related it to the desexualization (disable bodies being sexually undesirable) of disabled people. I found it interesting that the boys regretted sexualizing her; rather than apologizing for being misogynists, they apologized out of pity related to her disability. Although it is important to resist desexualizing disabled people, it is crucial to remember that asexual disabled people exist. Some asexual disabled people have claimed they felt isolated from other disabled communities because they are sometimes accused of giving into desexualization (Kim 2011). I find it important to distinguish between desexualization and asexuality so as not to polarize disabled ace folks.

In the midst of the growing movement of disabled people claiming their sexuality, I have noticed that this sexuality is only attributed to some disabled folks. Specifically, I find that disabled straight men are the most sexually visible in the eyes of non-disabled people in general. This relates to the fact that men are often seen as being entitled to sex, or as rampantly sexual (e.g., incels). Kathy Lette (2017) almost hired her adult autistic son a sex worker. Although he had expressed wanting a girlfriend in the past, had never explicitly said that he wanted to hire a sex worker (Lette 2017). This not only relates to the assumption that disabled men want sex, but also relates to the history of non-disabled people making decisions about disabled people’s sex lives without the disabled people’s consent (crippled scholar makes a similar observation in this post). Lette described online interactions with other moms who hired sex workers for their autistic sons, but never for autistic daughters or nonbinary adult children.

Both the desexualization of disabled people and the conditional sexual visibility of straight disabled men tie into the erasure of queer disabled people. Crippledscholar (2016) writes about non-disabled queer feminists cutting their hair to resist gender norms, but says that  she grew her hair as an act of defiance: “When we don’t have control over our outward appearance we are by default desexualized…No one even considered that my hair might be an expression of gender identity. It really was an erasure of my sexuality as a whole.” When her hair was short it was either out of convenience for her caregivers or when she was sick, but she was never read as queer because of disabled desexualization.

RNS (2017) also described their frustrations with straight autistic men treating meetup groups as dating services, when they’re certainly not the only gender group that may be sexually frustrated. As an autistic queer, I have also noticed how the few movies that show autistic romance only include straight couples, which contributes to the erasure of queer autistics. Adina Burke also talks about disabled queer people often being left out of queer spaces, both due to physical inaccessibility of meetup spaces and ableism form non-disabled queers (Tarala 2018). She notes the importance of queer disabled people making themselves visible in order to hold non-disabled queers accountable for including all queers, not just able-bodied ones.

WORD COUNT: 619 words

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