Years ago, I was watching a movie with my mom. -A movie about a woman with Cerebral Palsy who fought for her right to equal education and forced her way through the hoops and loops of a system that attempted to institutionalize her mind along with her body. You know…a typical overcoming obstacles story practically every disabled person can relate to in our personal and collective quest to independence. This movie, however, also touched on some issues surrounding sexuality, and the character took us through her experience of falling in love, first with another disabled person, and later with an able-bodied man. Both scenarios were very uncomfortable to watch with my mother as they rendered commentary that illustrated some of the ablelist views which shape society’s negative assumptions about our right to love and be loved and assert ourselves as empowered sexual beings.
When the character was involved with a disabled lover, my mom’s comments reflected pity and a tone of condescending forgiveness for their actions. There was a very hot scene where they undress each other and manage to unbutton a blouse and, kiss and claw, gripping each other’s crip bodies as they slide out of their wheelchairs onto the floor where they come face to face with their partial nudity. My mom pointed out what a shame it was that the character, despite her brightness, would choose to try to prove herself this way. She also saw her sexual hunger as some rebellious thing she was doing to get back at her mother instead of seeing her as a young woman exploring her sexuality. Then she proceeded to refer to both of them as “pobresitos” (poor little things), and to empathize with the over protective mother who had to put up with such a burden.
In a later scene, they show the character flirting with an able-bodied man at a college party. He picked her up from her wheelchair and danced with her while they both laughed and enjoyed themselves. Nothing unnatural about it. Right? Wrong. That’s when my mother started pouring compliments over the guy who was “such a wonderful person and outstanding human being” for dancing with this crippled girl. Later, in the movie the character decides to make a very bold move and asks her caretaker to take her to his place where she attempts to let him know how she feels about him through a poem and then by putting her foot on his crotch letting him know she wants him. Of course, the nice able-bodied man rejects the poor cripple, and his rejection was completely understandable to my mom who justified him with comments like “What did she expected him to say and do? How could he possibly get involved with her?”
Although infuriating, my mother’s reaction to both scenes was actually pretty average, sadly. Having been married to a disabled partner before, I know firsthand the ignorant assumption that we were together because no able-bodied partner would want us. This erroneous view of our realities feeds the monsters of oppression and causes divisiveness within our own community…making us see ourselves and each other from a disadvantaged and negative perspective.
Labeling able-bodied lovers saints and good hearted people just for being with a disabled person is also just another layer of ablelist attitudes. The truth is that people with disabilities, just like everybody else have sexual desires and seek the opportunity for intimacy with another human being. Yet, attitudes like the ones displayed by my mom during that movie reflect how society has caged disabled sexuality into a box of preconceived ideas that have little to do with who we really are.
In my work surrounding sex and disability I often undress the layers of oppression by addressing the labeling of people as saints just for falling in love or “being willing” to have sex with a disabled person. But there is also the other side of the coin which labels those who find a disabled person attractive as “perverts” or “twisted” or “strange”. Either extreme is representative of the continuum of oppression which keeps such myths alive and aids in the institutionalization of our sexual rights.
“Have you ever loved
a woman like me?
Have you ever f*^**ed
a body like mine?
Doing so will not make you a saint.
does not make you a pervert.
Would you dare surrender
the taboos that keep you
from considering the possibility
of f*^*ing somebody
with a disability
or the chance of romance
with a cripple?
And some may think I sound crude
in my use of the word f***k and the word cripple
in the same sentence
when doing so shatters the lies
you have been told throughout your lives
about who we are and how we love.
In defense of you, I know
nobody ever prepares you for a crip lover.
We just happen unexpectedly
undressing your truths to meet our own…
the timid hunger of our scars,
the pleasure whipers of our crip bodies
because we, the disabled,
we also have desires.
We also crave getting devoured
one kiss at a time
and then all at once as if we were
your last meal,
your last lover,
(Excerpt from Maria R. Palacios’ Sins Invalid 2013 poem Cripless Fuck)