I love when I see sex and disability talked about in the media landscape. Almost all of my professional persona and my job is built on putting these stories out there. I am hungry to see this stuff – this type of representation is so, so important, and often so lacking. Every disabled person can almost guarantee that we won’t see ourselves represented unless we choose to be represented in very particular and often damaging ways.
Let me be very clear – I am a fame whore of epic proportions (you all know it’s the truth) and I will take whatever media attention I can, with the express purpose of championing my cause and the work I do, so that those after me have a guide post. That is my ultimate goal, and I will do what I have to do to achieve that. But, if I am really honest with you, there is a narrative around disability and sexuality as it is portrayed in the media that is starting to get, well, tired… overdone and overdrawn. In fact, it is one of the only depictions of disability and sex that is readily available: The Reveal Narrative.
I was scrolling through social media tonight and I saw an article pop up on my Twitter feed that said, “5 People with Disabilities Reveal What Dating is Actually Like”. The article itself was full of important information centered around the lived experience of dating while disabled. I felt that this was the meat of the piece, and what the reader should be focused on. But the idea of “The Reveal Narrative” stayed with me, and has irked me – even as I write this.
A quick Google Search of past articles on sex and disability highlight that the reveal narrative is alive and well. I found 9 articles that use the word “reveal” in the title to lead into a sensationalistic discussion of sex and disability. Other articles used titles like, “What it’s Really Like to Have Sex and Disability”. I even wrote a piece a few years back, where the editor changed the title to better fit “The Reveal Narrative”.
I find The Reveal Narrative destructive for all the reasons you might expect – its subversively ableist undertones remind us that sex and disability is still shocking and taboo. It underpins the fact that we, as disabled people, are to be gawked at, and that our sex and sexuality is so secretive and different in scope and practice – that whenever we even deign to talk about it, in any context whatsoever, it must be uncovered or discovered, as if it’s this thing that is shrouded in secrecy. The magazines and media outlets jump on this salacious and incendiary fact so that they can sell stories, but the embers of that flame, I think, burn people with disabilities in other ways, too.
Thanks to the idea of revealing/uncovering/surprising people with the idea of sex and disability, I have come to use that narrative in how I approach others. There have been moments where I have seen my sex as overtly taboo or “special” in some way. I have used disabled sex as some fabled currency to entice a lover over. I have played with the ideas of sex and disability as being the “sex you never knew you wanted” or quipped that I’d show a guy just how good sex and disability could be. I’ve joked with guys that I want to be their first cripple, in essence revealing to them the “truth of sex and disability” (whatever the hell that is). That’s a whole lot of fucking pressure to live up to. What if it is revealed that I’m bad at it? What if you discovered that I just want to cuddle? What might happen then?
I’d love to see news stories and magazines that are willing to talk about sex and disability, do so in a way that is a little different. Let the stories inside, told be the people who lived them, speak for themselves. Those are the narratives that are the most critical and vital in changing the way we look at sex and disability. If everything we do, see and read about disabled sex/dating is revelatory, how will it ever become mainstream? How will I ever see myself as anything more than your novelty date, your first queer cripple or the first time you were with a guy in a chair? Let me be real a minute. Unlike the media suggests, when you hang out, date or get naked with me, the only big reveal will be that I am awkward, nervous, and fucked up. Not too surprising, is it?