The Intimate Lives of Disabled People…

I’m thrilled to be able to say that I have finally submitted my book, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People, to its publisher, Routledge. It will be out in December 2017. Below I share the cover and its accompanying text. The book has been a long time coming and has taken immense amounts of graft, as well as copious amounts of support from colleagues, family, friends and allies, to who I will always be indebted. Big thanks, of course, go to #ScholarTed, who wrote most of it…

Disabled people are routinely assumed to lack the capabilities and capacities to embody and experience sexuality and desire, as well as the agency to love and be loved by others, and build their own families, if they so choose. Centring on the sexual, intimate and erotic lives of disabled people, this book presents a rare opportunity to understand and ask critical questions about such widely held assumptions.

Book coverIn essence, this book is a collection of sexual stories, told by disabled people on their own terms and in their own ways. Stories that shed light on areas of disability, love and life that are typically overlooked and ignored. A sociological analysis of these stories reveals the creative ways in which disabled people manage and negotiate their sexual and intimate lives in contexts where these are habitually denied. In its calls for disabled people’s sexual and intimate citizenship, stories are drawn upon as the means to create social change and build more radically inclusive sexual cultures.

In this ground breaking feminist critical disability studies text, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People introduces and contributes to contemporary debates around disability, sexuality and intimacy in the 21st century. Its arguments are relevant and accessible to researchers, academics, and students across a wide range of disciplines – such as sociology, gender studies, psychology, social work, and philosophy – as well as disabled people, their families and allies, and the professionals who work with and for them.

If you would like to attend a free Book Launch Extravaganza where my book will be launched on 31st October 2017 at Manchester Metropolitan University, please see here.



Considering Chemicals…

In July 2017, I travelled to Ryerson University’s ReLab in Toronto, Canada, to co-facilitate a 5-day Design Fiction workshop. Entitled Thinking With Our Chemical Stories, the workshop invited disabled and Mad-identified artists from in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to explore their chemical lives. Working with my Canadian colleagues Esther Ignagni, Kim Collins and Eliza Chandler from the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, and Andy Darby from the University of Lancaster, as well as Toronto-based artist Lindsay Fisher, the team focused on the ways in which Design Fiction as a method could enable stories about the social, cultural and material lives of chemicals to come to the fore.

Design Fiction is a method of critical, speculative design. It uses fictional and narrative scenarios to envision, explain and raise questions about possible futures for design and the society (Tanenbaum 2015) in order to imagine alternative futures and work through key concepts and ideas in accessible ways. Chemical encounters intimately shape our bodies, selves, relationships and communities in helpful and harmful ways; these encounters are narrated in ways that routinely posit disability as part of an undesirable end to chemical lives. Design Fiction was used to draw out the tacit assumptions that drive this particular narration, as well as imagine an array of other possible stories of disability and chemical encounters.

Such a focus on disability, social life and chemicals emerged through an ESRC Festival of Social Sciences-funded public engagement project called ChemicalLives, which the lovely China Mills (School of Education, UoS) and I carried out in 2016. In ChemicalLives, we sat for 3 days in a ‘storytelling pod’ inviting staff, students and public visitors to come along and explore their interactions and engagements with a multitude of chemicals. You can read more on the Chemical Lives project page. Across the pond, Ignagni and Chandler have been developing a similar project, which has involved hosting a series of chemical stories workshops, both in the UK and in Canada.

Overall, Thinking With Our Chemical Stories was an exhausting but exhilarating week. We are currently writing up the outcomes and will continue to work with the design fictions produced through the workshop. So, watch this space!


Thinking Through the Possibilities of Pleasure, CDSA 2017, Ryerson University, Toronto.

I’m really excited to be participating in the Canadian Disability Studies Conference 2017 which, this year, is being held at the wonderful School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, where I did my first post doc.

For access reasons, here are copies of my talk for folks to follow as I present:

Standard Sized Print

Large Print

If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on




A (disability) politics of learning to contain…

Journal ArticleI have been lucky enough to write an article with the wonderful Jen Slater, which has just been released today. The article, entitled ‘Like, pissing yourself is not a particularly attractive quality, let’s be honest’: Learning to contain through youth, adulthood, disability and sexuality, has been published in the journal Sexualities. Sadly, this article is not ‘Open Access’, which means not everyone can access it for free. However, if you pop me an email ( I will happily send a free copy. Excitingly, the article was published as part of a Special Issue, Disability and Sexual Corporeality, edited by Barbara Pini, Vicki Crowley, and Cassandra Loeser. You can read their introductory article here.

In this blog post, Jen and I offer a shorter, abridged and more accessible version of the article, which we originally wrote for brilliant disability publication Disability Now. Sadly, since this time Disability Now has now closed, so we offer it below:

“Pissing yourself is not the most attractive quality, let’s be honest”: Young disabled people and “growing up”

There are certain ways that we are expected to “be” and “act” as adults. However, in reality, all adults are different and have different expectations put upon them, dependent upon time, place and social positioning (e.g. gender; race; age; class; disability status). Disabled people growing-up can receive conflicting messages from society (including the media, families, school and so on). Sometimes this is an oppressive message of being ‘abnormal’, and sometimes it is a message of being ‘just the same as everybody else’, which can not only be practically difficult, but reinforces the need to “fit in”. In this article we share some things young people said about gender, sex and growing up in our separate research studies.

Jenny’s research involved spending time with young disabled people in order to think about youth and disability. When she was doing her research Jenny, a non-disabled queer young woman, was going out with her disabled friends, Embla and Freyja. Jenny wrote this in her field notes:

‘Embla’s arrives to pick me up so I rush out. Freyja’s going to meet us later, Embla tells me: she still needs to do her makeup. She takes ages doing her make-up, so will be late. I turn to look at Embla: she’s wearing a black dress, leather jacket, heeled boots, face made-up, and hair done. Nothing unusual there, she always looks great. I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear-view mirror: make-up-less, hair a mess. “You look nice”, I say to Embla, “I’m going to feel a right scruff coming out with you two”. “Don’t worry about it”, Embla reassures me, “it’s okay for you, you’re not disabled. I have to get dressed up; don’t want to live the disability stereotype!’

Jenny had many conversations with Freyja and Embla about the different expectations put on them as young women. Whilst for Jenny, choosing to not get dressed-up could be considered a challenge to “feminine beauty”, Embla and Freyja felt that as women with visible impairments it was a more radical decision to assert themselves as young women. This meant always wearing feminine clothing and make-up. Although this was a conscious political act, they also felt that taking the “not bothering” option would (as Embla put it) meant “living the stereotype of the cute little disabled girl”. Therefore, they had little opportunity to ‘not bother’ getting dressed up as not being considered a “woman” could also lead to assumptions of them not being sexual.

This worry became clear for Molly, a 21-year-old disabled woman. She told Jenny a story of her 16-year-old self. Molly was a swimmer and wanted to start taking the pill so that her periods would be predictable and not get in the way of her swimming. She went to the doctor, who was happy to prescribe the pill. However, when running through his list of questions he became embarrassed, replying:

“Erm… I’m really sorry but I’ve, erm, got to ask you this… and I know, well, of course you’re not, I mean, I know you’re not, but I do have to ask, you’re not sexually active… are you?”

There is an assumption here of Molly not being sexual. Often the idea presented to us of sex is that it is an intimate act that happens between two people. There is an assumption of “independence” which relates to how we think about adulthood, but how does this work if you are a young disabled person who uses personal care?

Kirsty researched disabled people’s experiences of sexual life. Young people told her that one of the most difficult parts of being a young disabled person can be the lack of privacy this can bring. Lots of young people can lack privacy, but for young disabled people, particularly those who required personal care from others, privacy was something that often had to be fought for. Some young people in Kirsty’s research said that they felt their maturing bodies weren’t their own; that they felt incredible amounts of shame if they accidentally ejaculated during personal care; or if they couldn’t make it to the loo in time. Often, this impacted the ways in which they felt about their gender and sexual identity. As Julie said when talking speaking about the shame she often felt as a woman, “…pissing yourself is not a particularly attractive quality, let’s be honest”. Yet, where does this shame come from? And what impact can it have?

The feeling of shame doesn’t come from within us, but comes from a society and culture which dictates what our bodies have to do and be in order to be considered “adult” (and especially “woman”). Culturally, we associate “leakiness” (for want of a better word) with babies and older people, and we consider any talk of wee, poo, and ejaculate “improper” in “polite society”. We are shamed by the very silencing of these realities of our lives and bodies. This often went further. Some disabled young people in Kirsty’s research could be very humiliated by other people’s reactions to these bodily realities:

Abram: “My dad was doing all my caring… I used to get quite a lot of erections and ejaculate quite a lot during the night and he mentioned it to my mum who thought it was a problem and [said] “Should we call the GP?” and it was like, “Mum, mum, it’s…not a medical problem!”

To avoid feeling shame, young people in Kirsty’s research came up with particular strategies to cope, yet these strategies were often painful, difficult and/or took lots of work and worry. For example, some said they dramatically regulated their fluid intake (which could cause pain); some changed catheter types; others spent lots of time emptying their bladder and bowels before sex, just to fit in with what our common ideas of what it means to be “sexy”. Ironically, most said that such strategies could hinder how relaxed and confident they felt during sex, their ability to enjoy sex and their overall experiences of sexual pleasure.

To sum up a little, our purpose in this short article was to raise some of the unspoken issues that can matter to young disabled people, or certainly the ones that we spoke to. It’s clear that there needs to be more conversations with disabled (and non-disabled) young people, but also with parents, practitioners and so on, around the different ways that we can ‘do’ gender and sexuality as adults and young people. Importantly, these conversations need to take into account the ways in which our bodies work differently. Accepting and broadening our ideas about what it means to be “adult” is one way, we think, to relieve disabled young people of the shame, labour, and worry that can be experienced through growing up.

Jenny Slater, Department of Education, Childhood and Inclusion (DECI), Sheffield Hallam University

Kirsty Liddiard, School of Education, and iHuman, University of Sheffield



Dis/Cinema: An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to introduce Sins Invalid’s film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty? The film was screened as part of Dis/Cinema, University of Sheffield, which facilitates film screenings with themes of dis/ability, mental health, difference, and otherness. Check out its work here and follow Dis/Cinema on Twitter at @DisCinema. Below I share my introduction and slides. Not surprisingly the film instigated some powerful discussion which followed themes of privilege/power and race, class, gender and nation; the beauty industry and the economics of (bodily) shame; how we culturally come to be repulsed by otherness through fear; and our own experiences of being/enacting the spectacle of disability. A big thanks to Dis/Cinema and everyone who came along to contribute to such a stimulating night.

Sins Invalid poster


When I got invited to facilitate this session, my immediate thought was, how on earth does one introduce Sins Invalid? What can I possibly say that can prepare you for the transgressive beauty that you’re about to witness in its Kickstarter-funded film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

So I thought I’d begin with a story of the first time I saw Sins Invalid. It was live, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I had just graduated my PhD, in which I’d spent three years working with disabled people to tell sexual stories, and moved to Toronto in order to undertake my first postdoctoral position at the wonderful School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University.

This was a massive move for me, particularly culturally, as I’m from Milton Keynes, which, as much as I love it, really is where culture goes to die*. Everything I saw that first week of living in a new country, far from home, was new, rich, and vivid. But seeing Sins Invalid, and sitting with its audience, opened me up to the possibilities of politicising pleasure, (or disabled people’s lack of intimate justice to pleasure, sexuality and love), through art for the first time; that art, politics and power enable silenced stories to be ‘loosed into the world’. These threads have persisted through my own research since that very night.

So what does it mean to “politicise pleasure”, and why is it important to advocate for disability justice, the politic centred in the work of Sins Invalid? Activist Mia Mingus describes disability justice as a truly collaborative and intersectional movement that brings the body back in; as that which proudly centres accessibility; and which shatters the inherent Western, ableist and neo-colonial myth of independence. Patty Bearne, Co-Founder and Director of Sins Invalid, defines disability justice like this:

‘A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential; that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them. These are the positions from where we struggle. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine. Disability Justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon the legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance within a thousand underground paths, igniting small persistent fires of rebellion in everyday life. Disabled people of the global majority — black and brown people — share common ground confronting and subverting colonial powers in their struggle for life and justice. There has always been resistance to all forms of oppression, as we know through our bones that there have simultaneously been disabled people visioning a world where we flourish, that values and celebrates us in all our myriad beauty’.

(Bearne, 2015)

For me, Sins Invalid offers us a new lens through which to come to know, see, and feel bodies in ways counter to the dominant culture. It makes space to think about bodies, self and desire in affirmative ways – that bodies with what disabled feminist Susan Wendell (1996:45) calls ‘hard physical realities’ – bodies that droop, sag, spit, dribble, spasm, ache and leak in ways deemed inappropriate (Liddiard and Slater, fc; Morris 1989; Leibowitz 2005) and minds that confuse, forget, hallucinate, or take longer to learn are not non-human or subhuman, but can open up new ontologies of pleasure and alternative economies of desire.

Disabled people have long had their intimate citizenship and justice deprioritised – dominant discourse renders our sexual lives, selves and bodies at best as unimportant, secondary to things like housing, care, education, and legislation; as if civil life is detached from intimate life; like the personal isn’t political. We might think, in the current age of austerity, where in the UK and beyond, successive governments have served to denigrate disabled people, our communities and our families, that access to sexuality and intimacy is of lesser importance. That in a new world order controlled by Trump, May, LePenn and others, sexuality becomes, once again, the very least of our worries.

But austerity, neoliberal-ableism and global instability inevitably proffer new forms of precarity that drive us, at best, back into the normative body and self: meaning now is the time to politicise the impacts of such forces in our intimate lives; to claim, as the wonderful Tobin Seibers affirms, a sexual culture of our own.

Asserting, celebrating and living our own pleasures at this time in our history offers radical counter narratives. We can affirm the vibrancy of disability life through pleasure and desire in the face of social and literal death that austerity brings to our communities, and at the same time chip away at the normative boundaries of human pleasure which deem it unnecessary and grotesque for a range of marginalised bodies: disabled, fat, queer, Crip, black and POC, and genderqueer and Trans bodies. It is important, in times of such existential precariousness, that pleasure and sensuality (regardless of their form) are not relegated to luxury, but are means of survival and thus necessary for creativity, vitality and disability future.

I want to end with the words of the wonderful Eli Clare (2002: no pagination). Words which speak to the very bringing together of pleasure, politics and power that Sins Invalid demands: ‘I want to read about wheelchairs and limps, hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that aren’t necessarily about our genitals, about sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily—and I mean to include the mind as part of the body—differences so plentiful they can’t be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. It’s time.’

Thank you: here is Sins Invalid. See the trailer and buy the film here.

* Sorry to those who live in/love MK – I do – but it ain’t no Toronto for culture…

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The Crip, the Fat and the Ugly in an Age of Austerity: Resistance, Reclamation, and Affirmation

Please note: the deadline for this call has been extended. The new deadline is 17th July 2017.

I’m really pleased to say that the brilliant Jen Slater and I have teamed up to put together what we think will be a really exciting special issue of Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal. Please take a look at our Call For Papers below.

Image of RDS

The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal (RDS) seeks proposals for a special forum on the Crip, the fat, the ugly. We are currently soliciting papers of up to 7500 words in length, including references and tables. The deadline for submission of papers is June 1, 2017. Papers should be submitted to the Special Guest Editors Dr. Jen Slater, Sheffield Hallam University, and Dr. Kirsty Liddiard, University of Sheffield . Upon submission, please indicate that your paper is for consideration of the special forum on the Crip, the fat, and the ugly in an age of austerity.

Papers considered for inclusion may take the form of academic and creative works, as well as reflections on international disability-specific policies, practices, pedagogies and developments.

Submissions to this special issue will undergo a process of multiple editors peer-review. Authors will be notified of whether their papers will be included in the forum by September 1, 2017. Accepted authors will then be asked to submit their papers online to RDS. Prospective authors are encouraged to consult the RDS website at for more information about the Journal and its formatting guidelines. Authors are encouraged to review previous issues of RDS in preparing their paper and to subscribe to the Journal. All submissions must follow the RDS publication guidelines posted on the website. Please note that acceptance of an article does not guarantee publication in RDS.

‘The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself. The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use.  A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed.  The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human.  The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour. Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly.  Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength’.

(Mingus, 2011)

Global austerity has a far reach, often into, around, behind, beyond and alongside the body. Global austerity routinely categorises bodies in terms of productivity, value, cost, ability and aesthetics. The body is positioned vis-a-vis global austerity as a site for social order, economic possibility, progression, and big business. Whereas “[a]n able body is the body of a citizen; deformed deafened, amputated, obese, female, perverse, crippled, maimed and blinded bodies do not make up the body politic” (Davis, 1995, pp. 71-72).

Through global austerity, then, the crip, the fat and the ugly are typically Othered and denigrated bodies, identities, minds and selves, implicated and co-constituted by one-another (Bergman, 2009; Kafer, 2013). Within a context of coloniality, transnational capitalism, patriarchy, cissexism and white supremacy, the Crip, the fat and the ugly are rendered unintelligible (Butler, 1999), made in/visible and vilified locally, nationally, and globally. As Garland-Thompson (2002, p. 57) reminds us, “as a culture we are at once obsessed with and intensely conflicted about the disabled body. We fear, deify, disavow, avoid, abstract, revere, conceal, and reconstruct disability – perhaps because it is one of the most universal, fundamental of human experiences”.

Notwithstanding the harsh political backdrop, Clare (2015, p. 107) reminds us that “[w]ithout pride, individual and collective resistance to oppression becomes nearly impossible”. In this special issue we therefore seek to explore affirmatory meanings and pleasurable engagements with the Crip, the fat and the ugly. By this we mean to critically resist and play with normative understandings of what bodies should do and be, to reimagine that – as Mingus (2011) emphasises – the Crip, the fat and the ugly are ‘our greatest strength’. How are Crip, fat and ugly embodiments both resisting and resistant? How might they offer new ways of interrogating global austerity and neoliberal ways of life? How might the Crip, the fat, and the ugly generate new, diverse and polymorphous pleasures? What are the relationships, entanglements and connections between the austere and the aesthetic? What communities do the Crip, the fat, and the ugly build and how are these critical for survival, love and life?

Submissions to this journal could include, but are not limited to, critical interrogations of the relationship between the crip, the fat and the ugly, with:

●   Aesthetic labour

●   Activism and resistance

●   Beauty industries and economies

●   Biopolitics and biopedagogies

●   Bodily esteem, confidence, self-worth and self-love

●   Colonisation and first nations communities

●   Emotion and affect

●   Extensions of Mia Mingus’ work on ugliness

●   Globalisation and globality

●   Health and healthisisation

●   Identity, imagery and representation: masculinities, femininities, queer trans and intersex identities

●   Impairment and embodiment

●   Industrial complexes, institutions and systems

●   Madness and Mad politics

●   Other forms of privilege and oppression (class, ‘race’, gender, sexuality, age etc.)

●   Popular culture and The Arts

●   Queer bodies, identities and selves

●   The politics of staring (Garland-Thomson, 2009)

●   The sexual body: Pleasure, sensuality and desire

RDS is a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary, international journal published by the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.The Journal contains research articles, essays, creative works and multimedia relating to the culture of disability and people with disabilities.

Augmenting the Body: Disability, Bodily Extensions and the Posthuman, Sadler Seminar Series, LHRI 2016

Below is my contribution to the brilliant Augmenting the Body Sadler Seminar Series which, thanks to the flu, I’m too poorly to be at. I wanted to share it in my absence, so please feel free to read and share. The paper is written from my keynote for Normalcy 2016 at MMU and my talk at the Society for Disability Studies Conference in Atlanta, US, 2015. It builds upon my collective work on the dis/human with Rebecca Lawthom (MMU), Dan Goodley (University of Sheffield) and Katherine Runswick-Cole (MMU). I thank them for their contributions to this paper. To read more about the dis/human, click here.

Our seminar, with Dan Goodley (University of Sheffield) and Angharad Beckett (University of Leeds), is entitled: Augmenting the Body: Disability, Bodily Extensions and the Posthuman, Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds, 5th December 2016.


Please note:

  • The contributions I share below are written in the style of a conference paper.
  • Feel free to tweet its contents! @kirstyliddiard1
  • To cite this paper, please use the following: Liddiard, K. (2016) ‘Provoking Pleasures: Dishuman Possibilities’. Paper presented at Augmenting the Body Sadler Seminar Series, Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds, Decemer 2016, viewed DATE,

Provoking Pleasures: Dishuman Possibilities

First Slide
Illustration courtesy of Lecia Bushak


I want to begin with the words of Mitchell Tepper (2000: 288), ‘pleasure adds meaning to our lives… [it] is particularly powerful in making one feel alive. It is an anecdote to pain, both physical and emotional. It can add a sense of connectedness to the world or to each other’.

Through being denied access to our bodies and to pleasure, disabled people have been rendered on the margins/peripheries of what it means to be human.

In this short provocation I want to centre pleasure to imagine emancipatory modes through which to think about bodies, self and desire in affirmative ways – that bodies with what Wendell (1996:45) calls ‘hard physical realities’ – bodies that droop, sag, spit, dribble, spasm, ache and leak in ways deemed inappropriate (Liddiard and Slater, fc; Morris 1989; Leibowitz 2005) and minds that confuse, forget, hallucinate, or take longer to learn are not non-human or subhuman but can be situated in the realm of the posthuman and dishuman, and as I later claim, the dis/sexual (Goodley, Runswick-Cole and Liddiard 2015) – where disability opens up new ontologies of pleasure and prises open alternative economies of desire.

Disability, Desire and Disqualification

As I have argued elsewhere (Goodley et al. 2015: 11), disabled people’s exclusion from the category of the Human operates on a number of levels within sexual and intimate life (Plummer 2003): ‘it compromises our entry into normative sexual and gender categories; refutes our sexual agency and selfhood; and silences our calls for sexual, reproductive and parenting rights and justice. It is not surprising, given that humanness, humanity and sexuality are so tightly bound in our cultures, that sexual normalcy subsists as a very powerful cultural and political category of which to gain entry’ (Goodley et al. 2015: 11).

Shildrick (2007: 58) argues that contexts of ableism – the privileging of ability, sanity, rationality, physicality and cognition (Braidotti 2012) – have long disqualified disabled people from ‘discourses of pleasure’ that remain the preserve of those deemed human enough.

Disabled desires are, she suggests, dangerous in ‘a cultural imaginary that privileges corporeal wholeness and predictability above any form of bodily anomaly, and that supports fears that non-normative sexuality is always a potential point of breakdown in a well-ordered society’ (Shildrick 2007: 54). Such a thirst for social order disqualifies the pleasures of myriad Othered bodies, as sick and ill people, fat people, women, queer and Trans people, and Black and people of colour (POC) are rendered disgusting and beyond control (Tepper 2000).

But how might we understand disqualification?

But how might we understand disqualification? For many disabled people, pleasure is institutionalised through multiple forms of incarceration, as particular individualised regimes of care and a disciplining therapeutic surveillance disrupt the expression of pleasure (see Siebers 2008; see also Liddiard and Goodley 2016).

Through similar paternalistic processes, pleasure is also colonized, co-opted and pathologised through the interventions of education, medical and social care professionals. For example, masturbation training, chemical castration and over-medicating are routinely used to assuage the assumed animalistic hypersexuality of learning disabled, Black, queer and Mad disabled people (primarily men) (Gill 2015).

Or pleasure is denied (particularly to disabled women and queer people) through a lack of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare (Browne and Russell 2005; Wong 2000; Anderson and Kitchen 2000).

Ignagni et al. (2016) argue that pleasure is further mitigated through material deprivation/poverty, and through exposure to multiple forms of violence: most notably sexual violence (see Sherry 2004).

And, as I have maintained elsewhere, pleasure is readily criminalised through non-normative sexual activities such as sex work (see Liddiard 2014).

And then there are the emotional, psychic and affective politics of pleasure, which includes things like: the absence of Crip sexuality and pleasure in the cultural sphere (film, TV, media); the endemic shaming of disabled people’s sexual expression through oppressive care practices (Slater and Liddiard, forthcoming); and psycho-emotional disablism – what the wonderful Carol Thomas (1999, 60) calls ‘the socially engendered undermining of emotional well-being’ – which can exacerbate the existing denials of an erotic self (Liddiard 2014).

And if that isn’t enough, there’s internalised ableism: the insidious process learning to hate ourselves (Stevens 2011). Crip Sexologist Bethany Stevens (2011: 12) describes this as not being able to ‘muster the capacity to see love for my body’.

Theorising a dishuman disabled sexual subject

Despite such routine and persistent disqualification, however, Crip pleasure exists, persists, survives and thrives – (Liddiard 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).

Elsewhere, I have used Goodley, Runswick-Cole and Lawthom’s (2014) generative tool of the dis/human to explore what I label the dis/sexual (Goodley et al. 2015). Through the dis/human, it becomes possible to ‘recognise the norm, the pragmatic and political value of claiming the norm while always seeking to disrupt and contest it’ (Goodley and Runswick-Cole 2014: 5).

In an easy digestible sentence, the dis/human acknowledges a desire for the Human, at the same time as challenging its very narrow boundaries.

Similarly, then, the dis/sexual positions disability as productive disruption to the idealised forms of human sexuality from which we are excluded, but recognises that the majority of disabled people, like those in my own research, hold a desire to be included (Liddiard 2012).

The dis/sexual offers a space through which disabled people can claim their humanness through conventional modes of sex and gender (if they so choose), yet simultaneously defy and exceed its confines (Goodley, Runswick-Cole and Liddiard 2015).

I want to give 3 brief everyday dishuman examples from my own research to embody some of this theory and ask, what is the dis/sexual?

Example 1:

In this first example, the Dis/sexual might mean welcoming non-normative and queered pleasures and practices (that some impaired bodies often demand) into heterosexual, or otherwise normative, sex.

On the slide is a verbal exchange from Shaun and Hannah, a couple I interviewed for my research. They are discussing the wondrousness of the displaced erogenous zone – a product of Shaun’s impaired body – and the ways in which this re-inscribes their heterosexual sex with new meanings (for them):

Shaun: “I have very sensitive areas on my shoulders and… ‘cos that’s where I was injured so that’s kind of a natural thing… so it’s nice just for the touching side of things, really.”

Hannah: “Yeah, I remember the first time, because I didn’t know that about spinal injury and I was stroking Shaun’s shoulder and he was like “wow!” [Collective laughs] I was like, “What?!” I think I must have stroked it for an hour!”

Shaun: “She gets bored after a couple of minutes now! [Laughs]”

Hannah: “So that was an eye opener; that wow, so… I think you could get to the stage of having an orgasm through touching above the injury, which is amazing really.”

The ability to orgasm through ones shoulder undoubtedly queers the sexually embodied norms of the conventional erotic body that dictates that orgasms are, rather boringly, bound only to genitals (Ostrander 2009). But what makes this quintessentially dis/sexual is the desire for orgasm. Hannah and Shaun laboured extensively to ensure that Shaun experienced orgasm, reinforcing the primacy of orgasm for sexual pleasure (see Hawkes et al 1996) whereby the orgasm is, as Thea Cachioni (2007: 306, my emphasis) suggests, is positioned as the ‘natural outcome of sex – the only option for successful sex’. Thus, it was considered too abnormal by the couple (at that point) to embrace sexual intimacy without orgasm.

So, the dis/sexual recognises this desire for the norm (orgasm as integral to sexual practice) at the same time as contesting and disrupting the very entrenched notions of the conventional, charted orgasm and the embodied ways in which this materialises (Masters and Johnson 1959).

Example 2:

In this next example the Dis/sexual means privileging normative modes of phallocentric sexuality via non-normative practices either with/without genitals and/or with the support of (sexual) bodily technologies or enhancements.

At the top of this slide is an image of a piece of equipment called the Intimate Rider. For those of you who don’t know, The Intimate Rider was designed to enable men with paralysis to enhance their mobility during intercourse. Much of its marketing is aimed at re/gaining the physicality synonymous with a normative masculine sex role. The product emphasises a reclamation discourse based on ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ ways of ‘doing’ (importantly, only) normative heterosex.

From a dis/sexual perspective, the Intimate Rider at once extends and restores the naturalised male body to its “expected” purpose at the same time as queering and technologising that same sexual body as hybridised, a mix of flesh and machine, thus constituting a form of sexual cyborg (Haraway 1991) – opening our minds up to the possibilities of dis/sexual technologies, perhaps?

Example 3:

In this final example, the Dis/sexual means having intimate and loving relationships through paid-for sexual encounters. In this example on the slide, Abram is describing an intimate encounter with his sex worker, to whom he lost his virginity. On the slide is a small excerpt of a long and cherished email exchange with her that he generously shared with me during the telling of his sexual story:

[Reading her email aloud] Abram: “It was the most incredible privilege for me to be intimate with a human being as beautiful and sexual. She said, ‘I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t live up to your expectations and I truly wanted it to be a really wonderful and comfortable experience’. Um … she said it was a ‘privilege to be the lady that you chose to experience sexuality with for the first time – it’s an honour that will stay with me for my whole life’.”

The intimacy between Abram and his sex worker challenges prevailing discursive and legal constructions of sex work as social deviancy and anti-social behaviour (see Kantola and Squires 2004; Outshoorn 2001), and disabled male sexualities as deviant when they contradict the typical dis/ableist tropes of passivity, vulnerability and innocence. In terms of the dis/sexual, disability emerges as an extraordinary vector through which devotion, affection, and tenderness can materialise within commercial transactions/interactions. We can see this in commercial caring relationships, too, as Fritsch (2010: 8) argues in her work on intimate assemblages within what she calls ’transactions mediated by capital’. Disability can (re)inscribe, then, commodified, saleable and typically-alienable labour with reciprocity, affect, and affinity.

To move towards a conclusion, then, disability, by its very nature – offers possibilities for opening up new ontologies of pleasure and alternative economies of desire, even within the very confining boundaries of Human Sexuality.

Drawing Some Conclusions

As ever, I’m conscious not to over-conclude; but as a brief summary:

  • Each of the examples I have offered – taken from disabled people’s own sexual stories – aspires to a dis/ableist human sexual normalcy and normative modes of pleasure while inherently being non-normative and – in part – non-human.
  • Each claims the normative sexual/ised self as a marker of humanity, yet revises human sexuality as we know it.
  • Each strives for the “natural” through technologies, enhancements and extensive labour. Thus, each these – I tentatively conclude – embody the dis/sexual.

A couple of critical questions I want to finish on, and which I hope will build into our discussions today, are:

  • Do we all – as the sexy posthuman/dishuman subjects that we are (regardless of whether we hold/live an impairment label or not) – want to claim the dis/sexual?
  • What is the value in doing so, where our sexual liberation/emancipation, however we might imagine them, are concerned?
  • What might it mean – both individually and collectively – to be part of a dis/sexual culture?



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