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 (k.liddiard@sheffield.ac.uk) 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

Introduction

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)

http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

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

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 j.slater@shu.ac.uk, and Dr. Kirsty Liddiard, University of Sheffield k.liddiard@sheffield.ac.uk . 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 www.rds.hawaii.edu 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.

Kirsty

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, https://kirstyliddiard.wordpress.com

Provoking Pleasures: Dishuman Possibilities

First Slide
Illustration courtesy of Lecia Bushak

Introduction

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?

 

References

Anderson, P. and Kitchen, R. (2000) ‘Disability, space and sexuality: access to family planning services’, Social Science & Medicine, 51, 1163-1173

Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. London: Polity.

Browne, J. and Russell, S. (2005) ‘My home, your workplace: people with physical disability negotiate their sexual health without crossing professional boundaries’, Disability & Society, 20:4, 375-388

Cacchioni, T. (2007) ‘Heterosexuality and ‘the Labour of Love’: A Contribution to Recent Debates on Female Sexual Dysfunction’, Sexualities, 10: 3, 299–320

Fritsch, K. (2010) “Intimate Assemblages: Disability, Intercorporeality, and the Labour of Attendant Care.” Critical Disability Discourse 2: 1- 14.

Gill, M. 2015 Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency. Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press

Goodley, D. (2014). Dis/ability studies. Theorising disablism and ableism. London: Routledge.

Goodley, D., Lawthom, R., & Runswick-Cole, K. (2014). Posthuman disability studies. Subjectivity, 7(4), 342–361. doi:10.1057/sub.2014.15.

Goodley, D., Runswick-Cole, K. & Liddiard, K. (2015) ‘The DisHuman Child’, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education: Special Issue: Fabulous Monsters: alternative discourses of childhood in education, 37: 5, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2015.1075731

Ignagni, E., Fudge-Schormans, A., Liddiard, K. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2016) ‘Some people aren’t allowed to love: Intimate Citizenship in the lives of people labelled with intellectual disabilities’, Disability and Society, DOI:10.1080/09687599.2015.1136148

Leibowitz, R.Q. (2005) ‘Sexual Rehabilitation Services after Spinal Cord Injury: What Do Women Want? Sexuality and Disability, 23: 2, 81-107

Liddiard, K (2012) (S)exploring Disability: Sexualities, Intimacies and Disabilities. PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, UK.

Liddiard, K. (2013). Reflections on the process of researching disabled people’s sexual lives. Social Research Online, 18(3), 10.

Liddiard, K. (2014). The work of disabled identities in intimate relationships. Disability and Society, 29(1), 115–128. doi:10.1080/09687599.2013.776486.

Liddiard, K. (2014). ‘“I never felt like she was just doing it for the money”: The Intimate (Gendered) Realities of Purchasing Sexual Pleasure and Intimacy’, Sexualities, 17: 7, 837–855

Liddiard, K. (2014). ‘Liking for Like’s Sake: The Commodification of Disability on Facebook’, Journal of Developmental Disabilities, 20: 3, 94-101

Liddiard, K. and Goodley, D. (2016) ‘The Mouth and Dis/Ability’, Community Dental Health: Special Issue, 33, 152–155

Masters W.H., Johnson E.J. (1966) Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Morris, J. (1989) Able Lives: Women’s experience of paralysis. London: The Women’s Press Ltd

Ostrander, N. (2009) ‘Sexual Pursuits of Pleasure among Men and Women with Spinal Cord Injuries’, Sexuality and Disability, 27, 11-19

Plummer, K. (2003) Intimate Citizenship: Private Decision and Public Dialogues. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press

Runswick-Cole, K. & Goodley, D. (2015) ‘Disability, austerity and cruel optimism’, CJDS, 4.2: 162-186

Scoular, J & O’Neill, M (2007) ‘Regulating prostitution: social inclusion, responsibilisation and the politics of prostitution reform’, British Journal of Criminology, 47: 5, 764-778

Sherry, M. (2004) ‘Overlaps and contradictions between queer theory and disability studies’, Disability & Society, 19:7, 769-783

Shildrick, M. (2007) Contested Pleasures: The Sociopolitical Economy of Disability and Sexuality’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, 3: 3, 51-75

Siebers, T. (2008) Disability Theory. USA: University of Michigan Press

Slater, J. and Liddiard, K. (in press) “Like, pissing yourself is not a particularly attractive quality, let’s be honest”: Learning to Contain through Youth, Adulthood, Disability and Sexuality’, Sexualities Special Issue: Pleasure and Desire.

Stevens, B. (2011) ‘Politicizing Sexual Pleasure, Oppression and Disability: Recognizing and Undoing the Impacts of Ableism on Sexual and Reproductive Health’, Barbara Faye Waxman Fiduccia Papers On Women And Girls With Disabilities: Center For Women Policy Studies

Tepper, M.S. (2000) ‘Sexuality and Disability: The missing discourse of pleasure’, Sexuality and Disability, 18: 4, 283-290

Tepper, M. (2002) ‘Forbidden Wedding: Movie Review’, Disability Studies Quarterly, 22: 4, 162-164

Thomas, C. (1999). Female forms: experiencing and understanding disability. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Wendell, S. (1996) The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Wong, A. (2000) ‘The Work of Disabled Women Seeking Reproductive Health Care’, Sexuality and Disability, 18: 4, 301-306

 

Multiple Modalities: Disability in film, TV, radio & on social media

In this post you’ll find details of upcoming events that I’m involved in which take up disability, representation, power and humanness across various modalities. These core themes are spread throughout my research and teaching, but with the Paralympics starting in Rio, it seems a good time to think critically about representations of disability and how they relate to the everyday lives of disabled people.

1. Disability on Screen, Tuesday, 8 November 2016 from 18:00 to 19:30 (GMT), University of Sheffield

The first of these events is Disability on Screen, an event funded as part of the Economic and Social Science’s Festival of Social Science. When disabled people have featured on the big and small screen in recent years in popular programmes like The Last Leg and The Undateables, and in films such as The Theory of Everything and Me before You, are such representations accurate, fair and just, and to what extent do they alleviate or exacerbate disabled people’s experiences of disablism?

Disability on Screen

Disability on Screen

Come and join in the discussion with an exciting panel of speakers including:

Adam Pearson, Actor and Television Production: Adam is an actor and starred alongside Scarlett Johansson in ‘Under the Skin’. Adam has Neurofibromatosis and has been involved in outreach programs to prevent bullying associated with difference. He has also worked in television production for the BBC and Channel 4 including the shows ‘The Undateables’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Ramy El-Bergamy, On-screen Diversity Executive at Channel 4: Channel 4 has a world class reputation for innovation their ambition to be the most Creatively Diverse broadcaster in Europe.

Dr Kirsty Liddiard & Professor Dan Goodley, University of Sheffield: Kirsty researches disability, intimacy and austerity. Dan specialises in theorising and challenging the conditions of disablism.

WHEN: Tuesday, 8 November 2016 from 18:00 to 19:30 (GMT)

WHERE: Auditorium – Sheffield Students’ Union University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TG

Click here for FREE tickets and to find out more.

2. FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, Monday, 7 November 2016 from 18:30 to 20:30 (GMT), University of Sheffield

Next up is a screening of FIXED, also an event funded as part of the Economic and Social Science’s Festival of Social Science.

‘From bionic limbs and neural implants to prenatal screening, researchers around the world are hard at work developing a myriad of technologies to fix or enhance the human body. FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement takes a close look at the drive to be “better than human” and the radical technological innovations that may take us there’ (http://www.fixedthemovie.com, 2016).

Come and see the critically acclaimed, multi-award winning documentary ‘FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement’ (2015), in association with the University of Sheffield’s newest research institute, iHuman: The Institute for the Study of the Human. The screening will be followed by discussion and refreshments.

To watch the trailers, click here.

WHEN: Monday, 7 November 2016 from 18:30 to 20:30 (GMT)

WHERE: The Foundry – Sheffield Students’ Union University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TG

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible venue; accessible parking; film will be subtitled. If you have any other access requirements or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: engage@sheffield.ac.uk

Click here for FREE tickets and to find out more.

3. The Archers: Archers story is disabled women’s dark reality

The fictional trial of Helen Titchener for the attempted murder of her abusive and controlling husband Rob has reached its crucial point in BBC Radio 4’s daily soap. As avid fans, Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and I have reflected in Disability Now on how this storyline all too clearly reflects the reality of life for too many disabled women. You can read this article here.

We have donated our fee for this article to the Helen Titchener Fund, a fund set up whereby all monies go to Refuge, for women and children against domestic violence. Please donate if you can afford to.

Tweet your thoughts to @kirstyliddiard1 and @k_runswick_cole or @BBCTheArchers and @DisabilityNow #thearchers

The Archers' Helen and Rob

The Archers’ Helen and Rob

Photo credit: The Archers: Helen Archer (LOUIZA PATIKAS), Rob Titchener (TIMOTHY WATSON) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Pete Dadds

4. Social Media: Liking for Like’s Sake – The Commodification of Disability on Facebook

Lastly, in the spirit of sharing, I felt it a good moment to re-post about an article I wrote some time ago, published in the Journal of Developmental Disabilities, a journal run by the Ontario Association of Developmental Disabilities, entitled Liking for Like’s Sake – The Commodification of Disability on Facebook. The article explores dominant representations of disability on social media, or more specifically, the very insipid images – or internet “memes” – of disability which have been labeled “inspiration porn” and “cripspiration” by disabled people. Read my original post, which was an accessible version of the journal article, or read the journal article itself here.

Liking for Like’s Sake – The Commodification of Disability on Facebook

Liking for Like’s Sake – The Commodification of Disability on Facebook

 

Pleasure, porn and power: rethinking sex and disability

I recently had the below article published in The Conversation; please click here to go to the original article.

Alluring woman in red dress laying down.

Is sexual attraction to curving spines, scarred stumps, leg braces and prostheses any different to finding certain types of breasts, waists, and legs appealing? Devotees don’t think so.

If you don’t know, a (disability) devotee is someone who identifies as having a sexual attraction to disability – someone who finds the kinds of bodily difference that impairment can invoke sexually appealing, titillating and desirable.

In prevailing sexual cultures that reify sexual normalcy, this form of sexual attraction is pathologised as sexual perversion and paraphilia – a state in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification includes fantasising about something deemed “atypical”, “abnormal” or “extreme”. Examples of this include abasiophilia – an attraction to disability aids such as leg braces, and acrotomophilia – an attraction to amputees.

documentary on devoteeism, with a disabled presenter, the wonderful Emily Yates, recently aired on the now online-only BBC Three.

As a proud disabled woman who researches the intersections of gender, sexuality and disability as a sociologist, it struck me as I sat watching – at 31 – how seldom I’d ever seen a disabled woman as a presenter or protagonist on television. We so rarely get to see disabled women as thinking, feeling, and acting subjects.

Yates’ confident and interventionist approach – which involved making her own devotee porn as part of her research for the documentary – served to counter common assumptions of disabled women as inherently vulnerable, undesirable and sexless.

Her self-made devotee porn film, in which she filmed herself transferring from her wheelchair to her car (it is not uncommon for devotees to want to see the pragmatics of living with disability), has since had more than 4,000 views, much to the excitement of the Daily Mail.

Such an approach embodied for the audience a woman – a disabled woman – provocatively playing with power, desire and pleasure in ways seldom avowed.

Hopelessly devoted to you

The debates that surround devoteeism as a practice are complicated, and take place both inside and outside of disabled people’s own communities and movements.

Devoteeism is a vehicle that opens up possibilities for rethinking the conventional erotic body at a time when narrowing aesthetic ideals – which very few people embody – are closing it down.

Devoteeism is often only viewed as a sexual fetish – a pleasure taken from the product of niche pornography – rather than a sexual preference, a form of intimacy, or part of a loving relationship. The latter are some of the ways disabled people in my own research have spoken about devoteeism, and of their own experiences with devotees.

Representations of devoteeism often reiterate well-rehearsed “preference or perversion” debates, when in reality devoteeism can be both, neither, and anything in between.

Proponents of devoteeism often argue that it serves to challenge conventional notions of beauty and attractiveness, as common understandings of the impaired body as “abject” and “grotesque” radically shift.

Power and pleasure

But for many, devoteeism is often far more about power than pleasure; a form of exploitation. Disabled people of all genders – but particularly women – can be abused and exploited by devoteeism.

In the documentary we see Yates become upset at the objectification of devoteeism – she questions whether the devotee with whom she is engaging is looking at her or her body, herself or, as she puts it, her “struggle”, the daily tasks she finds hard.

Devotees’ potential arousal at Yates’ “struggle” – marked as a point of shame for her – is degrading. A common thematic across much of mainstream pornography. Maybe, then, this raises broader questions about the limits of pornography, and disability within it?

Disabled people are routinely objectified, made a spectacle of and denied a lack of privacy in their lives; often reduced to object, other and burden. But the visual politics of pornography do not always have to render the subject an object. There are forms of pornography, such as self-directed porn and feminist porn (porn made by self-identifying feminists), which can give the subject much greater control over representation.

Sexual violence?

The documentary touched upon devotees secretly filming disabled people on the street, and stealing their images from social media – which of course, without consent, is sexual violence.

Disabled women already experience sexual violence in greater numbers than disabled men and non-disabled women. They also experience an overwhelming lack of access and support to leave situations of violence – partly because the majority of women’s services and refuges don’t cater to their needs.

But while abuse, exploitation and violence can be a reality for disabled people, these aren’t necessarily behaviours inherent to devoteeism as a practice – as long as full consent is present.

But we must also be mindful that disabled people can exploit and abuse devotees – vulnerability isn’t inherent to, nor the preserve of, disability.

So while devoteeism isn’t for everyone, sexual modes through which disabled people can erotically play with disability – in ways that do not reproduce them as an object – can be progressive.

It might be more helpful then, to consider the ways in which devoteeism, like kink, BDSM, and voyeurism can be safe, consensual, and reciprocal; and acknowledge that together pleasure, power and play are not innately deviant or dangerous, even in the context of disability.

Either way, Yates’ explorations embodied these complex debates in new and interesting ways. She has moved the conversation forward and done so from a perspective that is so often missing – that of disabled women themselves.

Lancaster Disability Studies Conference 2016

Inaugural Sexuality Stream 2016 Call for Papers

Convened by Tom Shakespeare, University of East Anglia, and Kirsty Liddiard, University of Sheffield

The foundational text, The Sexual Politics of Disability, was ‘the first book to look at the sexual politics of disability from a disability rights perspective’ (Shakespeare, Davies and Gillespie-Sells, 1996: 1). Ground-breaking in its contents and its approach, the sexual stories contained within the covers of the book – told by disabled people themselves – challenged the prevailing myth of asexuality and other tropes which render disabled people as perverse, hypersexual, or as lacking sexual agency.

Despite this scholarly activism, the sexual, intimate, gendered, and personal spaces of disabled people’s lives remain relatively under-researched and under-theorised in comparison to other spaces of their lives. Rarely are disabled people themselves authors or co-producers of this work. Where austerity policies dominate, we are unsure of how this impacts the possibilities for intimacy and relationships. Conversely, we lack evidence about the impact of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Significant gaps remain in our knowledge of disabled people’s experiences of sex, love and relationships, then, often in marked areas.

This inaugural sexuality stream marks the 20th anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996). In this stream, we aim to celebrate and encourage the broad bodies of work that have emerged within the ever-expanding field of disability studies, gender studies and sexuality studies. For this stream, we will prioritise papers containing original social research, as a response to the relative dearth of empirical work within the field.

We are thrilled to have Don Kulick, Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology at Uppsala University, Sweden, as keynote speaker. His books include Travesti: sex, gender and culture among Brazilian transgendered prostitutes (1998), Fat: the anthropology of an obsession (2005, edited with Anne Meneley), Language and Sexuality (2003, with Deborah Cameron) and most recently Loneliness and its Opposite: sex, disability and the ethics of engagement (2015, with Jens Rydström).

We welcome papers on the following themes:

  1. Identity and imagery: masculinities, femininities, Queer and Trans* identities
  2. Intersections of gender, race, sexuality, class, nationality, age, and religion/faith/spirituality.
  3. Sex education and sexual health
  4. HIV/AIDS
  5. Pleasure, sensuality and desire
  6. Sexual and bodily esteem, confidence, self-worth and self-love
  7. Impairment, embodiment and corporeality
  8. Psycho-emotional disablism
  9. Barriers to sexual expression
  10. Youth
  11. Parenting
  12. Learning disability and sex/uality
  13. Mental health, distress and intimacy
  14. Intersections of personal assistance, residential and social care, and intimacy
  15. Sex work and sex industries
  16. Sexual, emotional and intimate-partner violence
  17. BDSM, kink, and fetish
  18. Online and cyber sexuality
  19. Sexual drugs, enhancements and technologies
  20. Human rights law and disabled sexualities
  21. Researching sex/uality: data collection, methodology and analysis
  22. Theoretical contributions: Critical Disability Studies, Feminist disability studies; Queer Theory; Crip Theory; Posthuman and DisHuman studies.

Contributions that reflect on any of these themes are invited from academic and non-academic researchers, scholars, activists, and artists. These themes are indicative only, and we will consider proposals that fall outside them so long as these relate to the overall conference stream. We welcome offers of traditional academic papers (20 minutes max) and also welcome proposals and presentations in alternative and/or creative formats (e.g. film, animation, poetry). Submissions should be made through easychair and please specify you wish to be considered for this stream.

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Kirsty or Tom: k.liddiard@sheffield.ac.uktom.shakespeare@uea.ac.uk

Please see here for the Mad Studies stream and here for the main conference call for papers.