Mixed Messages: Ableism in Dating

Article by Aimee Louw originally published on www.canadianwomen.org on March 20, 2017
Ableism can be defined as systemic discrimination based on disability. You know, those encounters you have that make you feel bad about your disability, or those barriers that prevent you from having your needs or desires met.
Ableism shows up everywhere. And for women or femmes or gender non-binary people, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint whether it’s misogyny, ableism, or a gnarly combination.
So how does ableism enter the dating world?
“Ableism in dating is not overt, aggressive or necessarily oppressive. It is the things NOT SAID, the quiet questions, the missed opportunities born out of fear…” said Andrew Gurza, founder of the Disability After Dark podcast.
Often, the way that disability and accessibility are perceived can affect dating. Personally, I’ve learned that feminist crip rage isn’t understood or appreciated by all dates. (I mean, it is to me, but.) Dates who aren’t familiar with this area of advocacy and intimacy may find accessibility too demanding. It might seem like too much for people who don’t see ableism as a social problem.
Below are a few instances of ableism gathered from people in Quebec and Ontario, and some of my own experiences. These are excerpts from interviews and conversations I conducted during my time working for the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN), co-coordinating the ACSEXE+ project in 2015.
Often, when it comes to disability, there can be confusion about the way we move or communicate or perceive things, and also confusion as to what our body language is telling another person or how that other person should interact with us.
One anonymous respondent said:
“The most common experiences that I have gone through have been attached to the wheelchair and my speech disability and the connotations that others have when they’re not aware of my disability. Challenges are seen in the form of:
a) not being able to enter a popular bar or club that a date would have liked to spend a night out at;
b) the appearance of being drunk due to lack of coordination and slurred speech; or
c) the first time awkwardness linked to getting intimate.”
Meeting people can be a challenge for some disabled people for several reasons, including ableist assumptions about us. This anonymous interviewee talked about their experience with online dating:
“There are all kinds of reactions. Most of the time people feel sorry, and that hurts just as when someone stops replying because they got scared.”
Queer dating scenes don’t seem to be an exception to this. One queer respondent put it this way:
“I tried online dating a couple of times. I found it so stressful. Having to come out as disabled because it is not obvious online in my case. Having to perform the story: “Hey I’m disabled but it’s not that bad.” I can’t do it anymore. It makes me sick. Many friends tell me I should make more effort and date more often, but I just don’t feel like I have the energy for that right now.”
In my experience, there are very particular looks for “types” that we can use to identify or signal other queers to us. If, for reasons of body stuff or mobilizing or the way that we communicate, we don’t fit into those categories, or if we don’t want to, it can be a lot harder to meet people or even enter into queer dating scenes.
Some people said there was more ableism in the families of partners than with partners themselves. This anonymous accessibility activist said:
“Most of the people I was seeing were friends before, so… they already knew [about my disability]. The only ableist aspect with seeing friends is that they were more concerned with how their families would react to our relationship. It was like, ‘yeah, we could get serious, but it’s gonna get complicated with our families talking’. They were being honest, I guess.”
Another anonymous interviewee shared similar experiences:
“I’ve observed ableism from the family and friends of the individuals I have dated in past.”
A memorable moment for me: a family gathering of my boyfriend’s at the time. I was strongly encouraged to change his nephew’s diaper while being questioned by his mother about my potential as a child bearer. Here, my gender and her curiosity about my disability, and the expectation that I would be the future primary caregiver of desired grandchildren, combined to make for a particularly strange gathering around the changing table. Awkward!
And on staying in the wrong relationship our anonymous activist said:
“There are two main fears: 1) not being accepted and 2) being alone. I [have] stayed in relationships so that I wouldn’t be alone. But you’re hurting yourself, because it’s like a poison that seeps in the farther you go. You get to a point where you say, how did we get here? Wish we had dealt with this earlier…”
When it comes to women, femmes,girls and gender non-binary people, there are multiple layers of awkward or weird comments and unwelcome commentary. I can’t even count the times that I man has tried to get my attention or ask me out by first saying something like “oh what’s a pretty girl like you doing in that wheelchair?” Or the time I was out on a date with a man and he was confused and also endeared by the fact that I moved my body differently than him. There’s a specific kind of condescending questioning that this man – like others before him – felt in accessing information about my body. He felt completely entitled to ask me questions that were based on the assumption that I was abnormal and as such, needed to provide him with an explanation. All this on a first date!
As women and femmes we are under a lot of pressure to perform, be pretty, be sexy, fit images of femininity, say the right thing and when we have another differentiating factors such as a visible or invisible disability, there can be many constricted social requirements for us to comply with in order to feel accepted.
“People consider us as disabled people and not as disabled women” said Isabelle Boisvert during an interview, pointing out the common experience of being desexualised in a culture that equates women’s sexuality with a narrow image. I think disabled people across the board and across the gender spectrum receive this question a lot: ‘can you have sex?’
How many of my disabled, sick, Deaf sisters and siblings have encountered the condescending “let me help you with that”, as though we couldn’t possibly know what we need or how to navigate? Or had a date actually ignore a request for assistance in another way or in the way that actually would help?
This has definitely come up on more than one date with a man in my life: the chauvinistic and paternalistic “wow, you do so well, considering”, draws on a pervasive assumption that my disability prevents me from living my life. Inaccurate.
My advice? It can be really hard to distinguish between sexism, misogyny and ableism, but one thing is clear: If you’re feeling stigmatized or uncomfortable in dating, listen to your instincts. Ableism and other forms of discrimination often find obvious and subtle ways to enter into our dating lives.
For me, part of overthrowing ableism is dismantling misogyny and vice versa. They’re completely intertwined and harmful to people of all genders.
Feminist responses to ableism in dating include defending respect and sexual freedom for all disabled people. Accessibilizing is a process.
These acts of resistance can take many forms, including challenging ableist comments, resisting the urge to ask uninvited questions, ensuring a venue or show is accessible for your date, supporting disabled family members in their dating pursuits, negotiating consent with cards or a list, working for physical accessibility, learning sign language and more. If we join together, we can break down all kinds of barriers and go on some great dates.
Thank you so much to those respondents who shared their insights and experiences. It’s important to note that these respondents aren’t representative of their communities, however, as there is no universal experience of disability, there is also no universal design when it comes to accessible dating. There are certainly commonalities between stories, but each experience and story is particular to the teller.
If you have ways that you’ve experienced ableism in dating and want to share them for a future piece or just to vent, you can email Aimee at aimee@underwatercity.ca. You can also visit her website http://aimeelouw.com and her blog http://underwatercityproject.tumblr.com/ for more.

Positions, positions, positions!

Original content post by our blogger Aimee Louw. Check all of her contributions.

“A good position for sex is one that will let you do what you want to do, let you touch the parts of your partner or yourself that you want to touch, and let you be comfortable.”

This quote is from the Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability (link). Here are a few positions contained in the book the Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability that might provide some inspiration for your sexy times.

 

  1. One partner on top

“If one  partner has more physical strength and control than the other, they may want to take a position on top with their partner lying on their back or side.”

While some people consider the top to be superior or in all control, the person on the bottom can also have a lot of control either through verbal or non-verbal cues. Something as subtle as an eyebrow raise or a             certain look can tell your partner that you want them to do             something different, or increase pressure, or whatever.

There are some tools that can help with comfort levels if you have pain or stiff body parts. For example, you could try putting a pillow or two under you knees, so there’s no strain on your legs, or you could roll up a towel and put it under your lower back so that you don’t  get back pain. Experimenting with these different supports is very personal, but these are just a few ideas. The person on the bottom, if they want or are able to, can try raising their legs and putting their knees against the other person’s chest, or over their partner’s shoulders. This could allow for deeper penetration, potentially, or easier access to the clitoris or other parts of your genitals.

Illustration by Fiona Smyth retrieved from Ultimate guide to sex and disability reprensenting two people having sex with one lying down propped up by pillows

Illustration by Fiona Smyth for the Ultimate guide to sex sex and disability

2. Using your wheelchair

“Sex in your wheelchair has the benefit of speed (if you don’t have time for more than a quickie). You don’t even need to get fully undressed!”

Here are some considerations when fucking in a wheelchair: if it’s a manual chair or if the armrests move up or down you could remove or raise the armrests so that the person not using the wheelchair can straddle you. The person on top can either face the person using the wheelchair or they can ride them with a sort of alternate doggy-style. Meaning, more like their sitting down in a similar position that the wheelchair user is sitting in. If the person using the wheelchair wants, they can scoot forward with or without assistance, revealing whatever part they want to be touched or penetrated. This can also be a useful position for the person using the wheelchair to receive oral.

Illustration by Fiona Smyth representing two people having sex, one of them in a wheel chair while the other one is straddling them.

Illustration by Fiona Smyth for the Ultimate guide to sex sex and disability

  1. Lying on your side: There are so many different positions that people can potentially have sex in on  a bed. One such position is lying on your side. Some potential appeals for lying on your side-style sex: it can be effective for a person wearing a catheter attached to a leg-bag.

People with sore hips or leg joints can have sex this way without out needing to put too much weight or pressure on their legs.

People with tight hip or leg muscles or tendons can access this position perhaps more easily than say, missionary or doggy-style for example.

Potential angles

With the lying on your side approach to sex, angles can be quite important. You could try penetrative sex (either with a hand, penis, dildo…) in a spooning position, or in a T-shaped position wherein one person is lying head to toe in bed and the other person is lying  perpendicular to them (include diagram), or the sexual partners could face each other for either hand sex, or sex with toys, or penetrative sex of various sorts. Of course, there’s the classic 69 pose, wherein two partners pleasure each other with oral sex either at the same time or at different times, and there is of course the   buddy side-by-side position where partners can touch each other’s  bodies while lying in a relatively close distance and comfortable position.

Illustration by Fiona Smyth representing two person having sex while lying on the side in a bed. One of them has got a catheter bag.

Illustration by Fiona Smyth for the Ultimate guide to sex sex and disability

  1. There are many different ways to use furniture and household items as tools or settings for sex. One example is a bed or a chair or pillows or a table or a piano, or whatever. Figuring out positions and things that facilitate comfortable and enjoyable sex is about experimenting and using household objects and items in new, sexier ways. There are also some products that you can buy that help for positioning for sex. (More info on that on the document Pleasureable, sexual devices manual for persons with disabilities). There are also pillows that have been designed specifically to assist in positioning. They can be used for sexual positioning or simply lying in bed and reading or typing or whatever. There is a draw back, which is that they’re kind of expensive and so they can be financially inaccessible. According to the Ultimate Guide, some sex toy manufacturers make pillows that are for sexual positioning, however, they say that they are not the best quality and can break when weight is placed on them.

This is a non-exhaustive into the world of sexual positions! These are just a few examples drawn from the fabulous book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, that hopefully will give you some ideas when you are imagining and when you are practicing different sexual positions. One of the most important things can be to check in with yourself and with the    person or people you are having sex with, and to ask yourself and         them-through the ways you communicate- if you’re comfortable. (link to consent + communication post)

If you’re not, imagine what would make you feel more comfortable and if you’re able to try to make that thing happen.

And when in doubt, try to have some pillows or extra blankets nearby for on-the-fly!

Photo: Illustration by Fiona Smyth From Ultimate guide to sex and disability represnting two people having sex while using the edge of a bed for positionning Posted on Tags , ,

To the person going on a first date and wondering if/ how to share their illness/ disability with the lucky date

Original content post by our blogger Aimee Louw. Check all of her contributions.

 

I hope you have fun on your date! Personally, it depends if I trust the person and feel comfortable around them, whether I share info about my body. And it can happen little by little too. So first off, trust yourself:) Ask: do I feel like discussing this right now? WIll it make me more comfortable? I would add also, don’t feel obliged to share info that you don’t feel that comfortable to share either. Like if it comes up and you feel like you want to share something about your illness, that’s awesome! And at the same time, don’t feel like you have to answer all the questions your hot date might have. I’ve been on dates where the person asks, “oh, does that mean you can’t____? (fill in the blank)” and I don’t feel like divulging at that moment, or the question goes too far. Responding with “I’ll share more as time goes on,” or “it’s not too relevant to ___ this activity” or something along those lines can let the person know that you appreciate their interest/ question, and at the same time respecting your boundaries/ private info too.

And remember, you don’t have to think of it as bad news you’re delivering, you’re just sharing an aspect of your life with them. That is a big honour, if you think about it! <3

(I don’t consider my disability a bad thing at all.)

Lobster loving

Original content post by our blogger Aimee Louw. Check all of her contributions.

I’m sitting there eating a spinach salad in Boston Pizza with an older guy I had met in a grocery store parking lot. It’s a first date. We have nothing in common.

He, a displaced east coast fisherman looking for a good time, preferably to a soundtrack of 80s hair rock, me, an uncomfortable college music student looking for validation, experience, and excitement.

He’s eating heartily and telling me about lobster, flipping through one of those 1990’s-era drugstore photo albums. He’s describing the different types of lobster traps and lamenting that there is less and less work every year on the sea. I’m nodding and picking at my food, thinking he’ll find me more attractive if I eat less.

We make a strange pair, to be sure, but not for the reason he thinks.

We’re eating, he’s talking, I’m listening, and then the question comes. A question I have grown accustomed to, growing up with an atypical body, but a question that shocks and hurts all the same when I hear it:

“So, what’s your… your…” and he elaborates with hand motions, expecting me to fill in the rest.

“My…?”

“Your, you know…”

“Umm” I stall.

Silence, salad, shame, and images of lobster fill my being. Then he pipes up with,

“don’t worry, it doesn’t bother me, I have a niece who was born with… well… she needs help.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, I think you’re beautiful anyway.”

It hurt to realize that while I was wondering if my date found me cute and if he would want to see me again, he was asking himself, basically, what my problem was. I felt uncomfortable but at the time didn’t know exactly why.

Time has passed and I have done a lot of soul-searching. My way of thinking about disability and the expectations placed on us has expanded. So here’s why I was uncomfortable:

There’s this often unspoken expectation that people with disabilities should a) explain ourselves when dating, and b) that we should know that we’re deficient and therefore be grateful for whatever attention we get.

Basically, we’re throwing non-disabled people’s perceptions of how a person should look and communicate off, and it is up to us to do what we can to fit their expectations. And if we can’t, we are expected to apologize for that in the form of explanations. On their terms.

In the moment, I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t the person bringing up the topic of disability. He was. There’s power in asking about someone’s experience when that person is part of a minority. I did not mention or show that I would be open to discussing that very intimate part of myself. It didn’t even cross my mind until he brought it up. And at the time, I was just learning about what my disability meant for me, let alone anyone else.

It was our first date! He felt completely entitled to every bit of information about me, while disregarding my entitlement to personal privacy. He didn’t consider how his question would make me feel.

It’s hard as young women seeking love to stand up for ourselves when we put our feelings on the line. And while I joke about this obviously wrong fit of a date now, at the time I was smitten and did not write him off because he overextended his boundary.

The thing is, from where I sit now, I would slap that older man going out with a girl half his age and tell him that he should know better than knocking her confidence down just so that his affection or attention can bring it back up again.

From where I sit now, I would tell that younger version of myself that it is he who is making things awkward. I would insist on making him spell out his prejudice, his questioning the difference my body signifies by staying silent, saying with my eyes ‘you want to make this awkward? Let’s dance!’

I would tell her that spinach salad is delicious, but not enough for the solid appetite she had and I have still. That buying into the expectation for girls to not eat is not a good way to get a boyfriend. I would encourage her to eat with all the fervour and pleasure in her being! Because we should never deprive ourselves in the name of acceptance.

Most of all, I would tell her that she does not have to disclose anything that she doesn’t want to… ever! Not to dates, not to friends, not to bosses, nobody. And when she does want to share that side of herself she should accept nothing but respect and openness from the person on the opposite side of the table.

///ACSEXE+///Hodan///

TEXT OF THE VIDEO

(Music)

(Chalk noises+music)

Deaf Identity

 

During my childhood I identified like a normal person, which is to say that with my parents,with my brothers and sisters I found thatwe were all equal, all the same.My parents didn’t give me any specific education about this subject.Then I went to secondary school, got my diploma, and it’s at this time that I really did a lot of personal learning independently,it wasn’t my parents that gave me a particular education, so when I got my diploma I moved to Montreal, and that’s where I saw that really there was a particular culture and identity for Deaf people,

Really we had experimented the same frustrations,it was a big relief to meet other Deaf people, and to feel the same as them.But I’ll tell you, that came a little late, I must have been 25 or 26 when I really discovered that there could be a Deaf identity. So, because we had effectively the same identity:  we were all Deaf we had had the same problems, the same obstacles, and that’s where I identified myself as a Deaf woman, but not just Deaf, a Deaf woman, feminist but not disabled. It’s really society who gives us the label of being a disabled person. I think that with time we have to make people aware, to really inform them, that in the end to be a Deaf person it’s absolutely not a disability and that we have to be considered on the same level as hearing people.

In my daily life, like I said, with my friends I feel like I’m on the same level as them, I find that’s great. It’s more on the level of hearing society, at the level of accessibility of government services, such as the Ministry of Health or Education, really that there are obstacles and we have to continue our struggles and battles, and I know that it’s long but I think it’s in the same way that other disabilities have their struggles and battles, it takes time.

There are very few adaptations that have been made, there aren’t always interpretation services available or accessible, so in Canada there’s a huge delay. And what’s more, it’s 2015! And we don’t yet have access to the services that we would have a right to . Whereas in the US they’re very very advanced in this area, and similarly, in terms of communications technology they’re a lot more advanced than Canada.

 

(music)

Deafness and sexuality

When I was young, I never had a boyfriend, so I met my first boyfriend, would was hearing, I must have been 23 years old I think. when I was young I’ve never had a boyfriend before I think that I was a little hesitant, I was on the defensive, I felt physical unready, I had friends who had already had sexual experiences, Deaf boyfriends, who had gotten into couples, I asked them questions and we discussed, they told me a little bit of what happened and shared their experiences, and their, you know one day I met my boyfriend who was hearing, so I remember everything that my friends had told me of their experiences of being in a couple, and I asked myself if that would be any different because I was with a hearing person.

So I asked myself if sexually there would be a difference or not. It’s funny, really, my body, I felt it, hesitancies like I was on the defensive, I didn’t know too much how to do it, on a sexual level, but my boyfriend was really patient, for a whole year he was very patient with me. So one day he asked the question “but Hodan how can we make love?” “How can we have sex?” – and it’s funny but that made me like, a feeling of a loss of self-confidence but it’s true he said “we can’t talk, you can’t hear my voice” And I’d say that that developed even more hesitance and defensiveness on my side, so I finally decided to abandon all of that.

It took a certain amount of time, but finally, three years later, ya it took three years, that we didn’t see each other, and I returned to the same guy and we started dating again, and we went, I would say 6 months, he was very respectful. Myself, I understood more about sexuality as a Deaf person, I understood that everything had to go through looks, through our eyes, through the visual, that it wasn’t a question that we would make love with the lights off. I hadn’t mentioned it before because I didn’t understand what it was, but with all the experience, the understanding, and to finally tryt it, I saw a big difference. But emotionally, I had no more feelings with him, so we decided to end that relationship.

With time I realized, also, that I had much more self-confidence as a woman, with my sexuality, with my body. And my current partner, we’ve been together for 5 years, we have a little girl, and really, we are very happy. We have a normal relationship, just like hearing people, except that the only difference is that we’re Deaf.

My daughter is a CODA (Child of as Deaf Adult), that means that her two parents use sign language with her, because her parents are Deaf, but you see everything is going very well at the level of communication. I’m really happy in my relationship, I’m very happy with my daughter.

 

Between Deaf people

(music)

So, for real, I will tell you that I prefer to be in a relationship with a Deaf man, because, at the level of understanding, and identity, we’re the same, fundamentally we’re the same. If I was with a hearing person, for sure he could probably understand some things about Deafness, but not from A to Z, probably just some of it, and he would always miss some things about Deafness that he couldn’t understand.

But , with a Deaf person, it flows, our communication is fluid. Sexually, it goes really well as well. So, I don’t want to generalize, it’s not the same for everybody, but I would say that me and my partner, on a fundamental level are the same, we’ve had similar experiences, it goes well, whereas  a hearing person would have difficulty understanding the frustrations that we’ve lived in regards to lack of accessibility and all that.

All that means that, for me, as a Deaf woman, I prefer to be with a Deaf man.

(music)

 

These video have been produced by FQPN and realised by Rozen Potin. Responsible for the project: Charli Lessard and Aimee Louw. With the participation of Isabelle, Caroline and Hodan. Translation: Aimee Louw

***See all the ACSEXE+ video***

///ACSEXE+///Caroline///

(Instrumental music with talks in English)
(Music and chalk noises)

I’m a trans woman. I’m… I  identify as asexual, but, not like aromantic. Because I like… I like to have special relationships. And umm, I’m on the autism spectrum, lots of weird anxiety things, I have experienced lots of things, relationships… maybe also sexuality, all these things, which is… particular and I think there are lots of things that combine as part of my experience that are unique and that I’d like to share.

I know that often, when I see other people’s experiences it’s rare that there’s something that I find represents me well. And I think that we need more special cases of weird people.

(Instrumental music)

Internalized Ableism

One barrier is that, in general, we have expectations about how people behave and how they use… move, interact, we have expectations about these and these expectations aren’t necessary… it’s not everybody who can… fulfill respond to these expectations. And so just living, in general, in the world, with these people, and trying to do in that world, it’s something that burns up my energy, because I always have to conform to these behavioral standards.

For a long part of my life I tried just to… not exist and to take up as little space as possible, and to make as few movements as possible because, it was safer. Now, I try to take up more space and to take that space in my own way. There’s a bit of… when I try to state my needs, especially when it’s something really specific in a particular moment, often it’s difficult for me because I find my needs illegitimate, and that it’s just too complicated. So there’s lots of internalized ableism.

When I try to explain to my girlfriend, certain of these needs that I could have, it can relate a lot to internalized ableism, so that could be hard. Difficult for me, but also difficult in terms of education because when I’m becoming really anxious because I find that I’m asking for illegitimate things that are just complicated and that I try to ——, that doesn’t put me in a good position to education people because I have the impression that I’m bad. So…

Generally, in my experience, the moments that autism or anxiety become visible are when I’m really not doing well. So, stating my needs in advance, that could be really positive. It’s also really important in terms of consent. But when that comes up in the moment, when I feel bad I can’t give advice to someone on how to interact with me. I have to say: “Ok, that, that works generally, but if I do this, ‘stop’.”

(Instrumental music)

(a)sexuality and disability

 For me, what’s important is relationships. And everything that can be more sexual, related to sex, bodies generally, in my experience that’s more linked to the fact that I’m trans and everything related to my body follows from that. I think that my sexuality and my asexuality could be understood in relation to my trans experience. But again, I don’t that think that we can just link it to my disability, and I don’t think that we can just link it to… to my trans experience. What I’d like people to understand about asexuality, like umm… is that… okay, I’ll say three things.

One: It’s an experience that it’s completely as legitimate as all the other forms of sexuality or other forms of relationships, also, or desire of relationship. Because, me, I want to be in relationships. There are people who don’t want that, and that’s super legitimate too. So that, that would be the first thing.

The second thing is that… to be in a couple and make love, that doesn’t necessarily have to go together. I think one thing that we try to valorize in sex-positive discourses is that we can move beyond. Marriage is not necessarily exclusive, like it was the 1960’s. We can have something more diversified, but we can also not have the need for that in a couple.

And I think that the third thing I would say is to not forget that… even if there isn’t… you know… to my knowledge, there isn’t systemic violence against asexual people, that doesn’t mean that the group doesn’t live forms of “oppression”, or experience marginalization in certain communities, and are easily forgotten. And that we have our place in, you know the long acronym of LGBTQIA, and that the A is not for allies. That asexual people have their place in communities and movements around sexual diversity, and diversity in general. Because it’s not true that we’re that well integrated in many spaces. For example, we’re poorly integrated in lots of spaces that call themselves queer.

Often, the things we say against asexual people to de-legitimize their experiences, are the same things that people used to say against homosexual or bisexual people, against trans people, against intersex people, so it’s not necessarily the same thing, but the same type of attitude and discourse and the same schema.

I think that we have to understand sex-positivity as not necessarily more sex, but like, more diversity and more openness to different experiences. That could be more openness like less traditional ways to approach that, to not want to make love because it’s not something that I understand and it’s not something that I find important.

(Music )

These video have been produced by FQPN and realised by Rozen Potin. Responsible for the project: Charli Lessard and Aimee Louw. With the participation of Isabelle, Caroline and Hodan. Translation: Aimee Louw

***See all the ACSEXE+ video***

///ACSEXE+///Isabelle///

(Musique)
(Musique + chalk noises)

Me, Isabelle, who am I? That’s a big question! Primarily I am a PhD student in community psychology, and a huge feminist for 6 years now. I’m really involved in the cause for women who experience disability. Aside from that, I am a lover of adventure, travel, I’ve always loved to go beyond my personal limits. As a woman with a disability sexuality and meeting other people has not always been simple for me. People consider us as disabled people and not as disabled women, as though we were asexual. In fact, the fact that we have a sexuality as a woman who experiences a disability is very, very taboo. At the level of society, people hardly talk about that, it’s not recognized, it’s even unpleasant for people, it shocks people. It’s really a shock for people to understand that, yes, we really can have a very blossoming sexuality.

(Musique)

I had my first sexual relationships very late. My first love and my first kiss, were… my first kiss was at 24 years old, whereas the majority of women have their first kiss at 12, 13, 14 years old… so that means that we arrive at an adult with less experience, less knowledge, and unfortunately it’s easier to live with different situations of abuse because we know sexuality less and we know our bodies less. We’re also, unfortunately… we have less self-esteem, so it’s more difficult to say what we like and what we don’t like. So, I find that it’s really difficult, the fact that we have less sexual experience, that they arrive later, that could bring abuse, unfortunately.

Often, when a person has a disability, people pass over the subject of female sexuality really fast. It’s placed to the side and definitely all aspects of enthusiastic consent, which is a pretty complex aspect, more complex than we think. Consent doesn’t just mean “yes” or “no”, it also means to be good with yourself, to be at ease with yourself and with another, to blossom, it’s not just to say “yes I want that.” At a given moment in a sexual act, it could be going too fast or too far and we can’t stop it in it’s tracks. But we can, at every stage and at any time of a sexual act we can really stop it in it’s tracks and say “That’s enough for me”.

(Musique)

Self-Confidence

When you have a physical disability like mine, your body is different and could have… in any case… for me what I have, I learned fast in my entrance into adult life, and in my life as a woman, that in knowing my body and its reactions that are unique to it, and that are its own, that I could have a real sexuality. In the knowledge of and in respecting my own body, that’s where I could have a sexuality. It’s by knowing myself, respecting myself and respecting my own body  that I can live a sexuality. And I even think that it’s important to, in the first place, have a sexuality, with oneself before a sexuality with a partner. And so, that’s what I would like to say to all the women that have different types of disabilities, “have confidence in yourselves.” You have to have a strong enough self-esteem and find yourself beautiful enough to put your foot down and advocate for a beautiful sexuality. Because it’s not enough to have a sexuality, it has to be a beautiful, blossoming sexuality! And that’s what I want to say the most “Find yourselves magnificent!”, we’re all magnificent! We all have an incommensurable value, and we all have a body that is worth the trip. So carry your body with you, it’s beautiful, it’s pleasant, it’s different, and it’s in that difference that it’s magnificent, we’re all different and it’s because of that that people will love you.

These video have been produced by FQPN and realised by Rozen Potin. Responsible for the project: Charli Lessard and Aimee Louw. With the participation of Isabelle, Caroline and Hodan. Translation: Aimee Louw

***See all the ACSEXE+ video***

What is ACSEXE+?

(Musique)

Caroline: “For me ACSEXE+ represents… recognizing diversity and difference in relationships and needs, and in the desire for relationships, and to take that diversity of different people who have a lot of different backgrounds and to accept and integrate them with love… and strawberries!”

Hodan: “When I look at myself in the mirror as a woman, I’m happy with the image that I see. It’s really really positive. I have confidence in myself, I feel good, I feel beautiful. And my partner accepts me as I am. That, that influences me, the image that he has of me, I find that that gives me a certain sense of power also. And like I said before, I have a lot of self-confidence. So really (our sexuality) is good.”

Isabelle: “For me sexuality is a fundamental right! Our bodies have demands, our bodies have needs. Sexuality is part of everybody’s lives, and too often, the rights to sexuality of women who experience disability are violated. So for me, I’m part of this project, to advocate for my right to sex!”

These video have been produced by FQPN and realised by Rozen Potin. Responsible for the project: Charli Lessard and Aimee Louw. With the participation of Isabelle, Caroline and Hodan. Traduction: Aimee Louw

***See all the ACSEXE+ video***

Find your PC muscles!

What better thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon than to….find your PC muscles!

Ever wondered how to increase your sexual pleasure and get more in tune with what’s happening inside when you’re experiencing sexual pleasure? (This one’s for the folks with vaginas!)

The PC muscle contracts during orgasm. It is also responsible for urine flow. It also supports in childbirth and is linked to timely ejaculation. Basically, strengthening and becoming aware of this muscle can support with orgasm, peeing, ejaculation and childbirth! Oh ya, it can also support balance while standing or sitting.

Some suggested steps to finding and exercising these muscles:

1. Find your PC muscle by stopping the flow of urine next time you’re urinating.

2. Later, while in transit, in a meeting, in an appointment, or just chilling at home, squeeze and release those muscles as quickly as you can, comfortably. It’ll be our little secret;)

3. Repeat from 2 up to 30 times in a row, comfortably.

This should not be painful. If you are experiencing any discomfort, please stop.

Fact: These exercises are called Kegel exercises

Fact: They can reduce incontinence and increase pleasure during sex!

Fact: These exercises are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of sexual pleasure. If this is not something you are able to comfortably do, don’t worry. We have lots of ACSEXE+ tips for diverse bodies and experiences coming up! <3

Post written by  Aimee Louw and inspired by « The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness» (2007) by Miriam Kaufman , Cory Silverberg , Fran Odette.

The Ableism in Dating Post

Ableism shows up everywhere. So how does it enter into the dating world?

“Ableism in dating is not overt, aggressive or necessarily oppressive. It is the things NOT SAID, the quiet questions, the missed opportunities born out of fear…”-Andrew Morrison-Gurza, founder of Deliciously Disabled

Ableism can be defined as systemic discrimination based on disability. Basically, you know those encounters that you have that make you feel bad about your disability? Or those barriers that prevent you from having your needs or desires met?

These are a few instances of ableism gathered by interview from people in Quebec and beyond. These are excerpts from interviews/ conversations conducted over the phone and by email. Some people preferred to be anonymous. Some people have websites you can check out!
An anonymous interviewee put it this way:

“I tried online dating a couple of times. I found it so stressful. Having to come out as disabled because it is not obvious online in my case. Having to perform the story : “hey I’m disabled but it’s not that bad.” I can’t do this anymore. it makes me sick.Many friends tell me I should make more efforts and date more often, but I just don’t feel like I have the energy for that right now.”-Anonymous I

Some people said there was more ableism in the families of partners than with partners themselves:

“Most of the people I was seeing, were friends before. So ableism was not manifested in comparison with those who I didn’t know before. They already knew what’s up. The only ableist aspect with seeing friends, is they were more concerned with how their families would react to our relationship.It was like, ‘ya we could get serious, but its gonna get complicated with our families talking’. They were being honest, I guess..”
-Gift Tshuma, member of Accessibilize Montreal, Sociology Student

Another anonymous interviewee shared similar experiences:

 “The most common experiences that I have gone through have been attached to the wheelchair and my speech disability and the connotations that others have when they are not aware of my disability. Challenges are seen in the form of either

a) not being able to enter a popular bar or club that a date would have liked to spend a night out or

b) the appearance of being drunk due to lack of coordination and slurred speech or

c) the first time awkwardness linked to getting intimate.

On a secondary level, I have observed ableism from the family and friends of the individuals that I have dated in past.“    -Anonymous II

We’ve written in an earlier post about some of the barriers to meeting people.

This anonymous interviewee talks more about their experience with online dating:

“There are all kinds of reactions. most of the time people feel sorry. and that hurts just as when someone stops replying because they got scared.”
-Anonymous I

On staying in the wrong relationship…

“There’s two fears right:

1) to not be accepted and

2) of being alone.

I [have] stayed in relationships so that I wouldn’t be alone. But you’re hurting yourself, because its like a poison, it seeps in the farther you go. You get to a point where you say, how did we get here? Wish we had dealt with this earlier…”-Gift Tsuma

We’re not proposing solutions here, just sharing experiences. This is the first post of many on the topic. Thank you so much to those who bared their souls, you’re brave and we’re more alike than you know! <3

Get in touch if you would like to share a story with us, anonymously or publicly! Or use hashtag #ableistdate