Thursday, July 06, 2006

Loaded with Beautiful Vulnerability

This blog entry contains some strong sexual references. I promise after this I will try not to write anything of a sexual nature for at least the rest of the month. Honestly, I’m not obsessed. The orchids have nothing to do with anything; I just thought the text needed breaking up.

Wheelchair Dancer has been discussing disability-fetishism following the news that Encarna Conde, a wheelchair user and disability campaigner, has starred in a pornographic movie entitled Breaking Barriers. Wheelchair Dancer's first post on the subject is here, her second here. Blue at The Gimp Parade has also posted about disabled people in porn. These discussions throw up a great number of issues, but I wanted to write a bit about the sexual practice of pretending and what this says about our culture’s deep-seated attitudes towards disability.

Please note, I do not wish to criticise other people’s kinks, at all; I don’t think people really choose what turns them on and certainly folks ought not to feel ashamed of thoughts and practices which harm no-one. But like many aspects of our sexual make-up there are cultural influences on these things which are interesting and which can have an effect the rest of us.

I am aware that often people are excited by the mere existence of a taboo; in a culture where disability paraphernalia is generally symbols of weakness and indignity, perhaps their is some perverse thrill from, for example, having sex in a wheelchair.

Another thing going on is perhaps partly physiological. We know that stopping the body doing what it wants to do, whether through conscious effort or some practical restraint increases physical tension and can both intensify and prolong events. A nature example of this is that some men with certain spinal injuries cannot ejaculate fully, and so experience multiple-orgasms by default.

A quick glance in the window of any Adult emporium suggests that folks have many different ways of going about this sort of thing; some with pink fluffy handcuffs, others with really rather sinister looking equipment. Maybe for some people, it is more comfortable to sit in a wheelchair and pretend your legs are paralysed than to be tied up (or whatever else).

Physical restriction also negates performance anxiety, thus reducing inhibition. Some people are loaded with guilt or nerves and like to be lead or looked after. Other people are the other way inclined; whilst I believe that very few people wish to dominate their lovers, some people like to maintain control, to do the giving, as it were.

Now, disability ought not to have anything to do with this. But folks do dress up in all sorts of daft costumes in order to symbolise a certain power dynamic, all based on some exaggerated and highly-sexualised cultural stereotype; the nurse, the fireman, the french-maid, the police officer etc, each symbolising a specific role. The disabled person is just another (if far more obscure) concept – apparently a passive and helpless one. And as Wheelchair Dancer says, there’s nothing wrong with sexual passivity per se; the association is ...discomforting.

But again, I don’t think this does us a great deal of harm; as disabled people, we are not obliged to conform with this and people who do are just playing a private game which works for them. What's more, I don’t think this is born out of an idea relating specifically to our sex lives, but merely our overall role in society. And that is the problem; not the fact that people take these ideas into the bedroom.

It is also the far more interesting bit. In particular, a visible non-subjective symbol of impairment legitimises all sorts of psychological and social concessions in the wider world. From the little reading I have done, the most appealing impairments seem to be amputation and paralysis; these are things that everyone recognises, understands and that are entirely immovable; you don't have good days and bad days and nothing is likely to change.

My own experience is that coping with physical fragility and pain without the obvious and undisputed symbolism of a wheelchair or walking stick is extreme hard work. People walk into you and lose patience if you are slow or disorientated; strangers have high expectations of you and you find yourself destined to disappoint and baffle them.

Okay, so personally I would much prefer pain-free bipedal mobility and perhaps most significantly, I dislike the attention I attract as a wheelchair-user; I don’t like being fussed over or looked after and I would very much like the option of blending into the background. However, this kind of attention, sympathy and gentle-handling may well be appealing to some, even those whose fragility and pain is on a purely emotional level.

In this society, we’re not very kind to one another and unless you have a sign tattooed to your forehead reading PLEASE BE GENTLE WITH ME, folks will assume that you are just as strong, confident and capable as they are. Sit in a wheelchair and generally (though not universally) people will be kinder to you, more likely to speak to you and ask if there is anything they can do to help.

But, nobody should need to be in a wheelchair in order to be treated with respect and uh… tenderness isn’t exactly the right word, but I think you know what I am getting at. If we all recognised one another’s needs and vulnerabilities, then perhaps the need would pretend would cease?

At the same time, wheelchairs users, and other people with visible impairments should not be seen as necessarily vulnerable and passive. Apart from anything else, some of us are complete gits.

Hmm, all about the houses on this one. Hope it makes at least some sense.


Mary said...

The less I broadcast on the internet about my sexual preferences pre- and post- becoming disabled, the better. I'm quite sure nobody needs to hear about my little kinks.

But whenever this subject comes up, I really do wonder if disabled porn models are being paid as much as their able-bodied counterparts.

I remember via the Ouch messageboard seeing a link to some disabled porn photographer that implied that they were doing their disabled models a favour by taking photos and videos of them as it was "helping them gain self-esteem" and so on. I'm sorry, but if anyone other than my boyfriend was taking pictures of my naked body I would be pretty sure it was *me* doing *them* the favour... there is more to a person than the ability to satisfy lust.

The Goldfish said...

I think that inevitably, most circumsatnces where disabled people are coming across people from this scene, they are inclined to feel patronised or offended to some degree. And certainly, if you were lacking in self-esteem, taking your clothes off and having your naked photograph being sold to strangers over the Internet doesn't strike me as the best course of action...

Mary said...

not the best course of action but I suppose for somebody who had low self-esteem, it could provide at least a temporary feeling of desirability or worth or something.

I seem to remember from a few years back, a friend who was about a size 20 and got mixed up in a "Big is Beautiful" site. She would submit explicit photographs of herself. Men who got off on larger women would pay the people running the site to be allowed to see the photographs and send her messages. She would pay the people running the site to let her maintain a "profile" and send/recieve messages with these men.

Or to put it bluntly, the people running the site were making a hell of a lot of money out of her low self esteem and the fact her body met with these men's sexual preference.

I didn't notice her self esteem improving in that time.

Sally said...

Thank you Goldfish for thinking about these things, analysing and then elucidating them.

All I feel comfortable in, now, these days, in my impairments and fatigue, is contemplating a relationship that will s l o w l y make its way towards intimacy.

Disability (or is it just age) has enabled me to demand that time and trust are the foundations for lust. So I hope that hurdle will cause any associations with the potential to be negative at best, abusive at worst, to fall, fail, at the first hurdle.

(If I waited until I felt clear about this I would never comment at all.)

All through reading your post, I have been reminded of the foundations for self-esteem to be found in Clarissa Pinkola Estes 'Women who Run with the Wolves'; it contains much wisdom for all genders in relating: " ... (our) genuine nature has been repressed for centuries by a value system that trivialises emotional truth, intuitive wisdom and instinctual self-confidence."

Its obvious to some, difficult for others, to know that self-esteem starts with the Self.

I wish that all disabled people who want it or need it, could have access to empowering self-awareness counselling, disability equality training, and disability rights knowledge. That would reduce the pool of targets for would-be abusers. That would hopefully answer the many needy messages I have read, that have been left in various places on the w.w.w. by isolated disabled people.

This comment has digressed from your post, hopefully not too far, and hopefully useful in some way; it is what your post led me to think about, again.

Anonymous said...

What is with all the wanky pictures of vaginal orchids to go along with the article about disabled pornography?