I am aware that I have not blogged for some time, and this is something I want to remedy now. A combination of hot summer weather, plus a hospital stay, has meant that I have not been as attentive to the blog as I could be.
That said though, taking a break from the actual writing process can be a good thing. It allows you to observe, glean new insight and be inspired. Indeed, this is what has happened.
Today,I want to address the often taboo subject of sex, transsexuality and disability.Sex seems to be the bastard child of the education system, plus every parents worst nightmare, as they scratch their heads trying to think of a way to tentatively broach the subject of the birds and the bees, without alienating their offspring.
Sex is doubtless a tricky subject. But zooming in on the issue of sex from a transsexual perspective or from the perspective of a person with a disability, reveals deeper trickiness. An insidious Pandora’s Box, which is left to lurk at the bottom of the ocean, never to be discussed, for the contents seem challenging, difficult and unmanageable. But for me as a woman with a disability, and who is trans, life is all about challenges. So today, I want to open that Pandora’s Box, and see what I find.
One of the things I was always told as a teenager is that “my bits work as well as anyone else’s.” Now leaving aside genital incongruity for the moment, this is quite a liberating thing to be told. For the person with a disability, who has had many “powers” taken from them, sometimes at birth, the fact is that it is still in their gift to be sexually active.
However, this gift is somewhat hollow. Since sex is a two way street, it requires the love, passion, and the ability to see beyond the surface of another person for the gift to prove useful.
It has long been a popular misconception, amongst the general population, that people with disabilities cannot have sex. This misconception is largely based on an empirical body of evidence consisting of…..wait for it…..hot air.
People with disabilities can and enjoy fulfilling sex lives. Bobby Poll, the lovely Head of the Physically Disabled Support Department at Kings School knew this, and another person who knew this was Dr. Graham Jowett, the former Principal and latterly Director of Education at Lord Mayor Treloar National Specialist College in Alton, Hampshire.
I attended Treloars as a full time boarder, following my GCSE’s. It increased my independence of thought, and mind. Indeed, too many people paint by numbers in the disability arena in terms of physical results, but that is perhaps a point for another day.
What though, can I say about Dr Jowett? People always have an infinitesimal about of opinions, when it comes to others, indeed, it is the way we are fundamentally wired. However, I shall give mine. Dr Jowett was a man of sharp intellect, astuteness and wisdom, a “no bullshit” kind of guy with whom you knew where you stood.
He was not the sort of man who I could imagine putting his arm round you and giving you a hug if you were crying, but the sort of man who would find out why you were crying and try to find an equitable solution for all concerned. That is to say, an empathic person by deed and action, if not by emotion.
So, it was of no great surprise to me having left a few years later, to read about the and sex policy he pioneered at the College. It came about after a 17 year old student asked of a college counsellor whether it was okay for someone as severely disabled as her to fall in love, and by implication, whether she had the right to fall in love, or whether society would find it disgusting.
Articles written about this have said that the counsellor in question was horrified, and this is why the SAFE (Sexuality in Further Education) policy was born.
Now as a person with a disability, this horrified me too. That someb0dy felt the need to question their access to one of the most basic human rights, perhaps ranked alongside nutrition, and a roof over your head saddened me to my core. Sex is a taboo, but should not be an extra taboo just because you have a disability. We too have sexual feelings. We too may find people attractive.
When this policy was drafted, barristers were brought in to pour over legalities, in order to ensure that those helping people to have sex could not be misconstrued as engaging in coercion nor participation. Dr Jowett just wanted people to have access to the same rights as everyone else, since sex is a fundamental plank of anyone’ s independence, yet it is all too often overlooked and ignored. Dr Jowett was something of a maverick, and a trailblazer, and his work is to be commended. He also recounts an experience where at a dance recital, able bodied students draped themselves over people’s wheelchairs, and thinking that this may be the only sexual experience they may have ever had. This then, is what makes the need for a SAFE policy everywhere it is necessary to implement one, all the more urgent.
So then, what of me? You may have noticed that I have written quite dispassionately in my opening part of the piece, and being honest with you, this was very deliberate. Now though, I want to talk about me
Those who are quite astute, and may be playing a game of devil’s advocate with my writing may have a but in your mind. The but may be that whilst Treloars’ intentions may be noble, what happens in the real world, where there is no policy and just the human race?
I have noticed that sex becomes problematic whenever an ity is involved. In this case, disability and transsexuality. The closing gambit of this paragraph may be to suggest that combining the two ities means you have a very efficient powder keg.
However, I am not that much of a pessimist. I am often left to wonder though, what do my friends, in this instance those on the gay or trans scene, actually think of me? Do they imagine me as a functional, sexual being, or, as an ornament there to decorate the bar?
The truth is, the absolute truth is, I am not sure what they think. I do know, however what I think. I think that I am a sexual being who feels that I would love a lesbian relationship.
But AHHH! AHHH! Waters muddying. How do you have a sexual relationship with a lesbian, when your genitals are still that of your wrongly assigned birth sex?
You see again, I know how I would approach it. I would feel like a lesbian when we made love. I would teleport their genitals on to me, and use my fertile imagination. I tried it once in a real life scenario. I got a playful slap across the face. But teleporting genitals during sex seemed at the time, at least using the power of the imagination, seemed to be an equitable solution.
However, I am reminded as I write, that sex is not a one way street. It is an emotional, and sexual dialogue between two people, or maybe even more in the case of polyamory.
So the rhetoric of the mind then comes into play. How would another lesbian feel about my need and desire, to sensually claim their vagina as my own? To feel it, touch it, and caress it as though it were on my body, in order to compensate for the biological mistakes on my own? Truthfully again, I simply do not know. Writers give answers normally. But here perhaps the true answer lies in the ambiguity of the question, since it is so personal, and lies in the hearts of individuals.
In terms of sexuality, I am fundamentally, ardently and passionately (and let’s break the three part rule) and completely lesbian, in myself. But do others see me that way?
I hope so. I love to socialise in gay spaces. When I was unable to access the Edge once, it was suggested that a taxi could be paid for to take me somewhere else.
But the point is, I would not want to go. For the gay scene is where I feel most at home, most relaxed, most welcome and most me. A straight club would not be the same. I hate the way people dance to the side of me, as though they are going to catch a particularly virulent strain of leprosy, or shrug their shoulders and do that cheesy toothpaste advert grin. Utterly cringeworthy. But in the gay social space, I feel respected, wanted, and also feel I reciprocate by showing appropriate loyalty.
Yes I have never had a long term lesbian relationship. But the want and the desire is there. I see myself as a lesbian. Two of the most important linchpins of any relationship are communication and dialogue. I feel readier than ever to open up those channels. Like Graham Jowett, I firmly believe that every person who has a disability has a right to experience the love and security of a relationship, should they want to. I also believe that trans people with disabilities, in the same vein, have that right to experience it. Personally, I feel ready to. Previously, in a place of low mood, confidence and self esteem, I would denounce myself as unlovable, and a whole host of other derogatory things. Now that the opposite is true, I feel eminently lovable and ready to love. The question is, does anyone feel ready to love me too? Just as we want the taboo of sex, disability and transsexuality to be broken, it could also leave another person party to accusations of participating in a taboo relationship. By implication, this may change perceptions of them as well as me. Is that something they can handle? Would I be asking too much of them?
All too often, people with disabilities are done to, in a myriad of care tasks that seem a mystery to the outside world. Should a lesbian transsexual not be able to enjoy the pleasure, the pain and the ecstasy of sex too? I think so. There is nothing which prevents me from so doing. 4 I shall be interested to see what kind of attitudes this post elucidates from people. Just to be clear, I did not write it so people could go “aw bless!”. I wrote it so that people could realise that I dream the same dreams and want the same things as every other lesbian. I hope that is now very clear. I did not write it because I thought it was not. I just wanted to make sure.
I have no problem with having sex, or making love. Different techniques and the imagination would need to be used in spades, but I am sure we can work on that. I am ready to love the lesbians of the world – question is are they ready to love me? Can lesbians really discount a penis and see a person? I cannot wait to find out.