Moderator: Nancy Ferreyra
Panelists: Raymond J. Aguilera, Loree Erickson, Julia Trahan
Edited from Real Time Caption transcript by Eli Clare
Nancy Ferreyra: …So my name is Nancy. I’m going to be moderating the sex panel. I’m sorry. I don’t know what it’s called in the program. It’s something, blah, blah…. So the first thing I wanted to do was to thank the organizers for planning this conference. I’ve been involved in conferences before, and I just know the countless hours and dedication it really takes to put on a conference like this. And I really wanted to thank everyone who put in the time and energy to make this happen.
NF: Second, I wanted to thank the participants, all the conference-goers, but most importantly the conference-goers that came to our panel. So first I want to talk a little bit about the panel format. We’re going to each do kind of a really brief presentation. We wanted to leave a lot of time for discussion, because, you know, we kind of feel like we’re really here to just kind of give information and to kind of spark some ideas for longer discussions. So our comments are all going to be fairly brief.
NF: So, first I wanted to introduce myself. Again, my name is Nancy. And I submitted a proposal to do a workshop at this conference about sex because when I gave a talk at UC Berkeley last semester, and it was for a student initiative class on disability, predominantly the students in the class were people who were becoming attendants, you know, personal assistants for disabled folks. But there were some disabled students in the class. Anyway, I was asked to come and do a class on sex with this other woman, sex and disability. And this young woman after the class came up to me and said that she had taken all of the disability studies classes at Cal and that I was the first disabled person who she had ever heard talk about sex, a disabled adult. And I thought, “Wow, here we are in Berkeley, and that is just not right.” You know, from my perspective, I was just thinking that I obviously had a misperception about how far we had come, because we really obviously hadn’t come that far.
NF: So I submitted an abstract, just kind of what you saw in the program that kind of spoke to the fact that I think that there’s a lot of different lifestyles and behaviors and that kind of thing that disabled people might want to explore, that they might not even know or be aware are even out there, much less realize that they have the opportunities to explore. And I won’t reiterate what’s in the program, because you all read it.
NF: So that’s enough about me. Again, the panel here is made up of, you know, all disabled queers, and we all kind of approach the issue of sex and disability from different vantage points. So there’s diversity in that respect. My particular vantage point is that I’m an erotica writer, and I’ve had a couple of published stories, and they all feature disabled characters. So this was my interest in sex. And so the first presenter on the panel will be Julia Dolphin Trahan. …Julia has had lovers from a medley of races, genders, shapes, social classes and religions. She is author of “Body Talk Equals Survival: From Victim Politics to Human Rights.” Happiness, orgasms, and respectfulness of partners are basic human rights. So here’s Julia. [applause]
Julia Trahan: …. Anyone that strips, the first thing you do is you pull treats out of unexpected places. I’ll give that one to you. Anyway, I actually don’t have a whole lot to say. But what I wanted to do, a lot of my work is about reframing the body. So I want to show a little bit of a video, and I don’t want people to say, “Why is she showing that in a sex panel?” because it’s actually about sports. And what I’m going to do is just use it as an example of a way to reframe the whole idea of the disabled body, visually the disabled body in relation to the non-disabled world. [unreadable] I think the most important thing for people with disabilities or permanent injuries, whatever you want to call them, need to remember is not to buy into the whole traditional thing that the world, activity, being athletic, being sexual, being passionate, being active, being free with your body is for other people and people who don’t look good, whatever “good” means, it’s not for us, you know, because I personally think I’m pretty cute. [laughter] I’ll put on the video before I put my foot in my mouth.
[Music… “If you want it, you can have it, but you have/To reach up there and grab it….
“…Swimmers, to your marks letters…. Everyone is in it together, everyone is racing together….”]
Julia Trahan: Okay. That’s actually all I wanted to show. Actually, I just liked the song. Actually, I’m stuck on this stupid little bump…. This is usually how I start. It’s also good for sex. It’s appropriate. And what I would like everyone to do is start with closing their eyes. And if you’re holding anything in your hands, put it on the ground or on the chair beside you. And what I would like people to do first is just inhale as deeply as possible and push their belly out as far as they can. And then when people exhale, imagine that their belly button is touching their spine, and just try that for a couple of times. It’s best if you close your eyes, if you can. And I want people just to let their arms drop, let their body drop, just be in the room and not think about the panel before this or what you’re going to eat for dinner after the panel. Just don’t think about anything but what’s happening right now. And just breathe. What I would like people to do is to stay relaxed. I would like you to stay relaxed and take about a minute and just think about what is attractive, what is sexy about you. Make a list of three things, maybe more. If you have a hundred, we won’t go through them today. Then I would like people to turn to the person on their left and tell them at least three of those things. [laughter]
Julia Trahan: Okay, you sexy guys, cut it out. Come on. No more than 50. 50 is the line. I’m supposed to reign you all in right now.
Nancy Ferreyra: Okay. How did you like that exercise? Was it fun? No, it was not fun? Oh, I’m sorry. Who said no? Oh, you’re one of Ray’s friends. Okay. So thank you, Julia. That was Julia. Now, our third panelist is Raymond J. Aguilera. Okay. So Raymond is a graduate student in human sociology studies here at San Francisco State University. And he’s also a very interesting guy, and he’ll share some of that with you. He’s also really fun at a party and he has a very sexy laugh. [laughter]
Raymond J. Aguilera: Can everybody hear me? I barely even know this mic. [laughter] Give me some slack. Okay? It’s late.
From Audience: You have to be closer.
Nancy Ferreyra: You have to know it really well
Raymond J. Aguilera: [text provided by RA} As an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley, I completed a research project on self-identified Devotees, or, people who have a sexual fetish for people with disabilities. I presented different versions of this paper at the 2000 annual meeting of the Society for Disability Studies, as well as the Sexuality and Disability conference held at San Francisco State University that same year. Another version of my paper was also published in the Winter 2000 issue of Sexuality and Disability.
RA: Currently, I am in the beginning stages of my Masters thesis at SFSU. Excerpts of my thesis proposal are below:
RA: The overall question my study will pursue is how disability affects relationships where one partner is disabled and the other partner is not. I intend to investigate the role of the disability in the formation and maintenance of the relationship, in addition to how the couple manages and copes with the stigmatization of disability that occurs in American society.
RA: The specific questions I intend to investigate in my study fall into several domains. First, I am curious about how the nondisabled partner acquires knowledge about disability. To that end, I will ask both partners questions about how and when disability gets discussed, what information the nondisabled partner knows and understands about their partner’s impairment, and what accommodations (if any) must be made to the impairment.
RAL I will also be asking each member of the couples what they perceive as being the benefits or drawbacks of their partner’s impairment, or lack thereof. Particularly for the disabled partners, I am interested in finding out why they chose to date someone who is not disabled, when there is a certain stigma in doing so within the disabled community. Similarly, I hope that my line of inquiry can illuminate the decisions that a nondisabled person makes in becoming romantically involved with a person with a disability, given the stigma associated with disability in our society.
RA: The primary methodology for my study will be semi-structured, in-person interviews with members of appropriate couples, both individually and as a couple. I will also be distributing a survey tool to a wider pool of participants, and conducting participant observation with my interviewees.
RA: If you are interested in participating in my study, please e-mail me at email@example.com . I will begin interviews in the Fall of 2002. [end of text provided by RA]
Nancy Ferreyra: Okay. So that was Raymond. And now the next panelist is Loree Erickson. And she wrote her bio for me in my book last night. She has very nice handwriting I will say. Loree Erickson—my eyes are the problem—born and raised in the country and is a proud femme. She has Atrophy Type 2. She works with the Queer Liberation Front and the Richmond Queer Project, and is based in the queer culture community in Richmond, Virginia. She is very interested in sex. I know you thought that might shock you, but it’s true. Here is Loree.
Loree Erickson: Hello, yeah, I wrote that last night really quickly because I had forgotten to do it. Basically, I have a couple of things. When I think really a lot about is gender identity and disability and sexuality and how they all come together. They are intertwined issues. And so I especially look at it from my particular perspective as a femme who uses a wheelchair and how that shapes things. Like one thing I know a lot of people talk about is double disability, double invisibility. Femme and disabled, you are not seen; there’s a lot of contrast of being female and disabled. Femme is like this overly sexualized gender identity. And disability is seen as not having sorted of any sexuality. It is sort of this contradiction. And it’s a contradiction I feel a lot, like, for example, when I’m walking down the street and I’m wearing fishnets and a tank top…. If an able-bodied woman [was dressed like that] walking down the street, she would be harassed and bothered. And I get smiling-kind of comments.
LE: Also…I think about…when I’m new with somebody at the time and we are walking down the street holding hands, I’m curious how people are perceiving that. Do they think that [they are] like my sister or my brother, or do they think like they are my friend; what is their thought? I wonder how people perceive that sort of a thing. [unreadable] …how I feel about myself and how I’m perceived by other people. And that’s like the really frustrating thing. Like, because I feel like it’s really out of my control how other people perceive me.
LE: I can look as cute as I want to, and if I’m not part of what people decide is sexy, then they are not going to see me as sexy, and it makes it difficult to get a date. I used to say that I could handle … the fact that there was no curb cuts in places. And I could handle that there’s stairs everywhere, all the physical barriers, and what really frustrated me and made me upset was the interpersonal dynamics of being a person with a disability and the lack of access to sex and those things. I [had] this frustrating realization that it is all connected. It’s all connected and that makes it even more overwhelming. So I was totally was overwhelmed by the number of obstacles. Everywhere I went I saw obstacles. I love watching people, so I watch people all the time, and I watch the way people interact and flirt. Generally I’m the only person with a disability that’s visible where I am in my community of friends. So I’m usually walking with able-bodied people.
LE: It’s really interesting thing to watch how, say for example, they flirt. And how that method of flirting would never really work for me. This involves a lot of close touching, and it would definitely to have not happen as natural. Like, dancing, you don’t get as close when you are dancing with two wheelchairs or a wheelchair and a body. That’s some stuff that I sort of think about.
LE: Also another frustration is I live in a radical queer community. I know it is hard to believe, but there is a very small radical queer community in Richmond, Virginia. I feel that a lot of times in that community sex is treated as fairly casual. And I think that people in that community seem to be a little bit more aware of issues that disabled people face. And I think that tends to sort of make it more of an issue if they know that sex is an issue with people with disabilities. Maybe for me it [otherwise] wouldn’t be so serious.
LE: So it’s really interesting. I’ve had people be like without realizing what they are talking about say, “You are the kind of girl to marry. You are not the kind of girl that I date.” Oh, am I supposed to wait until you are 40 and want to settle down. No, thank you. ….And one thing I’m really sort of stuck on right now is: how do you change all this? How do you change people’s perceptions to handle all this stuff? How to do that? …I am obsessed with images of people with disabilities. Radical pornography because people who look at those [images] would see disabled people sexy and having sex and realize it’s possible. Also workshops like this [one] I think would be really good, because people can actually talk about logistics in an open manner. “Yeah, they are cute, but I’m nervous about getting it on and would I be able to talk about it and all those sorts of things.”
LE: [unreadable] …There are two different approaches and this is actually my last thought. I was talking to a friend of mine about what I wanted to do with my future. And it was like either go to graduate school and study public administration and learn policy making techniques. [I could] help people build more curb cuts and make more people aware in public [unreadable], and disability [oppression] would change in that gradual sort of way. I thought about that. Or pornography. And just sort of throw myself into this whole realm of pornography and have a lot of fun and all that kind of stuff. Policy with pornography. Personally I know which side I’m leaning toward these days. I think that’s it. If people have questions.…
Nancy Ferreyra: Okay. That was Loree. [applause] Before we open it up for discussion, I did want to just point out I brought a couple of books that I think are really, really good. I’m not saying these are the only really good books. The first one I think you might know. Let me hold it up. This is the Good Vibrations Guide to Sex. There’s lot of guides out there, and this is a really good one. It covers all types of orientations and genders and body sizes and types and technical information and just how to do things and safe sex and all those things.
NF: Anybody can come up and look, but these are mine so don’t walk away with them. Another book that does not have so much technical advice…. It’s called Sex for the Clueless. That should tell you what it is about. It talks about dating and that kind of stuff and sex and how to negotiate those kinds of things. None of these are disability specific, but I think they are really good books. And the other one is The Ethical Slut. This is a book about…negotiating multiple partner relationships. Even if you are in monogamous relationships, it is a really good book. Feel free to come up and look at these books after the panel and there’s one more. Loree and Raymond both love this book as well. And this is called The Sexual Politics of Disability by Tom Shakespeare, [Kath Gillespie-Sells, and Dominic Davies]. They interviewed a bunch of different people. Anyway, this is a good book too and come look at it. I’ll stop talking and open it up for questions….
From Audience: I have my own theories about this, but I’m interested to hear what the panel has to say. Why is it a greater crime against decency to hurt a crips feelings in the context of dating or romance or relationship than it would be to hurt somebody else’s feelings?
Nancy Ferreyra: Go for it, ray. I don’t know.
Raymond Aguilera: That’s a hard question. My theory, and I’m guessing, is probably along the same [lines] as your theory: that there’s a perception as disabled people we are sort of fragile in this way, and everybody else is not, and so I think there’s maybe some guilt. I’m assuming you are talking about a nondisabled person like being afraid to dump you because of your disability.
From Audience: Or even get involved in the first place.
Raymond Aguilera: Right. Some sort of perception that we are weak; it is somehow more tragic. Everything we do is more tragic. That’s my guess.
Nancy Ferreyra: Does anyone from the audience want to answer that question?
From Audience: ….This is similar to [the] more fragile [perception] that disabled people are kind of struggling with. I think similar perceptions that black people have to struggle with being child-like. Needing sort of parental attention or guidance and somehow lacking, sort of, complete maturity. [unreadable]… I think might be more foreign to people less savvy in the lives of the disabled.
[announcement from audience]
Nancy Ferreyra: Anybody else?
Julia Trahan: Okay. …I think this is a conference on being queer at the same time [as disabled]. For me I would be interested in a lot of straight or not-so-straight bisexual women. I find the interactions really interesting because as an out lesbian, I’m seen as a threat whether I’m after them or not, interested in them or not. You know, because for straight women, that’s the worst thing in the world; one of the worst things in the world is that they might be attracted to a lesbian who is attracted to them. And the whole dynamics of being a crip, and I’m fine with that. I find it’s not always so simple [as being] seen as tragic and [pitiful] things. I don’t think it’s so true anymore. I think there are some people with some intelligence who give us humanity, who see us more as a threat than a thing to pity.
Loree Erickson: People [think] that disabled people don’t have as many opportunities to have sex. If you turn them down for that sexual experience, it is way more devastating. You cannot just assume just by looking at someone.
Nancy Ferreyra: Any other questions from the audience?
From Audience: This is not really a question, but maybe just more of a comment. Something that I thought a lot about [is] sexuality and disability and neediness, the perceptions of neediness within the trans community and disability community. Something that I’ve thought about and talked about workshops in sexualities and disability is about how everybody has needs. Like people who are assault survivors. Everyone has needs whether you’ve gone through something that’s dramatic. Or whether you [unreadable] a straight guy or whatever. People have needs, and they need to be asked and people need to be able to negotiate them and be able to talk about them, and I think those are the real barriers, that people can’t communicate around sex and have a hard time. I think [it is in] transient disability communities and conferences where people can talk about “how do I discuss this with my partner.” I’m open about talking about stuff, and I’ve done [some writing] of porn about getting down with my different partners and gender expressions, and it is something that I can give out to people. This is a sexy story about me that maybe you would be interested in. This is how I get down. I don’t have to say that. You are talking about making pornography; if it is something that we are in control of, then it’s something that we are putting out that’s good information. I heard about this woman who got a grant to make a porn basically. This is like for [unreadable] to be, “This is how you have sex with us. This is how our bodies work.” So I think — I don’t know if anyone is interested in a kind of porn swap; I’m interested in that. We should make it and do it and just talk about it.
From Audience: The thing about porn, I just want to know, what’s up in the world of disability in porn. And those with digital cameras. Let’s do it. Not do it, do it. Make some porn and stuff. And I don’t know if anybody has already out there made it. I’ve been talking to friends a bit and just having good [unreadable]. Damn, we should have filmed that. So what’s up? What’s going on?
Loree Erickson: A couple of resources that I know are www.sspread.com. It is pretty good. It doesn’t have good stuff on there. Talk to them about having them come shoot you or sending them stuff. I think they are good with that too. I sent them an e-mail saying they should be here. I don’t know if they could make it all the way to San Francisco or not. But we will see what happens. So there’s that. There’s a couple of other people that are receptive.
Raymond Aguilera: …In regard to the porn, as I was talking earlier about my earlier research with devotees, there’s actually a large kind of cottage industry of amputee women producing porn primarily for heterosexual devotee men. I’ve watched quite a bit of it. Maybe it’s not my thing. There’s a cottage industry of disabled women. It is custom porn on demand. So that exists. I realize that’s not the scope of what you were asking, but.…
From Audience: I know she said the word amputee. I know they have sort of their own fetish world that there’s a really specific fetish built up around amputee. I’m not sure how I feel about devotees. I’m wondering porn made in those corners doesn’t quite sound exactly quite like anybody of us would want to be watching. Maybe if — I don’t know, but.…
Raymond Aguilera: Watch some of it.
From Audience: True, true.
From Audience: Two different things to comment on in terms of thinking about sexuality and having sex with partners. For me, I’m a cancer survivor, so when I was going to treatment, I looked prepubescent. It was not exactly the best experiences in terms of thinking myself as a sexual being, along with that dealing with post-traumatic stuff afterwards. [I’ve had] relationships with people who have been very understanding that there are sometimes when I’m not interested in sex, whether it is medication I’m on [or something else]. [unreadable]…It affects them in a way that makes them feel like they are not doing something right or not sexual enough. There’s no way I’ve been able to make them feel as sexy and wonderful as they are in response to me not being able to [give them] what they need. [There’s a] kind of fine line where you are trying to make it very clear that it is not about them. [unreadable]… a great way of communicating that it is really not about them and that they cannot. In both instances, it’s interesting in those spectrums that it has still been that way. And I was wondering if people have different experiences about how to handle with partners. Who are still wonderful but can’t get past that, you know.
Nancy Ferreyra: You know, it is really funny, when you were talking, [I remembered] this analogy told me 15 years ago [by a friend] who was going through the same thing. She had different circumstances. She had this lovely partner who she loved to death. And the example she used that clicked with her partner was this: “Think of it like when I’m taking off my clothes. I’m not rejecting my clothes, I just don’t need to have them on anymore.” It is not about her. For some reason it clicked, and for me it did. Maybe some people think of it as very shallow. Sorry. I thought it was a good way to think about it….
From Audience: I have a comment that’s built up over the day in going to different workshops. People make analogies about groups that they don’t belong to generally. And the previous one somebody on tape said, “Oh, this would never be okay if it wasn’t disability,” and it was about Mexicans or Jews. And I just heard other comments. And a conference where we are in the Bay Area and people of color massively under represented, I feel a deep uneasiness about that happening. I can only say about Jews, because I am one. You would not believe what people say about Jews, and I’m sure that can be expanded upon. That’s my offering to people. [applause] Thank you.
From Audience: I wanted to thank [the person who talked about racism] for her comment. People that think that very true. Just a person five minutes ago maybe made an analogy [with people of color]. Mine came from a story written by an African American author who I read on the train up here. I also want to say that those comments aren’t always made with ill intent. Whether they need to be (inaudible) together. Maybe she is right because…I said something five minutes ago and I felt compelled to respond.
Nancy Ferreyra: Okay. So back to the topic of sex.
From Audience: Forgive me, because I can’t read what’s being said [in the real time captioning]. I don’t know. I’m a little uncertain. I just wanted to make a comment. One of the things I find interesting about the discussion about sexuality, about the discussion about desire, about this discussion about reinterpreting our bodies as bodies that are desirable, that are sexy, is that I don’t find love or desire particularly pitying. I find it to be ruthless. They’re not being pitying but just ashamed of the ruthless nature of desire. And one of the things I find interesting is that when we talk about reinterpreting our bodies and about restructuring, we’re also talking about restructuring desire. And one of the other things I think, because it has a lot of political implication, because we were talking about that, you’re also talking about restructuring what we hate and what we fear. And you’re seeing the consequences of that right now with Pakistan and all over the globe. I know we are talking about that. But it’s also when we re-identify and we restructure and we articulate who we are up and down, why we should be loved, we are making a case for a different attitude towards life. We are being so life-affirming, and I find that to be extraordinarily important for us to acknowledge, because we can get really caught up, and the whole presence of desire in ourselves, and we’ve got to realize that that has an extremely important political implication. I just wanted to get back to that reminder. Thank you.
From Audience: I want to say thank you for the last speech, because I was trying to find a transition point from the very important discussion of barriers. I also want to talk to other crips about how we fuck and how we successfully fuck, and how we cause people pain in good ways, and how we create good, positive things. So I thought I would be brave and throw myself out there and talk about a new experience I’m having in my life. I am for the first time bringing my crip body to sex. I’ve had lots of sex before this, but I have never used by my right side, which is my most disabled side. I have never done some of the things I’m doing. I have done things like peeing standing up, which is one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. It’s pushed me to do things I hadn’t done as a crip. I thought I couldn’t fuck standing up, and now I’m finding I can fuck, beg your pardon, standing up. And he likes the way I use my right hand even better than my left, and all of these things. So I want us to talk about that, too. [applause]
From Audience: Shall I go? I’m not sure where to begin, because I’m so overwhelmed. There are so many issues swirling around my head. I’m a queer [unreadable] person and someone who likes to have sex and someone who likes to have relationships. I don’t know. I just feel like people, like myself, and so many other people from these various communities are constantly getting excluded from the sex industry, whether we’re talking about BDSM houses and massage parlors, like the safer places to work, like the porn business or whatever, and we’re being simultaneously marginalized from relationships. I’ve been afraid to even talk about it, because it would only make me less desirable in either the industry or like, I don’t know, among people that might want to hit on me, because they might think that I’m just a problem case or something. I don’t know. I’m sure I’m not the only person that thought this way. I just wanted to put this out there. And I especially want to talk about hidden disabilities and how those can impact, like, for example, PTSD or multiple personalities or stuff that people have. I’m so glad this conference has addressed that. But these issues come up for me all the time in relationships, and I just want to open that.
From Audience: Can I ask a question? [inaudible] When you bring up all this stuff, that, yeah, it’s too much negotiation, like putting forth too much baggage, too many issues, like too many things here, for your lover, your partner, whoever you’re fucking, to look at it. Like this is way too complicated, never mind. It’s kind of a weird way of saying it. But I just wanted to know if that’s what you meant.
From Audience: That is what I meant. You explained it better than I did. But I’ve been told about baggage, emotional baggage, all that stuff. Those are grounds for people walking away. And a lot of times I hear it secondhand, after the fact. [applause]
Nancy Ferreyra: Any other questions or comments?
From Audience: Hi. I wanted to make sure that there is also a place in this workshop where we can talk about how scary sex can be for some of us. I know speaking for myself, as a person with fibromyalgia and a number of other disabilities, sex can be scary. And I don’t know, at least in terms of my own disability, how functional am I going to be today and how much energy reserves do I have? Can I have sex tonight? What am I doing tomorrow? Can I afford to get so tired out that tomorrow I have to spend the whole day in bed? Sometimes sex does that to me. And I think that it’s a really big issue, and I think it’s a really profoundly emotional issue for some of us, about fluctuating abilities and what kinds of assumptions we can make about our own ability to have sex or certain kinds of sex at any given moment, as well as then how do you figure out how to know it and then how do you communicate it to the person you’re going to have sex with. So I just wanted to make sure that there was space here where that was said as well. [applause]
From Audience: One thing I think about a lot, too, is trust. How do you know who to trust, like people’s motives, like being into you or not being into you. I’ve had [unreadable] go like, “No, it’s not your wheelchair. It’s just that I don’t think of you that way.” How do you trust them after that? That happens sometimes: that people just aren’t attracted to each other. But there’s that sort of issue.
From Audience: Hi. A lot of different things are coming together for me being here, which is very exciting. And I was thinking just now about the ways…. I had my foot amputated when I was three and spent a lot of time in the Shriners’ hospital. And [I was] thinking about those early experiences with people interacting with my body in a really intimate way and the ways that taught me to basically disassociate and not be able to connect or not really know how to be present with something that happened so early. And that’s tied into so much of what we’re projecting to the world, being the way we get treated back. And knowing, or feeling really deeply, that it was not possible for me to connect to other people, or to my own body. Even creating a situation where I wasn’t being thought of as attractive, because I wasn’t putting that energy out into the world, or even wanting it. But then constantly having to come back again to what you were just saying, Loree, about how do you even know; so much of it is what I am projecting, and a lot of it is also other people’s prejudices, and it feels like this total mindfuck loop that you can get caught in. And I’m feeling like I’m being really strong and really present right now and really trying to put myself out here, but still I’m being ignored here. Okay. That’s what I have to say. Thank you. [applause]
From Audience: One thing I noticed in my 20 years, I guess—I’m 42 now—is that in relationships it seems like if you have a disability where you need attendant services and also you’re in a wheelchair, there are issues of, with your partner, or individuals that might be interested in dating you, concern that they’re going to have to take care of you. And I think that sometimes gets in the way of relationships. In fact, it’s usually the other way around. [laughter] And also issues of just dealing with how to get intimate with somebody who has a significant disability and also who uses attendant services, the barriers that are caused by the need for attendant services, where if you’re a person that requires attendant services and people come into your house helping you get a shower every day, get dressed, go to bed, undressed, all those kinds of things, the person that hasn’t had to experience that, whether they’re able-bodied or another disabled person, if they’re not used to that, there’s often just problems with relationships where it’s hard for people to be involved in having somebody walk into your bedroom and that lack of privacy that a person with a disability has is sometimes an obstacle to, I think, certain relationships. So I just wanted to mention that. [applause]
Nancy Ferreyra: Any more comments or questions?
From Audience: …Somebody said something like, I wanted to be the wheelchair that turns [someone on]. I just wanted to know what is the problem with that, because it’s always something that turns people on. I mean, I had a straight sighted friend, and he [would be turned on by seeing] women with red hair, for example. I mean, what’s the difference, in one way? And I’m not sure I have the answer, because I think it’s very complicated, too. I’m not sure I want people to want me…because I have a white cane sometimes. …I’m not sure what my view is, either. But then there was something else, too. Well, I think it’s part of the same question maybe. If we want to revolt against different norms about appearance and ability and disability, if we want to revolt against that, well, should we try to look as normal as possible, try to hide our technical tubes and try to behave like sighted people or like people who have no [mobility impairments]? Or for example, should I not have my eye prosthesis or something? I mean, that could be a way of revolting, I’m sure. But on the other hand, I think sometimes it’s very good that even though I don’t have my biological eyes, I have the plastic ones, and it looks okay, because I think otherwise communication would be damaged somehow. [applause]
Nancy Ferreyra: There were a few comments I wanted to make.
From Audience: There hasn’t been a lot of asking about people dating both genders, and I was wondering if that is about binaries, and I’m sure we could talk about negotiating two communities and how it works there. Also the other comment I wanted to make is we’ve been talking a lot about women and trans people, and I know a lot of people get a lot of power [from those] identities, and I think that’s great, but I think there also should be a space for people who don’t want to identify as any of those things. [applause]
From Audience: Partly responding to the question about ambiguity. Did this person reject me because of my wheelchair, or is it what he or she said, on the surface the message was, “No, no, it’s not that at all.” I’m not meaning this as an analogy, because I think there is a real affinity here. There is an article Philip Brian Harper wrote a few years ago about this moment of rejection that he was remembering from years in the past, and he wrote about how it could be that he was experiencing a moment of racism or it could have been a sort of moment of regular sort of rudeness or whatever. And the point he was trying to make in this article was that he was living in this space of absolute ambiguity, where he could never know for sure which one it was. And I think there’s a real insight that he wanted to stress, that he could have gotten lost in this, was it me or was it racism, or he could use the recognition that he would never know for sure, keeping our focus on the fact that the system of racism is what the problem is. The system is what keeps us from being able to sort this out. So I think there is a real affinity here that people develop certain kinds of knowledge that reduce ambiguities that should be keep us focused on homophobia and racism.
From Audience: I just wanted to propose a caucus for people with fibromyalgia. I know it’s been mentioned a few times, and I don’t know exactly how that works, but I’m be at the reception, so you can find me.
Nancy Ferreyra: okay. Any burning…what do they call those?
From Audience: Burning desires.
Nancy Ferreyra: Burning desires. Julia wants burning desires.
From Audience: I want to offer some ideas that are maybe not traditional ideas. But some of the issues we have are being tired, fatigued, and something that might help: I find it easier if I have sex with two people, so that if I get tired, they can play with each other. And then I will play with the other one also, because I’m deaf when I’m going down on a woman, I can’t see her face, and I can’t hear her. So I use the other person to tell me if it’s good or bad or whatever, you know, what direction do I need to go and what’s going on. I find it’s easier to have sex with people who are already a couple, so I don’t have to be involved with all of that mess. It’s hard to find a couple who is willing to do that. We talked recently about able-bodied people and judgment; I don’t even bother with that. I go straight to the disabled queers. That’s where I go. They have much better sex, believe me.
Nancy Ferreyra: Thank you very much. [applause] So I have one final comment, and then so does Raymond and so does Loree. And I don’t know if Julia does.
Julia Trahan: Sure, I do.
Nancy Ferreyra: Of course she does. My last comment is just to thank everybody for coming. And that I wrote in the abstract that I would have resources. And I do have a resource sheet that I would be happy to e-mail people. So all you have to do is drop me an e-mail…. There’s articles about sex surrogates and devotees. Since I’m an erotic writer, I write short stories, and you can find stories about disabled characters and stuff like that. Anyway, anyone who has been through medical traumas is capable of being triggered through sex, I think. I can’t say I like this book, because I haven’t read it all yet. I only started. But it came out a few years ago. It’s called The Survivors Guide to Sex. It was written by Staci Haines, and it’s published by Cleis Press. It’s one of the books you have to read with a partner. I’m just getting started in that process.
From Audience: I wanted to talk about sex with attendants, and I work with people and friends whose mobility is such that it wouldn’t be possible for them to have sex without attendants being there, and it seems like such a tabboo subject, like, “No, no, don’t write it up.” But attendants is sort of the missing link for people. So if anybody has experience with negotiating and how they made [unreadable] or policies in group homes or things like that, then I would like to talk to them.
Raymond J. Aguilera: Just to respond to that point briefly, I don’t know if you’re familiar, but you may want to look for articles by Mitch Tepper and Linda Mona.
Nancy Ferreyra: And we’ll touch upon that tomorrow in the Queer Care panel. Now Raymond is going to make his final comment.
Raymond J. Aguilera: I wanted to thank everybody for being here. [announcement about another panel]
Nancy Ferreyra: Julia?
Julia Trahan: I would like to encourage people to do two things: [announcement about a panel] And the other thing I would really like to encourage people to do is to try and hang onto and remember whatever the three things were that you came up with earlier that you find really attractive and sexy about yourself. I know that a lot of what I’m hearing when people speak is that even if we all have different disabilities and experiences and desires, that a lot of problems with trust and communication I think could be a lot more disabling than anything the physical body has limits on. And I think a lot of communication and trust and patience require a very strong, strong center. And I think by hanging onto one’s center and what one finds really sexy about oneself is really important. Some woman asked me what three things I find attractive about myself, and I think I’ll be hanging onto those. Thanks for coming, everyone. [applause]
Loree Erickson: This is sort of a theory-based section of the panel, and for the more hands-on the approach, in the Mary Ward Building there is a big empty room we were at last night. Let’s liberate it for make-out sex, whatever, a party, after everything else.
Nancy Ferreyra: Okay. Thanks for coming. [applause]
[End of RTC transcript]