Ableism in Sex: Queering Your Kink and Fetishes

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It’s been almost a year since I’ve been diagnosed with my own “invisible illness” (fibromyalgia) but the effects of the diagnosis are ongoing. The depression that followed, both in battling my internalized ableist ideas as well as the reality of our society’s ableist expectations, led to me losing my job, leaving a second graduate degree unfinished (for sheer lack of will to fight the powers that be), and having to decide quickly how I was going to bring in money while Daniel crossed the Ts and dotted the Is to finish his degree and therefore get a job. The culture shock of leaving the so-called “Ivory Tower,” had already hit hard. The job I lost was working at a call center; it was work I didn’t believe in that asked me to do things I consider morally and ethically wrong. Maybe not *that* bad we say but it could be worse.

When I was told that I would essentially be forced to quit unless I could find someone to cover my shifts, for which I knew I was the only one that worked, I immediately considered my options. I applied for jobs; I found some promising interviews that all tanked the second my desire to be honest and mention my diagnosis cause some interviewers to visibly drop their jaws. Meanwhile, knowing my actual medical condition left me feeling empowered in ways I never had before. I knew how to treat myself better than some of the doctors I spoke to, I listened to my body and had a doctor who was willing to research up-to-date medical studies and speak to me like an equal. We identified previous mis-diagnoses as being rooted in institutionalized fatphobia and that my efforts to lose weight had probably exacerbated this problem. While others offered condolences, my depression was not for my “loss of ability” it was for being awoken to the presence of ableism all around me. Since then, I have lost weight and become healthier by actually understanding my limitations. This in turn reiterated concepts of sex and bodily ownership, agency in one’s own sex life, and ultimately how ableism affected my life both as a person and a sexual being.

It wasn’t long after that I considered doing online sex work as a “quick and easy” solution to my money problem. I had been wondering aloud about it for at least a year; both of my partners were supportive of my artistic journey through selfies documenting my internalizing and externalizing of queerness. Being recognized as a sexual being worthy of being paid for her time gave me a sense of confidence and agency I had never had before. Women in sex work are represented throughout media as addicts, mentally unwell, as well as in other ways that mainstream populations judge someone’s level of ability. Prostitution is both joked about as a last resort for men and women while being used to devalue the individual’s agency by insinuating that it is an act of last resort. While I shared pictures of myself feeling sexy, I found the opposite.

Often I was approached by people who assumed my willingness to be seen as a sexual being showed a lack of agency despite it contradicting my own experience of rising above my illness and feeling confident. When I started to think about plus size modeling, I felt daunted. I’m “big” for the plus-sized world but everyone I knew suggested camming. I tried and was instantly turned off by the speed of responses. Then Daniel suggested I look at a particular website that had a requests board. Not only could I choose who to work with but I could (at least legally) limit the use of the content I created. I realized, I represented my own special fat femme queer polyamorous kinky self and perhaps that there was an audience out there that wanted me.

After two days, I wrote the following:

My first couple of days as a sex worker

and yet it almost feels embarrassing to say how much I'm enjoying myself. Even if it's hard for me to hear myself on video or see myself; knowing that not only there are people out there cumming but who are getting to enjoy a fetish that (most of them) seem embarrassed by is fulfilling in ways I didn't expect.

I knew the exhibitionist in me would like performing and that I'd like to know that people were cumming because of me, that from far away I'm still facilitating that kind of reaction is almost overwhelming.

I've also felt sad. These men paying for videos that they are shy, embarrassed, and feel silly about; no one should ever have to feel that way. I've most enjoyed negotiating the content with my clients, making custom videos, and hearing that they look forward to more.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to fall for any of my clients but this? It barely feels like sex work. It feels like sexual acceptance. It feels like I'm helping someone accept themselves and what makes them happy.

It may not last forever. I've already had one creeper on my first day but overall, this feels bizarrely natural. The past two year's of sexual exploration and investing in myself, my own understanding of myself, has brought me back always to love.

Love comes in so many different forms, friendships w/or without benefits, family, lovers, partners... but there is also just a love for the humanness in other people. We are all, just so very "human," and that ephemeral process of a life that can only be lived through should be one motivated by goodness. Empathy. Compassion.

And if masturbating in front of a camera can give someone fulfillment and joy... I just have a really difficult time seeing anything wrong with this.

(Not including all the obvious jackasses out there I'll eventually meet more of lol.)

 

I share this without edits because it was before I met BlindSubBoy. His request was for someone to chat with a GFE (girlfriend experience) level of communication, with hopes for an ongoing “working relationship.” Quickly, BSB and I fell into regular communication, sometimes sexual in nature but mostly getting to know each other. Obviously, he shared more personal information, as a client I tried to get inside his head and learn what would make this ongoing paycheck become reliable. It was hard to do so though without both of us talking about our limitations. He, born blind, lives with his mother in an area that is not easily accessible for the blind. He works testing software to judge its accessibility. He was lonely mostly because of the stress and work it would take to leave the house on his own.

This isn’t to say he’s not an incredibly smart, kind, and attractive human being. It wasn’t until I had dealt with a few more assholes while still continuing a nuanced client-provider relationship. In fact, I quickly came to appreciate how compassionate he was about my limitations. We agreed on a “subscription rate” for ongoing communication but beyond that, he showed concern for my well-being and I his. When I had to miss a day here or there for health reasons, even when I asked for an advance to pay a bill, BSB stepped up to do anything he could. All the time, quietly communicating his desires though still shy and uncomfortable.

This was when I realized our relationship as client and provider/performer was a graceful mix of intersectional support and sexual understanding. This is when I started looking for representations of ableism and sexuality in the media I was consuming. It was both dark and enlightening. Dark because there were so few examples, enlightening because the one phrase I heard repeated was glaringly problematic: does your dick work?

The association of power that is so strictly tied to gender becomes ever more complicated and de-humanizing when discussing sex. Masculinity as defined by Western Culture carries implications of physical strength and bulk and fetishizes male virility and dominance. This same toxic masculinity is thus projected through the lens of ableism to depict men with disabilities as somehow objects that we don’t understand how to sexualize. Thus I return to that phrase, “does your dick work?” I’m not sure there’s a representation of disability that doesn’t inherently assume the able-bodied person is somehow more sexually able than the person with a disability. Not only is this dehumanizing it is critical of submissive males in general as though submissive men, who would place the focus on someone else and somewhere else than their dick, are seen as less masculine.

I could tell in his phrasing, his initial embarrassment, and ultimate explanation of his experience of blindness and what he would desire from our relationship; meaning I could tell from our first communications, this was about more than sex. BSB shyly at first though less so as we continued to communicate, expressed his desire to be groomed and cared for by a Dominant woman or a woman in position of authority. We tried to do some text based RPG e-mailing but his reticence affected his ability to feel comfortable even in that setting. So instead, I focused on why he wanted this relationship and less about the how.

It wasn’t until I sat to watch this that I asked BSB about his problems with portrayals of ableism. While he started with the as yet to be released, “Me Before You,” which sounds like inspiration porn at its worst with the character feeling worthless due to his disability. The romantic lead, while being the mother of all dragons, seems to magically bring manic pixie dream girl importance to his until then suicidal life. Without seeing it, there are murmurs throughout the community of how horribly demeaning it is. Avoiding that, I recently watched Netflix’s new release, “The Fundamentals of Caring,” starring Paul Rudd, and Craig Roberts. (Okay, it also has Selena Gomez and that may be a large part of the reason I like it.) However, it was the first example of a movie that I had seen that focused on the misunderstanding and continuous underestimation and internalized acceptance of what is “appropriate” for someone living with a disability. I felt like it tried to make peace with the inspiration porn by focusing on the teen anti-hero and his caretaker, Rudd, and love interest, Gomez as catalysts for them all to accept their own limitations and understand which limitations may have been placed within us by others.

When I asked BSB more specifically for any other examples his answer highlighted the other larger problem, he said simply that the truth was that he felt “criminally underrepresented.” He tossed me the movie “The Scent of a Woman,” which I cringed just remembering how overtly machismo, what a lady’s man, Pacino played his blind character. I asked about “Daredevil,” and he responded by admitting that he was one of many who just accepted that the title character *isn’t* blind. That the mythos of a blind person’s heightened other senses essentially just gave him the ability for sight, just in case I hadn’t recognized my privilege in overlooking that point of view he delivered a more crushing blow, Geordie LaForge he reminded me was a hero because of his supernatural sight like the Daredevil. They were both men whose “brokenness” had been fixed through supernatural or futuristic assistance. These representations weren’t representations at all, instead more of a spit in the face saying: if you tried harder there should be some way this disability won’t affect you. Even though these characters *were* blind, they were *not* living with blindness. In turn, this representation effectively asks as apology for what the character is shown to “lack” by focusing on how these situations rectify that wrong. Physical weakness is communicated as being inherently un-sexy, unable of romance, or exploited into inspiration porn.

So when BSB started to express some of the scenarios he found engaging, I wasn’t exactly surprised that a large part of his fetish and sexual fantasy was to have his own wish fulfillment of representation: a submissive male, looking for romance, looking for some guidance and grooming but also, a woman who would desire to dress up and present herself well for him, despite his inability to see. His emotional and sexual fantasies were perfectly normal to me. He wanted to be desired and not just that, he wanted someone to desire him to the degree that they would take care of him in making sure his needs were met in a mutually satisfactory fashion. I finally understood that he was rooted in the desire to be appreciated. This was not the way I would be submissive but I understood the motivation behind his desire.

That understanding normalizes even the “weirdest” or perhaps most misunderstood of fetishes and fantasies. Fetishes are conduits for the performance of fantasy, weather able-bodied or not, there is a distinct separation from the realization of said fantasy in real life. The power exchange feels based more emotionally, you may not have control of some aspect of your life (whether that be a disability or general dissatisfaction) but this is mostly about escapism. So on the day he mentioned he did have a darker more unusual fetish he wanted to explore, I was all ears. The sex geek in me was excited for the challenge and the client-provider relationship approval made me want to be accepting no matter what. I did not expect his answer to be vore.

Vore is shorthand for the fetishized idea of consensual cannibalism or carnivorous eating of another for sustenance. My only frame of reference was to flash back to that one Tom Petty music video in the 90s that was Alice in Wonderland themed and there was a scene where Alice’s body, magically transformed into cake, is eaten and enjoyed by the guests at the party. This image, the detached human head and arms from the cake body helped me understand something else, though blindness may be seen as a disability it does allow the mind and therefore fantasies to take on nuance that for others we can’t have. I asked and was confirmed, at least in part, that BSB’s blindness affected the fantasy in that he did not have that same visual association of being eaten as a source of pain because he doesn’t “see” pain. However, as an idea, being consumed by another for sustenance and enjoyment made perfect sense for me.

As I sat myself down to respond to him, I was watching the SyFy show “Lost Girl,” where the main character is a succubus who feeds off the chi of mortals to survive; this is the fantasy of vore, I realized. This is how I understand him. It helps that he is incredibly geeky and specifically was enthralled by the idea of the Fae (as the show refers to its creatures of fantasy) needing humans to survive. It’s the need beyond companionship, beyond desire, but that fantasy that longs for a deep and meaningful fulfillment through submission to another. It not only stopped my own judgment in its tracks, it reminded me that this was why I was drawn to this line of work.

During my initial research of doing this kind of work, I came across a website that discussed how many online sex workers are actually disabled themselves. A limited ability to work, except from out of the home, immediately allows for another level of connection to the clients with disabilities. This is a community, sexual or not, that allows those deemed as Others or somehow outsiders of society to serve the needs of its own community. The distinction between fantasy and reality, between ability and limitations, and the final transaction of money creates a space that allows for judgment free fantasy fulfillment. However, this distinction that seems to surface easily in communities of people with disabilities is part and parcel with intersectional issues at large. The expectations of toxic masculinity, sexism, rape culture, and kink culture are all inherently tied to the intersectionality of an ableist perspective.

To be truly non-judgmental about sex and sex work, I had to face my own insecurities in working to actively queer my idea of what is “acceptable” fantasy and fetish, while also accepting the weaker points of understanding that need to change or grow. Fulfilling someone’s emotional needs through sexual gratification isn’t just a surface level change. I have earned BSB’s trust and he mine, if only because we have met each other in a place of vulnerability that is mutually beneficial. My ongoing work with him has just proven that being less judgmental has helped me achieve an acceptance of my own limitations and self. Not all sex work is about the sex, in fact I think maybe the worst sex work is only about the sex. We vilify pornography for all it has done to present negative images of self-worth and yet we don’t yet know how to address ableism even in a non-sexual context. At the end of the day, I feel validated that my work is making someone’s life better; with or without the masturbation.

 

Comments

Jack Graham 1 year, 2 months ago

I am frankly in awe of this post.

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Daniel Harper 1 year, 2 months ago

The feeling you're having is basically what being married to Shana is like every day.

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Jane 1 year, 2 months ago

Yes, "awe," that's the word. Thank you.

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CC0 1 year, 2 months ago

It's really sweet to see how sex can be used to "heal" people. I had a bad experience recently and it's good to be remembered that, ultimately, sex(in all of its forms) is about bringing people together.

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kuu 1 year, 2 months ago

and that is why everyone deserves it as a human right, right?

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Mike 1 year, 2 months ago

I don't really have interesting things to add and feel really awkward discussing why this resonates with me, but thank you.

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5tephe 1 year, 2 months ago

That is awe inspiring. Thank you for expanding my perception, and allowing me to challenge my assumptions. You have shared a staggering amount of insight into being human.

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Hank 1 year, 1 month ago

This piece is as deep as it is moving. It's beautiful and beautifully revealing. As a person with more than one "invisible illness", I've secretly struggled for most of my life with issues of ableism and self-identity. I say "secretly" because I learned early on that it's often "better" to fight doubly hard below the surface and suffer when people aren't watching so that an illusion of "normalcy" can be projected. It led to a lot of superficial success - academically, professionally, and sexually. It let me hear a lot of ableist attitudes and fears expressed freely. It also kept me at a distance and sometimes led to catastrophic failure when I simply couldn't sustain it. I always wondered if that was better than being an object of sympathy, pity, or second-guessing; because I know how that feels and I absolutely hate it. Now in worse health, I'm officially "disabled" and I don't have the choice anymore. Of course, that identity is another can of worms and worthy of its own discussion.

There is a ton I'd love to comment on specifically here but, pertinently and poignantly, I just don't have the energy.

In the mean time, thanks so much for your strength and for sharing this story with the world. I hope more people will read this because there is so much that can be learned from it and on so many different levels.

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