Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sexual, romantic and gender identities for disabled people

[TW: brief discussions of sexual assault and abuse of disabled people]
I. Personal Brief on the Matter of Gender, Sexuality, Romantic Orientation

I’ll start this off by first saying what people need to know: sexuality, gender identity, and romantic orientations are not all the same. Of the three, sexuality and romantic identity are often conflated, but may not always match.

I’ll also give a brief on myself. I’m pretty sure I’m demiromantic and demisexual for all gender identities. Any crush that I’ve had on a person without an emotional connection is an infatuation, one that I never even want to act on, ever. Any romantic interest, however, sprang up after friendship or feeling a strong emotional connection, even if we weren’t actually quite friends. Any sexual interest has come about the same way. It’s happened with cisgender men, cisgender women, and nonbinary people (including those who identify as androgyne, agender, neutrois, etc.) so far.
It’s been confusing in a society where people have sex without emotional connections all the time, so sometimes I kept assuming I would be like that too. I’m not. In other news, at least the “not straight” label I’ve realized since I was 17. I’ve been developing my concepts of sexuality, romantic identity, and gender identity since then, introspecting each time I learned something new. At 21, I identity as as demiromantic and demisexual toward all gender identities, and nonbinary and agender.

II. Fights for sexual and romantic orientation equality, gender identity equality are also disability rights.

It’s a multi-pronged issue, where
  • Disabled people are often not educated about gender, sexuality, sexual activity, and romantic orientation because it is assumed they will not understand it, need it, or ever experience anything;
  • Disabled people are often told their body is not their own, anyway;
  • Disabled people are often put in situations where it is harder for them to escape sexual abuse and abuse in general because of mobility issues (harder to physically leave), stigma against them (people do not believe them, or the perpetrator receives pity for bothering to interact with disabled person), internalized beliefs that their bodies are not their own, people not understanding their communication of the matter, being gaslighted into believing they are the problem, and other reasons;
  • Disabled people are encouraged to not have relationships where children could occur;
  • Disabled people are often used as scapegoats by the pro-choice movement, and often leaves out disabled people in accessibility and discussions. While the pro-choice movement is one I support, I am also disabled, and we should not be thrown under the bus.
  • Disabled people are often multiply marginalized through sexuality, gender identity, romantic orientation, and other intersections;
  • Other people are told by society that disabled people are undesirable.
My mother did not assume that I would be automatically be devoid of a sex life and dating life in the future and spoke to me about various things relating to sex-education when I was a teenager. Her assumptions weren’t based on that people with asexuality don’t exist, it was more of the fact that just because I was autistic didn’t mean I wouldn’t ever. And aromantic and asexual people can have sex, also. I am fortunate, I suppose, that thus far no one has ever tried to be like “but you’re developmentally disabled, you can’t have a different sexuality/romantic orientation/gender identity!”

Which is a thing that happens to people with disabilities. It’s much more common for people with mental illnesses related to psychosis, however, to get thrown under the bus in the regard of gender identities. The lack of representation for them is concerning on several levels; people with depression and anxiety, though still stigmatized against, are considered more “mainstream” and “common”.
When people think of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, you think chronic sadness and being worried (though it’s more complex than that), and when people think of ones related to psychosis, they think horror movies or someone being tied down in a mental hospital.

Consequently, the idea that these people date, have sex, have gender identities and sexualities and romantic orientations can shock people. Gender identities by these people are often questioned, and they may be told that it is invalid because they’re “so mentally ill” and must not not be able to figure out the difference between their bodies in reality and their mental state.

Disabled people also are assumed to be aromantic or asexual. When people say such things to you and you are not, just say, “Well, I’m not, but some of us are.” Aromantic and asexual are not bad words. Yes, the trope exists that we do not date, have sex, kiss, or experience attraction on romantic and sexual levels, but some of us do and some of us don’t, and neither one of those is due to the disability. It’s okay to say that you’re not if you’re not, but don’t do it in a way that harms another community.

Disabled people, especially women, are also victims of sexual assault. The Utah State University’s page on Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information has information on “Interpersonal Violence and Persons with Disabilities;” these stats include:
  • Among adults who are developmentally disabled, as many as 83% of the females and 32% of the males are the victims of sexual assault.
  • For individuals with psychiatric disabilities, the rate of violent criminal victimization including sexual assault was 2 times greater than in the general population (8.2% vs. 3.1%).
  • It has been estimated that 83% of women with a disability will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
III. Conclusion

It’s about time disabled people got included and remembered in dialogues, narratives, and discourses about gender identity, sexuality, romantic orientation, sexual abuse, reproductive issues other feminist issues, because we’re here. Disabled people have been raising their voices about it now for a while, from the pending non-profit Queerability to people writing articles for the Huffington Post, to individual people writing their stories.

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