Comment by Jase Puddicombe
It’s a well-known fact that disabled people have historically been desexualized and infantilised. It’s present in ancient history, in the myths of Hephaestus and Aphrodite, and is still very much an issue in the present day. Take the case of Britney Spears’ conservatorship, in which she has been forced to use contraception against her will. This happens all the time to disabled people, under the false idea that disabled people shouldn’t have children – we have ‘bad genes’ and it’s irresponsible for us to procreate.
I shouldn’t have to point out all the reasons why this line of thinking is wrong. Disabled people are people, after all, and have different sexualities just as much as the rest of the population. But what about asexual disabled people? That’s me, by the way. I’m asexual, grey romantic, and nonbinary, and I’m disabled and chronically ill with severe ME and HSD. I don’t experience sexual attraction at all, and romantic attraction is extremely rare for me. Don’t even get me started on gender.
The intersection between asexuality and disability has given me some strange responses from people in the past (and the present, if I’m honest). I’ve had people tell me it’s a good thing I’m asexual, seeing as no one would want me anyway! Or better yet, it shouldn’t even be possible for me to have sex, because I’m disabled. My body doesn’t do that, right?
There are so many fallacies here I don’t even know where to begin. First off, this is actually a misunderstanding of asexuality. Asexuality has nothing to do with how much sex you do or do not have; it’s about not feeling sexual attraction. I have never looked at someone and thought, ‘I’d really like to take them to bed’. I can’t even imagine how you arrive at that conclusion, to be honest. I rarely have crushes, and when I do, they’re not about physical attraction. That has absolutely nothing to do with my disability. If I was perfectly able-bodied and nondisabled, I would still be asexual. And, incredibly enough, disabled people who aren’t asexual do experience sexual attraction. Yes, disabled people have sex. Shocking, I know.
Another interesting facet of this intersection is that I’m very used to being asked extremely invasive questions about my life, my body, and my medical history. Asexual people are often asked intimate details about their sex life. Trans and nonbinary people are often asked intimate details about their private body parts. And disabled people are often asked to disclaim intimate details of their medical history, in public places, simply to receive the accommodations they need. I’m all three. I get asked these questions a lot. I hate it every time.
It’s hard to be proud of your identity when people are constantly questioning it. When they demand to know embarrassing information that is none of their business simply to satisfy their own curiosity, and get annoyed when I don’t immediately answer, it makes me feel ashamed. As if I am a spectacle to be gawped at.
I’ve also had to battle my own internalised issues. I thought, for a long time, that I was letting the disability community down by being asexual. As if, because I’m sex-repulsed, I’m conforming to the stereotype of the nonsexual disabled person and causing harm to a community that I love deeply and advocate for as much as I can. But I can’t turn off my sexuality. I am asexual, and I’m disabled, and those two things have absolutely nothing to do with one another.
I’m in a queerplatonic relationship with my partner of 4 years, and it doesn’t involve sex. Naturally, this shocks some people – as we’re both read as female (unfortunately for me) then people often assume we’re lesbians. Lesbians and bi-women generally have the opposite problem – they’re highly hypersexualised, especially lesbians and bi-women of colour. I find it fascinating to watch when someone sees me and my partner out together, holding hands, with me in my wheelchair. I can practically hear their thoughts. How does THAT work?
People have told my partner to find someone else. That she could do better than my disabled body, that she deserves more than anything I could ever give her. They assume I’m not fulfilling my part of the relationship as my partner is able-bodied and I am not. They don’t see us as the functioning team that we are – they assume she is a caregiver and I need care and they don’t see us as equals. When we’re in the shop together and I pay, they give her the change. When I ask a question, they direct the answer to her. When I pick something up to buy, they pass the bag to her.
I find myself scared that the stereotypes are right – that it isn’t a real relationship, that it’s only this way because I’m disabled, that if I was ‘better’ and ‘fixed’ then I wouldn’t be like this. I fell deep into shame and despair, scared that I could never be open about my sexuality without feeling like I was letting my community down. However, I know that even if I wasn’t disabled, people would think the same things because I’m asexual. People find out I’m in a queerplatonic relationship and they say, ‘Oh, so that’s not really it, then. You’ll find someone else one day, someone proper’. As if, just because my relationship doesn’t involve sex, it doesn’t count.
I have so many questions about that. What do people in sexual relationships do all day? Do they never talk? Go out together in public? Hang out without having sex? Now, I find pride in who I am. I know that my asexuality and my disability are not in any way connected, and that’s enough for me. I want to celebrate my sexuality because it’s rare to see people in queerplatonic relationships. As an asexual kid, it would have helped me so much to know there is a way to have a partner that doesn’t involve all the actions I wasn’t okay with, and that’s just what I’ve found. Disabled people are just as capable of being a good partner as anyone else, and it’s about time society caught up.