DATING WHEN DISABLED
Angelina was primarily inspired by Disability activists, in particular activists who promote pleasure. A business that specialises in this is Handi, who are “putting pleasure within reach,” by creating sex toys for disabled people, by disabled people. They promote the message that “sexual pleasure is a human right,” yet sex toys are far from accommodating to those with differing abilities, particularly hand limitations. After seeing Lydia’s research, in particular the ‘Meet The Devotees’ BBC Three Documentary, I knew that pleasure and disability was the theme I wanted to push when approaching Angelina’s character. In the media, there is a very limited approach to the subject of disability, filled with (internalised) ableism, that means those with disabilities are viewed either as void of sexuality, or fetishised because of their disabilities. Angelina represents a business woman who, much like the creators of Handi, has used this disparity to create a company named ‘ACsexIBLE,’ a sex toy company who’s products cater for different bodies and abilities. When choosing this as the main theme for Angelina, I was cautious not to use the character as ‘inspiration porn,’ a term originally coined by Stella Young. Inspiration porn is a term used to describe “objectify[ing] a group of people for the benefit of another group of people,” often used by non-disabled people in advertising for ‘positive’ thinking. This is dangerous, as it exceptionalizes and objectifies disabled bodies. As Young states in her TEDx talk, “we are more disabled by the society that we live in, than our bodies and our diagnosis.” It was a challenge with Angelina to balance the inspiration of her being a business owner of a sex toy company, whilst being aware that this choice could be seen as ableist inspiration porn. I hope I have done the character and the conversation some justice through Angelina’s character.– Issy Stephens, Director
Research results were that often people with disabilities come to a quandary about whether or not to ‘reveal’ their disabilities within photos or biographies, on one hand it gets it out of the way right out of the gate, but on the other hand it gave other people the power to judge and make assumptions before getting to know the person. This was the main issue that arose from people’s experiences online. With hook up culture online being so prevalent at the moment, often when people described their disabilities upfront in bios or pictures the first question asked was; ‘Can you have sex?’. Defending yourself (and the disabled community) is exhausting, the feeling of rejection is depressive, and reigns home the struggle of not feeling sexy or attractive. Overall, the disabled experience on online dating sites – especially those not catered towards people with disabilities – is overwhelmingly negative. There are two sides of the spectrum, the presumption that people with disabilities are inherently asexual, or the fetishization of disability; both aided by the media representation of disability.– Lydia Jenkins, Assistant Researcher
SOUND COLLABORATOR STATEMENT
One of the first things I noticed about Angelina’s room were the bright colours and patterns decorating her space. This made me want to create a more upbeat sound, but as I worked on it, it wasn’t clicking like I wanted it to. I tried playing the same chords with a lower tempo and more mellow feel, and it just felt much more fitting for the character in my head. I liked the idea of contrasting these bold neon colours and sex positive decorations with a soft, more vulnerable or delicate sound.
I wanted each piece of the sound to come in one by one, like the more you saw, and the more you spent time with her, the more you learnt about her, and so the more complex the sound became. Adding to this, each time the guitar chord progression plays, it changes slightly. This again was reflecting the idea of a complex character with more to her than you originally see and hear, and more is revealed the more you see her. I think we can mistake the assumptions we make about people when we first meet them as the full picture, when there’s always a lot more to a person than what you initially see and learn.
At first I wasn’t sure how to end the sound, but as I was adding elements in gradually I knew that I wouldn’t have time to have a fully fleshed outro. I started playing around with how it would sound if everything cut off at once, but this felt a bit blunt, so I let some of the sounds trail a little, like the song wasn’t finished, and there’s more to hear. This kind of reflects the fact I felt I didn’t really know too much about Angelina from what I saw other than my assumptions, and I wanted the sound to mirror this idea of the picture being incomplete.– Charlotte Mallory, Sound Collaborator for Angelina
- Handi – a sex toy and services company.
Handi is a company founded by disability consultant and activist Andrew Gurza and innovation strategist Heather Morrison to ‘put pleasure within reach’ for physically disabled people. They develop sexual health products and services, as well as use their brand to spark a movement of ‘tear[ing] down the taboo and talk[ing] openly about all things sex and disability.’Issy Stephens
- I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much – a TEDx talk by Stella Young, 2014.
Comedian and journalist Stella Young talks about her experiences as a disabled person and the tendency for non-disabled people to use her as ‘inspiration porn.’Issy Stephens
- Salty Tips for Dating Someone with a Disability – an article by Eva Sweeney for Salty.
Queer and disabled sex educator Eva Sweeney (@cripplingupsex) shares her tips for ‘asking out that disabled cutie in your life and navigating dating and sex!’ She notes that all the tips included will not apply to everyone, as all disabilities are different. The tips include planning dates with accessibility in mind, communication rather than medicalisation and creativity.Issy Stephens
When it gets down to getting down, have a conversation about what works for them (and you) in bed and what doesn’t. This conversation should not be super medicalized. It should be fun like flirting or even foreplay. If it is appropriate you might want to feel your date’s body before getting into bed so you have a better idea of how their body works.Eva Sweeney
- I’m a disability rights activist, and I enjoy being consensually objectified – an article by Kath Duncan for The Guardian, 2018.
Kath Duncan talks about the difference between ‘consensual objectification’ and ‘non-consensual objectification,’ finding the balance between celebrating disabled bodies and uprooting the ableism ingrained in us.Issy Stephens
We are all children of ableism, like racism, classism, sexism – inbuilt, seemingly “natural” systems and practices of classing people and isolating and testing them, experimenting on them, sequestering them in special places – these absolutely do affect me and my feeling of belonging.Kath Duncan
I do what I want to do, and I don’t let anyone stop me pursuing love, sex, pleasure and sensuality my way. And we all could do with more access to fun.Kath Duncan
- Online dating is hard enough. Try doing it with a disability – an article by Timothy Sykes for The Guardian, 2014.
One of the most common bits of advice people give about dating is to “be yourself”. It’s what disabled people want as well, but the nature of online dating makes it more about first impressions, and some people don’t give those with disabilities a chance.Timothy Sykes
- How to nail online dating when you’re disabled – an article by Emily Yates for BBC Three, 2018.
My disability has caused the odd bit of heartache, but it’s also given me a power that I wouldn’t trade easily; being able to weed out the guys who comment on my eyes, smile, or sense of humour from the ones who decide, very foolishly, to a) call me a ‘pretty cripple’ or b) just check that I can actually have sex before taking the conversation any further.Emily Yates
- Meet the Devotees: The People Turned on by Disability – BBC Three Documentary, 2016.
- First Time Online Dating as a Disabled Woman was a Disaster – an article by Elizabeth Wright, 2020.
COMMUNITY FOUND resources
- Sex and Disability – a book edited by Robert Mcruer and Anna Mollow, 2012.
In other words, a polarization, in the cultural imagination, between sex and disability means that each of these terms potentially disables recognition of the other. If there’s disability, according to ableist logic, then there can’t be sex (hence, the “tragedy” of a “beautiful woman in a wheelchair”); and conversely, if there’s sex (a casual encounter initiated in a park), then presumably there is not disability.McRuer and Mollow
- Care Work: Dreaming of Disability Justice – a book by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarisinha, 2018.
“A book of personal essays, of both past experiences and future dreams, which focuses on disability justice, specifically its effects upon BIPOC communities. I haven’t finished the whole thing yet, but it works as a how-to guide, poetry, words of empowerment; it is deeply intimate and eye-opening, creating a beautiful compound of both the politics of disability justice and the beauty she found in disability and the community within.”Ruby Andrews
Resource submitted by Ruby Andrews