This is blog was written by Dr. Kirsty Liddiard. She is the Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Disability Studies. This was a talk she gave at Soup and Substance panel on December 3rd. Could can watch the panel discussion at https://ryecast.ryerson.ca/80/watch/5877.aspx . Please note, it has not been captioned yet.
- I thought I’d use my opening statement just to introduce myself and my work more fully, as well as to articulate how these two things, which are intimately connected, fit this exciting panel presentation. For the sake intersectional identities, I first “come out” as a White, British, young (ish), heterosexual, disabled, cisgendered woman with congenital and (often, but not always) visible impairment.
- I am also, however, a feminist; (public) sociologist; researcher; teacher; and activist.
- My academic work is undoubtedly rooted in this multi-faceted positionality: I have, without doubt, an unrelenting commitment to disabled people’s lives, politics and histories; and a fierce will to disrupt the rampant disablism, ableism and hegemonic normalcy that renders disabled people as Other; their bodies and minds as sites of violence; and their lives as not worth living.
- As a disabled person, then, disability life – to me – is more than an object of study; an area for exploration; or an academic project. Rather, as a disabled woman it is my life; my future. It is the lives of my Crip friends; comrades; and our communities. It is the transferring of our knowledges; the unearthing of our histories; and, as I’m sure will be made clear today, the proliferation and preservation of disability culture.
- So, moving on but not away from this… my own research interests rest primarily at the intersections of gender, sexuality and disability. My doctoral research sought to understand – through their own sexual stories – the complex ways in which disablism and ableism contoured sexual and intimate life for disabled people; what these systems of power meant in the context of disabled sexual lives, and most importantly of all, how they “played out” in the material lived lives of disabled people.
- This research exposed the curious ways in which the intersections of disability, sexuality and gender can materialise in disabled people’s lives as: deeply oppressive; remarkably emancipatory; and as anything and/or everything in between. To explain this a little further…
- The combination of disability, gender and sexuality can produce some of the most acute forms of oppression in disabled people’s lives. These emerge through our forced sterilisation (which still happens); through our higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence; through the cultural and political denial of our sexual subjectivities (our sexual selves); through the chastising and punishing of our sexual desires within institutional spaces (like group homes); through inhibiting our rights to love and be loved; through denying our rightful access to sexual support, information and education; through systemic barriers within sexual and reproductive healthcare; and through the customary shaming of our sexual bodies, desires, and pleasures.
- So, all of these forms of emotional, cultural, physical, and sexual violence can be located most clearly at the intersections of disability, gender and sexuality or the systems of power which produce them: ableism, patriarchy and heteronormativity.
- But, at the same time, intersections of disability, sexuality and gender can simultaneously offer emancipation from naturalised and normatively gendered modes of sex and sexuality: binary-based restrictive modes of sex and gender which the majority of us subscribe to and are heavily regulated and policed throughout our lives.
- Typically ableist (hetero)sexual norms dictate a fully-functioning, autonomous, mobile, “sexy”, strong and supple body only for physical, penetrative, goal-orientated and genitally-focused activity.
- My own research has shown that bodies and minds which are both classified and labelled as impaired can truly challenge these very prescriptive ideas of sexual embodiment, sexual practice and sexual expression. This uniqueness of disabled bodies and minds can mean a radical redefinition of this normative gendered sexuality and therefore disrupt sexual norms – opening up new possibilities and potentialities for sexual, sensual and intimate pleasures. Therefore, disabled sexualities (for want of a better term), can radically subvert and expand sexual normalcy & desire in spaces where, for non-impaired or “able-bodies”, the scope for transformation is limited (Jackson 1999; Shildrick 2009; Shakespeare 2000).
- So, in this context, disability becomes a new way of being; a new way of being sexual; and a new way of being gendered. Therefore, the parameters of a “sexy body” – a cultural construction which oppresses many of us – is redefined and reworked. Thinking about disability, sexuality and gender in these terms, then, enables us to ask far broader questions about sexual and intimate life within contemporary societies, and what’s possible where all of our sexual lives are concerned?
If you’re interested to find out more about Kirsty’s work, please see here:https://ryerson.academia.edu/KirstyLiddiard