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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark

full-hearted consent

A comment on one of my youtube videos says: “I feel wrong for being attracted to you in the pole dances, or maybe I should ask is it wrong for someone not disabled to be attracted to someone that is”

Conveniently, I wrote specifically about this in my memoir!

"And what to do with the hideous taboo of having sex with a disabled person? If anyone who wanted to have sex with me was a sick pervert, what did that make me for wanting to have sex with them? The most logical solution at the time was to not feel attracted to anyone. I had no answers for any of my questions about what I wanted and what I liked, and the process of discovering answers for myself would involve actually having sex and dating people I clearly couldn’t trust.
But, as an adult in the structural safety of an open marriage, I was living in an era of sexual empowerment for women. And I was living in New York City. I could have the sex I wanted, as much as I wanted —the opportunity for every kind of sex was endless. Opportunities were themselves endless. I could have cheesecake and warm cookies delivered to my apartment at three in the morning. I could have Tinder deliver sex just as conveniently. This would be my liberation from my sex fears, I thought. I would take this Sex Icon power and confidence and be promiscuous.”

You’ll have to read my memoir (If you really love me, throw me off the mountain) to find out how my Sex and the City life panned out. You may also appreciate the entire chapter on fetishization.

Re-reading myself helped me put my finger on why this comment stuck out to me without pissing me entirely off —I had felt the same thing once. Though I had been a lot less conscious of it at the time. I certainly couldn’t have plainly stated, ‘I feel bad about people being attracted to me.’ I was supposed to feel unattractive. That’s how the game works. That’s the juice that makes the taboo squeal. But it’s not what I felt. I felt attractive, just dubious about sex.

I have believed for a while that people's discomfort with their attraction to me, their general uncertainty around dating and sex when disability was involved, the root of the constant question 'can you have sex?' was all a simple matter of lack of exposure. They never see it. When disability appears in movies or on tv, it's either as a documentary exposé that leans into the freaky otherness of our daily lives, or it's a pity-porno-hollywood film in which the most noble thing we can do is suicide.

I felt that what makes it feel weird or wrong is a lack of imagination about the choreography. Learning a new dance is always awkward, and seducing the sexyness of a wheelchair user is an unfamiliar dance. In movies, the key element of good romance is two working legs. Everything else is built on that. How they run toward each other, how they leap at each other. Oh, how vertical love is!

Was all passion truly drained from life when you loved someone sitting down?

Nope, of course not. And I would prove it. That lead to Love All the Way. I recreated iconic movie scenes between lovers but shifted them each slightly to feature my wheelchair. I was in Casablanca, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and The Graduate, and my co-star was my real-life lover at the time and I wrote all about that. I showed the choreography of our bodies, how he lifted me against him, his hands stroking my wheels. It's really sexy. Read it here.

Countless selfies, every erotic story, so many urges to create, how much as a response to this question that hung in the ether of my life, "is it ok to be attracted to you?"

As the patron saint of sex appeal, I would tell this commenter: "it’s perfectly natural to be attracted to me - or any person that you're attracted to —disability isn’t a qualifier one way or the other. Follow your desire (it has good taste). It’s not mutual, of course, as you’re an anonymous commenter on youtube, but, the desexualization of disabled people has made fetishists of us all and if a pole dancing video released a fragment of that shame for all sides, I’ll allow it. But also, there is an actual fetish that disabled people online have to navigate, so make sure to break your taboos with full-hearted consent."

But as Erin, I say nothing, because it's not just this one comment, because "representation" is not one disabled person responding to every single query they get pouring themselves fruitlessly into the constant need to have the questions answered, and it's never enough.

This taboo lingers off the fumes of objectifying disability for inspiration (which somehow only works if we’re not also sexual?). The substance of many of my connections with my disabled friends is how we un-objectify each other. Returning us to our human selves. Shedding the angel skin, the word made flesh, putting the washing-away-of-sin aside, we’re each and collectively Jesus, and we get tired of being miracles.

But we also need to be seen to build familiarity, not novelty.

Of course it’s not wrong for a person who doesn’t have a disability to be attracted to someone who does. It’s also not the point. Sexual attraction and inspiration porn feel parallel to me in that they’re both objectification. Objectification is sometimes fun, but this is a person working out what they feel about their own desires, it's not really about me.

While I am literally an icon of sex, the sex in #sexicon is a metaphor. Sex is an energy that can go where we need it when we want to connect, not a thing that tells us where we can’t go - that’s society. My disabled and non-disabled loves, those shames and fears do not belong to us, break your taboos with heart-filled consent.

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