This article was written by Jax Jacki Brown and published in the latest edition of Touchstone.
For the full article visit here: https://joom.ag/cMcQ/p8
I rarely saw bodies like mine in the media and when I did it was depicted as a terrible tragedy or disability as inspiration, you know the ones: someone acquires their disability and feels their life is over, or conversely someone climbs a mountain on their hands and knees to inspire and motivate the able-bods. I would come to learn that these were disability tropes or stereotypes, and like any stereotype they don't allow the person to be an individual.
What I longed to see were people with disabilities living, full, rich and interesting lives: having relationships, having sex, moving out of home, partying, having children, having meaningful work, feeling valued, respected and finding meaning in their lives.
I spent a long time not feeling at home in my skin, feeling exiled from my body, trying to escape it, not wanting to call my body, this body, home. Maybe you, as a person with disability have felt this too? I had endured years of medical intervention on my body, intervention which taught me my body was ‘wrong’ and I should spend my life trying to make it as ‘normal’ as possible.
It took me a long time to realise that this idea of ‘normal’ is elusive and unattainable. I started to set myself new goals: what if I no longer tried to tame my body, what if I abandoned the fantasy of being ‘normal’ and instead worked on being happy and liking myself just as I am, disability included?
When I was in my early 20’s I stumbled across something which would give me a different way of viewing my body and my disability, something that would change the way I saw myself and the world: The social model of disability.
The social model was born out of the disability rights movement of the 1970’s in the UK and proclaims that disability is not a personal problem but a social issue of entrenched systematic discrimination and exclusion of people with non-normative bodies and minds.
Under the social model of disability, people’s attitudes to disability and the lack of proper access to buildings, transport and housing options are social issues.
Consequently, I would no longer see a flight of stairs and think I wish I could walk; I would see them and question why the architect wasn’t required to provide access, and what I could do to advocate for change.
I began to feel connected to other people with disabilities, to see our shared experiences and not feel so alone. This shift in perspective from disability being an individual problem to a social issue was huge and powerful.
I was now proud of my disability, proud to belong to the disability rights movement, proud to have this different and unique body.
Exploring my sexuality was key to me learning to feel proud and connected to my body.
Sex and disability- say these two words and people get uncomfortable but it’s time to talk about it. Sexual expression and exploration is something people without disabilities often take for granted but for people with disabilities it is a site of profound disadvantage in our lives.
I could tell you about studies showing that people don't view us as desirable sexual partners or give you some horrendous stats on sexual abuse of disabled women, or that the majority of abusers are those known to us; bringing this reality to light and taking action is important, but we also need to have another different type of conversation about sex and disability. One which situates it as about rights, pleasure, desire, consent, learning how to communicate yes as well as no, learning the language of your body, proclaiming your body as powerful and beautiful. Declaring yourself as worthy, as desirable, as beautiful and feeling proud of who you are takes practice, lots of practice.
I will end by sharing some wise words from two great women with disabilities: poet and disability activist Laura Hershey, and the late, great, Stella Young.
‘’You must remember fellow activist Laura Hershey's words every day:
You get proud by practicing.
This is possibly the most important thing anyone will ever tell you. The journey towards disability pride is long, and hard, and you have to practice every single day. You get proud by practicing. Practice every day. Other people can love you, but only you can make you proud.’’
Jax Jacki Brown is a disability and LGBTIQ rights activist, writer, public speaker, spoken word performer and disability sex educator. You can follow her on twitter @jaxjackibrown.