by Jim Provenzano
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness; by Miriam Kaufman, M.D., Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette, Cleis Press, $18.95.
The recent controversy about Lady Gaga performing a few concert numbers as a wheelchair-bound mermaid not only raised the ire of Bette Midler, whose stage persona Delores DelRio preceded Gaga's gimmick by decades. Representatives of the disabled and wheelchair-using community spoke out against what they perceived as an insensitive portrayal. But Gaga said that she is quite aware of her disabled fans, affectionately calling them "rolling monsters."
All this made me wonder how many LGBT disabled people there are among the 6.5 million differently-abled Americans. Also, how do they have relationships and maintain a sexual life? Much of those questions were answered when I received a copy of the re-issued Cleis Press title The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness.
At nearly 350 pages, the book covers a broad range of informative topics, from sexual positions to toys, and with a diverse range of sexuality. Historically, the authors state, LGBT-inclusive manuals or information for the disabled have been scant, or nonexistent. Originally published in 2003 and 2007, the re-issue is a welcome aid for a growing disabled community.
While some of the information is perfunctory – yes, you can buy a dildo online – other sections are creative, supportive and even amusing. While the primary perspective is from women, the focus moves smoothly from one gender to another, from straight to gay and bisexual interviewees and information.
Numerous quoted anecdotes from interviews conducted by the authors offer a personal perspective to the varied challenges differently-abled people have when negotiating romantic or purely sexual affairs. With multiple explorations of alternative sex, specifically non-penetrative acts, since some disabled people do not or cannot have sex that way, the book also expands the definition of what sex is.
For example, one anonymous wheelchair-using bisexual respondent discussed having his attendant help him unwrap some online-ordered drag. While helping him dress up, his attendant asked why he was moaning. The mere act of dressing up gave the interviewee an orgasm. Yes, with a little help, anybody can get their kink on.
Privacy issues are a concern for those who need fulltime assistance, and communication barriers are a problem for others. Along with clear explanations of safe sex, SM sex and other variations, the authors intersperse advice on negotiating a safe and comfortable romantic environment. Other passages offer clear instructions on specific physical positions for partners with or without wheelchairs, ostomy bags, limb differences, and those with chronic pain.
While primarily focused for disabled readers, the guide is perfect for any caregiver, professional or personal, who wants to understand the needs of their disabled clients, patients, friends or family.
The guide comes to a perplexing clunk at Chapter 13, which covers sexual violence. But the subsequent resources guide and glossary bring the focus to a more uplifting perspective by showing the range of communities that are sensitive to both LGBT and differently-abled communities.