A lesson from the erotic world of people with disabilities
Do you have a disability? If not, you may not have given much thought to the sex lives of people with disabilities, let alone what this can teach you. In this article I will tell the story of my own involvement with the fight for the erotic rights of those with disabilities, and what everyone can learn from this.
My big newspaper headline – ‘Care Home Stripper’ – hit the newsstands on the same day as my dancer friend Jazz’s big headline – ‘One Direction Stripper’. She had been hired to dance for One Direction’s Harry Styles (at the height of the boy band’s fame) on his 19th birthday. I had been hired to dance at a care home for the severely disabled. I expected to feel a stab of envy that she’d had the more exciting and glamorous coverage… but it didn’t come. I realised how proud I was of my work.
How had I become the Care Home Stripper? I had been contacted by the manager of the care home, who had seen me at The Erotic Awards, an annual event raising money for a charity campaigning for the erotic rights of people with disabilities (The Outsiders Trust). A new social room had been built at the home, she said, and the residents had been asking for some saucy entertainment at the opening party. Could I visit with one or two other performers and provide entertainment? I was delighted. I travelled to the home in Eastbourne with two other dancers and we had a magical evening performing for an enthusiastic audience of men and women.
I had been involved with The Erotic Awards – and its afterparty The Night Of The Senses – for several years, having been nominated in the Stripper Of The Year category early in my dancing career. This had led to me (over the years) performing in the stage show, sitting on the judging panel, co-presenting the awards show with actor Mat Fraser, and running a lapdance booth. This booth consistently raised the most money for the charity out of any of the sideshows. I won an Award in recognition of this work in 2012.
This all meant I was totally comfortable dancing for an audience with disabilities (though I will make clear here that my experience was with people with physical disabilities rather than non-neuro-typical people). So when one afternoon at Sunset Strip in Soho, a dancer ran into the dressing room saying “There are disabled guys in the front row!” I was excited rather than freaked out. Indeed there was a group of deaf-and-blind guys with their interpreters, sat in the front row of seats. They had their knees pressed against the edge of the stage to feel the beat of the music and the dancers’ steps, and their interpreters were signing on their hands (‘tactile signing’), describing the shows. I happened to be wearing a kinky police uniform for that show, and saw the guys laughing as this was explained to them. I made sure to take off items slowly so there was time for my movements to be signed. When I was going to place my police hat on the head of one of the guys, I paused long enough so his assistant could tell him what was about to happen, and to get a nod that that was ok. The same happened when I placed my clothes and belt and handcuffs in the laps of the other guys so they could feel what I had taken off.
In the bar afterwards I got chatting to the interpreter who had arranged the visit. At the time he worked for DeafBlind UK but he parted ways with them when they didn't approve of trips such as this one! He continued working for the cause in his free time, we stayed in touch and worked together. This led to press coverage (and another great headline – ‘I Strip For the Blind’) and to me performing on stage for a deafblind client at a Royal College Of Nurses conference on sex work and disability. The RCN was deciding whether to support or reject sex workers being hired for people with disabilities. Afterwards my client described to the audience what it meant to his self-esteem, mental health and enjoyment of life, to be recognised as an erotic being. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This was my absolute proudest moment in my dancing career.
These activites and events led to various other performances, press opportunities and experiences. I was a ‘tactile Princess Leia’ in the notorious slave girl outfit at a Star Wars comicon for a deafblind audience, and danced at an annual a strip show event exclusively for a disabled audience.
So what did I learn?
As a dancer I connected with the erotic spirit of my audiences – with that deep part of their life force. At the time I didn’t give much thought to this, didn’t analyse it - I was too busy experiencing it. It rapidly became the case that the only consideration I gave to any physical disability was practical – did I need to slow my timing down? Were the textures of my outfit more important than the look of it? Did I need music with a heavy bass beat that could be felt through the floor? Were the arms of a particular wheelchair sturdy enough to lean against? Did I need to approach someone from the right side so as not to disturb tubes and wires on the left? Did I need to be alert to avoid sudden uncontrolled movements from them so neither of us got hurt?
Those considerations became dealt with unconsciously so I could focus my attention on the wonderful interplay between my erotic energy and theirs. That’s where the dance was really happening – in that energetic space between us.
I found the same thing happened with all of my audience types – whatever gender, age, nationality. But it was most pronounced dancing for people with disabilities or with the physical restrictions which can come with old age. Energetically there was no difference between this, and dancing for an able-bodied 20-something.
I felt first-hand, and sometimes heard at later dates, how a dance had affected my audience longer-term. “Thank you for treating me like a man.” “He was on a high for weeks after your show, it’s all he talked about”. “You boosted his confidence so much, he’s joined a dating meet-up for people with disabilities”. From a young women in a reclined wheelchair at a Star Wars comicon, dressed in a Slave Leia outfit, proud husband by her side – “I feel safe wearing this because I knew you’d be here in yours, and I feel so beautiful”. From another woman at a yearly burlesque event, dressed up in a sparkly corset with a feather boa draper over her wheelchair, “thank you for giving me a space where I feel confident that I can dress as sexily as I want to”. I saw the smiles and enthusiasm and joy, and how we all left events uplifted.
I’m making it all sound so upbeat, but I also often heard, “I wasn’t taught anything about sex when I was growing up - I was told ‘you’ll never have it so don’t you worry yourself over it’.” “I’ve never had a woman look at me as if I were a desirable man before.” “I could never, ever dress in a corset like this anywhere else.” “This event is the best day of the year – it’s when you make me feel me being disabled doesn’t matter, you make me feel like I can achieve anything I want.”
It could be overwhelming. Among my joy was also often tears backstage.
It’s looking back at those experiences now, that I can see more clearly what was happening when I performed – that connection with another person’s deep erotic spirit. The benefits my dancing – and that of the other performers who donated their time and skills to this cause – brought to our audience came, I believe, from this recognition and connection. That lesson is something I believe is valuable to us all and which I bring into my coaching.
Your eroticism is not your looks.
Your eroticism is not your dress size.
Your eroticism is not your age.
Your eroticism is not what the media define as ‘sexy’.
Your eroticism is not your physical flexibility.
Your eroticism is not the brand of lingerie you are wearing.
Your eroticism is not your penis size.
Your eroticism is not something your partner defines.
Your eroticism is not what society tells you is ‘sexy’.
Your eroticism is not necessarily the style of sex you’ve been having in your life so far.
What we can all learn from this, is to enquire of ourselves more deeply, who our deep erotic self really is. Who are we erotically if we take our physical bodies out of the picture? Where does this erotic energy come from? How can we can nurture it? What conditions do we need around us, to feel safe to bring it out in to the open? To explore it? To share it? What we can do to support and witness the deep erotic spirit of our intimate loved ones?
The most nourishing, joyful and mutually healing sex happens when nothing on the list above feels like it matters. That’s when erotic souls have met and shared an experience that transcends the physical and cultural.
Watch for exercises in future blogs to help you uncover your deep erotic self. For now, I hope I have given you plenty to think about.
The Love Abilities Sex and Disability festival is happening online in October – visit www.loveabilities.org to see the programme and buy a five-day festival pass for £15. I am presenting a workshop on ‘The Art Of Tease’ at the event which is open to all.