Sex and Disability (a.k.a. Dissertation Fun Time)

After handing in my final essay last week – and taking an entirely reasonable week off – it’s time to start playing with my dissertation. What I’m looking at hasn’t changed since I handed in my proposal; as it’s Blogging Against Disablism Day, I thought I’d blether a little more about it.

I have chosen to look at experiences of erotic/sexual pleasure in queer disabled people, specifically in how those experiences are changed – or not changed – by an acquired physical disability. Obviously, this is heavily influenced by my own experiences of disability, but I’ve also realised it’s important for me in other ways.

I’ve recently seen a lot of things – particularly on tumblr – saying that feminism is not engaging with disability; I think a lot of these posts do the disservice towards disabled feminists that they are accusing feminism of doing towards them – making massive over-generalisations. Feminism isn’t perfect, but it has made huge leaps in terms of inclusion and intersectionality – and while most intersectional feminism is primarily concerned with race and class, there is a growing awareness of disability, particularly in academic feminism. To take last year’s SlutWalk in London – the march had speakers from WinVisible (and has an event this friday – The Visibility of Women of Colour in SlutWalk London) posted accessibility information online, and had BSL interpreters on stage. Obviously, not all feminists are brilliant when it comes to disability; I’m not perfect, and I’ve undergone a learning curve as well. But forcing feminism to interact with disability is important – and in academia, it’s obvious that a lot of disability studies is influenced by feminism and feminist thought; I want my research to be both useful in terms of disability studies, but also for feminism – I’ll be using broadly feminist research methods, acknowledging and foregrounding the importance of intersectional identities alongside lived realities to examine the usefulness of theories of disability and sexuality and sex.

There is still very little on queer disabilities and sex. There often seems to be this point where you can be queer, or disabled, but not both – and you can’t have sex. Sex is complicated by disability, sex is complicated by sexuality, and so disabled sexualities are just plain messy at times – but they are less messy when it’s considered a normal part of life. While The Undateables was deeply problematic in so many ways, it also highlighted that disabled people are also sexual beings, who seek relationships with other people who are romantic and/or erotic (of course, aromantic and asexual people can also be disabled). Being disabled doesn’t turn you into a genitalia-free doll. Giving a space for to counteract this discourse, in which queer disabled people can talk about sex and pleasure is a key part of why I want to do this dissertation on the subject.

Once I’ve got ethical clearance from uni, I’ll be putting out feelers for interviewees – I’m trying to work out how to make the interviews as accessible as possible for both myself and the participants, given that I need to record the interviews (so the phone is out) and that I don’t have much any money for interpreters or travel. I’m hoping to use email or online messaging when face-to-face interviews aren’t possible – other ideas are welcome, of course. And I’ve got to speak to my uni library and see if the interlibrary loan limit can be increased, so I can get at some journal articles without having to use the British Library – which, while wonderful, is restrictive – my memory being shite, I need to make notes as I read, which isn’t possible there. I’ve also had to order some books from the British Library – the uni library isn’t particularly well-stocked when it comes to disability (nor is Senate House – which is annoying as hell; also, their access sucks balls at the moment – I hate having to ask to use the lift and being taken up to the seventh floor in this tiny claustrophobia-inducing service lift – you wouldn’t get a wheelchair in there – like I’m a naughty child being escorted to the headmaster’s office) and access to other uni libraries is restricted during exam season.  Bloody libraries. Thank fuck for e-books and journals I can access. I need to see if Senate House or Birkbeck will get a subscription to Disability and Society, because fucking everything I want to read is in there. All of it. Well, half of it.

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9 Responses to Sex and Disability (a.k.a. Dissertation Fun Time)

  1. Hi! I found your blog through BADD, and I’m loving it 🙂

    Your dissertation sounds really interesting. I did my undergraduate in women’s/gender studies. I was originally planning on getting my master’s degree and doing thesis work around disability and sexuality! I work with individuals with intellectual disabilities, and there is next to no research/resources on developmental disability and sexuality. It would be really important to explore. Good luck with your research!

  2. As another queer disabled feminist academic student, let me know if I can try to help you get articles. I’m in the US, and sometimes I get some pretty good access to journals (and I’m friends with librarians at other institutions, so I have a pretty good network 🙂 )

  3. Jen S says:

    This is a really interesting topic, and one I hope to learn more about. I will definitely check out your links. (And your dogs are really cute.)

    I had some trouble reading the text in your post. I don’t know if it is just a problem of the way the font displays on my computer (I am using Firefox), but little bits of every letter wire missing, even when I zoomed in (for example, the horizontal bar in the letter “e”).

    • ladylikepunk says:

      thanks! the dogs know they’re cute!

      Odd about the font – it displays fine for me (I’m using firefox too) but I’ll have a fiddle about and see what’s going on.

  4. What an excellent topic for a dissertation!

    I too have noticed that people seem to insist that you have one label only, never two or more. You can be gay, you can be disabled, you can be overweight, etc. It seems you are not supposed to be more than one!

  5. Martha says:

    I found you through BADD. I have access to a lot of journals, so I could look for articles for you if that would help. Have you used skype before? It’s free voice-chatting software for the internet, and there is video too.

  6. Martha says:

    Also, if you are looking for people who might be interested, Stacy and Mia blog at

  7. I’m having trouble reading the font in Chrome, too.

    But I’m very excited by your research! I hope that you’ll update on how it’s going. Definitely try Skype for your interviews – it lets you record them even if you don’t use the video function.

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