My beloved colleague River Drosera has told me more than once that Teen Vogue kicks ass, and I'm delighted to see that their ass-kickery includes discussing my favorite double taboo: sexuality and disability. Last week was a little heavy on the soul-crushery, world-weary factor for me, so I'm going to choose to frame this as a sign of cultural change on the way. Thanks, Teen Vogue, for joining and broadening this conversation! Read the article here.
I discovered Penny Pepper's writing early in my disability and sexuality research and studies obsession. She published "Desires Reborn," a collection of fictional short stories exploring the sexual lives and experiences of people with disabilities, in 2012. Ironically, in the article in which I discovered Penny's book, the author mis-named the book, "Desires Unborn," which I found an unacceptable and ironic mistake; in an article supposedly challenging the cultural misconception that folks with disabilities are not sexual beings, the journalist suggests that the desires of folks with disabilities remain "unborn." This misquote made me angry, but reflected how ingrained these fucked up ideas are culturally, and deepened my commitment to challenging and dismantling them. In this Debrief article, published in September of this year, Penny Pepper frankly and humorously shares "the reality of sex as a disabled woman." Check out the full article by clicking here, and download your copy of Desires Reborn here.
I had the absolute pleasure to meet author Leandra Vane at CatalystCon West in LA last month. Her workshop entitled "Parallel: Comparing Societal Stigma Between Disability and Sexual Non-monogamy" completely kicked ass. The only disappointing thing in the workshop was realizing that Leandra lives in the mid-west, which means I can't try to hang out with her all the time, but frankly makes the work she does even more kick-ass. (There are reasons I choose to live in California--it's easier to be me out here.)
Leandra generously gave me a copy of her book "Cast from the Earth," despite my multiple assertions that I wanted to pay her for her work. :) OMG--buy this book. Seriously: it's a polyamorous love story featuring characters who could be referred to as queer or bisexual (yay bisexual characters!), many of whom have disabilities. And it's just a downright pleasurable read!
One thing that really struck me reading the book was noticing the tension in my body at different points in the story because I expected drama or heartbreak or violence or "punishment" for these characters for being who they are. Because that's what we usually get in media with stories like these. I was a little shocked to realize in this self-reflection how ingrained that expectation is in my body, which made me value and celebrate the power and importance of Leandra's writing even more than I already did. There are no portrayals of poly-agony/poly drama or over-wrought psycho-social battles with internalized shame around sexual desire. The story isn't "about" polyamory or disability or sexual identity. It's about the characters, and polyamory and disability and sexuality are part of the character's lives. It's so refreshing!
I also want to celebrate Leandra's portrayal of sex work in the novel. Trying to find an adjective to describe the portrayal, I struggle, considering "neutral", "non-stigmatizing", "positive," but decide to go with "realistic." Again, the novel isn't about sex work, but sex work has been a part of some of the characters' lives in different ways. Just part of their story. No big deal. Again...so fucking refreshing.
Thanks, Leandra, for writing a book that reflects so many of the ways I want the world to be, giving me hope that I'm not the only one who desires this, thinks this is possible, and is working to get there. Everything except the zombies, of course. They can stay in the books.
Click here to order your copy of "Cast from the Earth!"