The Sexy Side of Disability

When I found Touching Base, I knew immediately that this was an organisation I wanted to work with. Touching Base recognises physical and sexual needs as human rights. They provide support to both those with disabilities and sex workers, creating a space where the two parties can intersect. The meetings are not necessarily penetrative, the experiences are just as much about touch and affection than they are about sex. Touching Base provide education, support and connection between the two groups and emboldens disabled individuals to take ownership of their sexuality. This to me, is such valuable work.
I grew up with two intellectually disabled aunts: Sharon and Sandra. Growing up I was never uncomfortable with their ‘disabilities’. Their immaturity, spasticity, and epilepsy – in my eyes this was all a part of their identity. On my tenth birthday, Sandra had a seizure in front of me; it was intense but it was understandable, acceptable behaviour. Afterwards, I remember asking my mum the actual diagnosis of their disability but she couldn’t tell me. It turns out no one had thought to ask. In a town of 2000 people, the details weren’t that necessary: it was just who they were and that was ok.
But there was another side to the girls, they were more than just their disabilities. Sharon, the more rambunctious of the two, would attack you with her love, while Sandra stood by shyly, waiting for her turn. They loved Slim Dusty, a cheeky VB and water fights. Those water fights were the terror of my childhood. Sharon would always take it too far, laughing manically as she cornered the children of the family, throwing eggs, flour and anything she could find.
What did make pre-pubescent Donna uncomfortable was the outright desire they expressed when talking about men. In particular, men who played sport. Tony Modra (or Godra as he was known in South Australia) was their idol. Looking back now, I get it. I mean, he was basically an Adonis.
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Modra lined their walls and on every visit they would pull me into their room to admire his chiselled features and short shorts. This overt expression of their sexuality did not fit with my understanding of who they were. I was so challenged by their sexuality and their free expression of it.
Recently when I introduced them to my partner, a tall dark handsome type, I was delighted to see that nothing has changed. I was immediately relegated to the background: Sandra stared and stared while Sharon bombarded him with trivia, holding him close with a possessive hand on his arm. Now in their forties, you can still see their desire to be touched by someone other than a carer, to be touched with love and affection.
I never imagined I could use history to aid a cause so near to my heart. I’m so excited to be working with an organisation that enables those sidelined by mainstream society and acknowledges their basic need for affection. An organisation who can help those like my aunts find an outlet for the needs their carers can’t fill. My work as a historian will help them access grants and hopefully permanent funding which will allow them to help women and men experience what the rest of us take for granted.