A is for Amputee – #EndtheAwkward

This October, as part of End the Awkward, we’re celebrating the loves and lusts of disabled people in Britain today with an illustrated A to Z of sex and disability. It’s time to End the Awkward and get it on!

A is for Amputee is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

The A to Z of sex and disability takes a raunchy and light-hearted approach to debunking the myth that disabled people don’t have fulfilling sex lives and relationships, when nothing could be further from the truth.

We’re releasing new content each week in October and every day we’ll feature a new letter –  expect to hear some seriously awkward stories as disabled people dish the dirt on sex and dating.

We’re kicking off the A to Z with A for Amputee… with Alex Brooker’s awkward morning-after-the-night-before story that anyone will be able to emphathise with. “I cannot tell you the panic that goes through a person’s body when you cannot locate all of your limbs!”

A for Amputee is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z

B is for Burlesque – #EndtheAwkward

Sexy, sumptuous and scintillating. What could be hotter than burlesque? The corsets, the costumes and the tassels all add up to quite the treat for assembled audiences.

And don’t think for a second that disabled people aren’t getting in on the action. We chatted to Amelia Cavallo who is blind and part of the burlesque show Showgirllies.

B is for Burlesque is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

How did you get involved in music and theatre?

I grew up in the United States in New Mexico – Breaking Bad territory! In fact my high school is the school from Breaking Bad so you get the picture.Amelia posing in her underpants for a photo shoot

I started playing the piano at the age of 3. From there I got involved in drama and performance, particularly in high school.

I was lucky enough as part of my undergraduate to transfer to study at the University of East Anglia. I used to use all my spare time to head straight down to London to take in as many theatre performances and shows as I possibly could. I absolutely loved the buzz of the city.

Showgirlies

During my time in London I got involved in lots of performance, theatre and art and it was from there that I was invited to take part in my first ever professional performance, a burlesque show. I must admit – I knew nothing about burlesque. I was absolutely terrified.

The show was put on by a fantastic company called Extant which is the UK’s only professional theatre company of blind and visually impaired people. They created the show and have been the driving force behind much of the performance work I have done since, both burlesque and otherwise. For this first gig, they brought together a group of visually impaired women to put together a burlesque show called Showgirlies.  Amelia posing in her underpants for a photo shoot

It was a wonderful exploration of sexuality as a visibly impaired woman and it really allowed us to develop a sense of community. We spent a lot of time discussing the unique experiences and challenges that we faced as blind women. It was a real confidence boost to so many of us.

Developing my own art

I decided to stick around in London and that’s when I developed my own piece. My performance sits somewhere between burlesque and performance art which a lot of people tell me is a really refreshing way of doing the performance.

Amelia performing whilst dangling by a rope from the ceilingI’ve spent so much time dangling 20ft in the air as part of my performances and I’m totally relaxed doing that. But ask me to stand in my underpants for a performance and I’m always terrified. I must have done the performance more than 100 times now and I’m still terrified by it.

I think it’s so terrifying because the piece is really built out of the feeling of vulnerability as to how I look – as a blind woman who doesn’t always know how I look to the outside eye. Doing this piece has really helped me confront some of those feelings of vulnerability.

I find doing the performance so empowering and it’s definitely one the best things that I’ve ever done!

How does the audience react?

The audience reaction hugely depends on where I’m performing. I’ve performed everywhere from dark drunken bars to corporate entertainment.

In many ways I prefer the dark drunken venues as people seem more willing to open up and let themselves go.

A big part of the performance is me asking the audience to describe my body back to me. That can be massively risky. Asking a room full of strangers to talk about your body! It helps that people have had a few drinks and can talk a bit more openly. Even in the seediest and darkest bars I have never had anything but kindness and enthusiasm from people!

I find that so many crowds are hungry to find something new, something subversive. And this is so often not something they’ve seen before, so they’re quite engaged and excited.

Impact of being disabled

I find it interesting to read an audiences reaction. So often you find that the stronger you are or the prettier you are then the less that people see you as blind. So many people tell me that I don’t look disabled because I’m up on stage doing the performance. People can be really shocked that you’re sexy because you’re disabled!

The performance is really important as it’s about being empowered to be sexy blind. I’m blind, I’m a woman, I’m American, I like cats, I’m lactose intolerant. These are all parts of who I am, that make me who I am.

B is for Burlesque is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z

C is for Coffee? – #EndtheAwkward

Whether someone’s disabled or not, if you’re invited back for ‘coffee’ you’re probably not going to get much sleep. So let’s hope you’ve got your best undies on.

C is for Coffee? is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

C is for Coffee? is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z

D is for Dating – #EndtheAwkward

You might be looking for love or just a bit of fun between the sheets, but everyone knows that dates can be seriously awkward. Here’s what not to do on one.

D is for Dating is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

What could Kate have done differently? Here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. See the person, not just their impairment. He’s Mark who likes pub quizzes and Coen Brothers films, not ‘a blind guy’.
  2. Try not to make assumptions about what someone can do, how they live or how being disabled affects them. You’d hate it if someone made assumptions without getting to know you, right?
  3. Questions, questions, questions. It’s usually okay to ask someone if they might need help (crossing the road for example). But just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean you should ask them intrusive or personal questions. Some people might be happy to chat about why they use a wheelchair, others might not. Everyone’s different!
  4. Accept what the disabled person says about themselves and their impairment. Remember they know themselves better than you do.
  5. Not all conditions are visible. Things like epilepsy or autism you can’t see by looking at someone.

Above all, remember they’re a person – just like you – and you can’t go wrong!

If you’re a disabled person, here’s some great advice from Disability Horizons on how to end the awkward on that all important first date.

D is for Dating is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

E is for Experimenting – #EndtheAwkward

Some barriers mean that disabled people have to get creative. Emily Swiatek, who has non-epileptic seizures, tells us how she, like many disabled people, gets experimental in the bedroom.  

E is for Experimenting is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

This blog contains frank information about sex. It’s meant for people over the age of 16, please only continue if you are 16 or older.

Emily S a-z3Being disabled encourages you to explore sex in a much more radical way. When we think about sex, the thing that comes into most people’s minds is penetrative sex.

But actually, a lot of sex – especially disabled sex – pushes the boundaries of that.

If I’ve had loads of seizures or if I’m just getting quite tired, it’s painful. And no one wants to have painful sex, so you have to explore new ways of having sex that are still fulfilling for both of us.

Sleeping with my carer

My partner is also my carer, and our sex life fluctuates – there have been times where I haven’t had sex with my partner for months and months.

It can be quite tough when there’s a care element with your partner. You wonder: are they your lover or are they your parent? But I think it’s okay to sometimes be like, ‘You know what? Sex isn’t a part of my relationship right now but it can still be fun. It can still be fulfilling.’ You just have to play and explore.

My partner and I actually have an open relationship. Part of the reason I like that is that I know that not everything has to come from me – and equally, my partner doesn’t have to be all things to me.

I value my partner’s sexuality really highly, and our open relationship means they aren’t stuck in this constant care role. So our relationship gets the space and the freedom to be a relationship.

Sex can be weird

Having sex with a disabled person can be really weird. One time I was having sex with someone, and it was really great, but then my brain flipped into seizure mode and I began to have a seizure.

We’d had a couple of drinks and the other person was really into it, so they kept going! I was shaking and they were like, ‘Brilliant!’

Eventually I managed to tap them on the shoulder and they realised I was having a seizure and were like, “Oh my god, I’m really, really sorry.”

I’m not unbangable!Emily S a-z2

When I think about sex and relationships and disability, the thing that springs to mind is Channel 4 programme The Undatables. Just look at the name – The Undatables? That’s not who we are.

I am in a long term relationship and have recently dated other people for fun on the side with full consent in an ethical way. I’m not undatable. I’m not unbangable.

Communication is key

Sometimes you’ll be in these places where you’re like, okay sex, I don’t want you. I don’t feel like you’re accessible to me.

Loads of disabled people take medications that mean we can’t have orgasms. Or our orgasms are these dull, weird versions of what they were. It’s really annoying.

But also it’s okay and if you’re with a partner where you can communicate you can still have really fun sex without an orgasm. It doesn’t have to feel that something is lacking.

What non-disabled people can learn

Non-disabled people have loads to learn from disabled people about how sex and relationships can be fulfilling in lots of different ways. It isn’t just a linear path towards sex nirvana.

I would love some non-disabled people to have a better sex life because of things they’d learnt from disabled people. That’d be amazing!

If you like Emily’s story, help us #EndtheAwkward by sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, anywhere you like! 

E is for Experimenting is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z

Find out more about Emily on her blog.

F is for Flaunt It – #EndtheAwkward

Woman in wheelchair wearing a hat and underwear posing for photo
Makenzie Whittle Photography

Too often people think that disabled people aren’t sexy. We say: rubbish!

F for Flaunt It is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes – just like everyone. And as Enhance the UK show with this stunning photo shoot – disability doesn’t stop you being sexy.

Undressing Disability is a stunning collection of intimate photographs of disabled people proudly showing off their bodies as part of the Undressing Disability campaign which seeks to raise awareness and change perceptions linked to sex and disability.

These pics are just a sneeky peak of the full exhibition. Stay tuned for the full selection from Enhance the UK in later October.

For more details about Enhance the UK and this sexy shoot, visit their website.

F for Flaunt It is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability

Woman looking glamorous and posing for photo in her underwear
Shirtless man in wheelchair posing for photograph Woman in underwear posing for black and white photographShirtless man in boxer shorts posing for photograph

All photos by Makenzie Whittle Photography

G is for Gay… – #EndtheAwkward

G is for Gay… or bisexual, or lesbian, or trans* (LGBT). Disabled people, just like everyone else, are all different sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Charlie Willis is a young disabled man living in Brighton. This National Coming Out Day he talks about multiple comings out – telling people about being bisexual and his impairment.

G is for Gay is part of Scope’s A-Z of sex and disability.

Coming out is about self-acceptance and being able to trust those around you. Every LGBT person has to assess whether it is safe and sensible to come out at any given moment. It is a conscious choice for me to come out about my bisexuality. I feel more control about as and when I come out as bisexual.

I don’t have that option about “coming out” as disabled because of the visible nature of my impairment. Once people get to know me, friends or otherwise, I can be very honest and open about my cerebral palsy. However, sometimes sharing the reasons why I walk the way that I do isn’t something that I feel comfortable with.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine decided to quiz me about my disability and the way that it affected the choices that I made in my life.

“What is your disability? We have spent the night talking, and you haven’t told me,” she said.

While sharing personal experiences can help to change attitudes, everyone has the right not to disclose things about themselves. People who aren’t disabled often think that they have a right to know everything about us, especially if they can see our impairments. I very much doubt that this person would have quizzed me about my sexuality.

My disability doesn’t define me

Charlie_A_Z_EndtheAwkward1

Being disabled and being bisexual are two huge parts of my identity. Society treats me differently because of these different facets of who I am.

My disability doesn’t define me, but it does inform and affect how I operate and move in the world. My sexuality is the same. My disability affects the way the world interacts with me because it is society that puts up the barriers against disabled people rather than my impairment that is stopping me. My impairment is visible and impossible to escape.

However, unless I am loud and angry about my bisexuality then it is invisible. Bisexual people are often made to feel as if their identities don’t matter. People assume that you have to choose one binary identity, gay or straight, without realising that there is a whole beautiful spectrum between these two points.

Coming out as disabled

I recognise that my experiences do not speak for everyone, and I hope that my words can be viewed in a wider context about our attitudes towards disability and bisexuality.

I’ve found that when I’m out in clubs and bars, my disability causes me to be desexualised and dehumanised. On a number of occasions I have been asked if I can get erections, because people realise that my disability affects my legs. Sometimes people who have no interest in me sexually will ask me the same question. Apparently, a disabled person wanting sex, or being able to have sex, is a novelty, a rarity.

Charlie_A_Z_EndtheAwkward2

Power in identity

Coming out is not something that happens once if you have multiple identities.

I feel a sense of power in my identity. Regardless of the constant desexualisation and oppression that disabled people face, or the erasure that bisexual people experience, I would not change these aspects of myself.

Having a sense of identity around my disability, and my sexuality, has allowed me to navigate the world more easily. Framing my different identities in a positive light, I am attempting to recognise and embrace them. However, this can be challenging to do at times.

It is important to recognise that disability isn’t always visible. And the sexualisation of bisexual people in the media furthers stigma towards us. By encouraging more education and awareness around the oppression and the hate that minority groups experience we can help to shift attitudes. This would not just help disabled people or LGBTQ people, but everyone.

Please share Charlie’s story on Twitter and Facebook using the buttons below. And check out the next letter in Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability – H for Happy Ending.

H is for Happy Ending – #EndTheAwkward

No not that kind. We’re talking happy-ever-afters and the kind of long lasting relationship where love overcomes any awkwardness along the way. In this post Kelly tells us what it was like meeting and marrying her husband Jaz. 

H is for Happy Ending is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

There are times that I thought that I would never get a ‘happy ending’.  I doubted myself, and thought that I could never be found sexually attractive. I always got with the wrong guys and I never had any respect for myself.

That all changed when I met Jaz at college, it sounds cheesy but it’s true. My group of friends were all guys. All loud, erratic, ‘guy’ guys. I fit in perfectly! They saw straight past my disability and they treated me like any other friend. At school I always focused hard on fitting in at first and then, when I realised I didn’t fit… rebelling.

A close up of Kelly and Jaz's wedding rings as they hold hands.Meeting my new friends made me realise that was okay. Jaz and I flirted for quite a while and we’d often sneak off on secret days out away from our other friends. It was apparent quite quickly that we wanted to be in each others lives and we’ve always been quite full on.

After months and years of on off, teenage angsty “love”, we went our separate ways (Jaz went to uni and I went to work). Throughout that time it always felt as if there was something missing.

Becoming one of ‘those couples’

Jaz places his arm around Kelly on their wedding day. They are both smiling.

Jaz and I got back together after some time away and things had shifted slightly. We were adults! We couldn’t get away with drinking traffic light shots on grimy pub sofas and me being chucked around the room with our mates anymore. So we did it, we went on a date, a real date, and it was amazing.

It was valentines day (which is also Jaz’s birthday!) and although I really liked seeing Jaz, I was playing hard to get, so my friend Jess and I decided to go for a meal together and hate on all of the lovey-dovey couples around. However, Jess bailed as she was ill so I decided to take Jaz out. We went for the meal and we became one of ‘those couples’ (sorry everyone!)

Ending the awkward

Throughout our relationship Jaz and I have experienced a few awkward moments but we really don’t let them faze us. Obviously Jaz does a lot for me but that is just part of our daily routine. However, the way we are perceived by other people is often unusual.

People have often said to Jaz, “Oh you are dating a girl in a wheelchair, fair play!” as if he is doing me some kind of service. People often talk to Jaz instead of me and when we are out and about we do get some pretty weird questions… especially when it comes to sex!

It just depends on our mood as to how we respond to the questions. Sometimes we will make us bizarre tales and other times we will just shrug them off – it just depends on how many drinks we have both had.

Kelly and Jaz smiling on their wedding day in the center of a group of their family and friends who are throwing confetti. It is sunny and everyone is smiling.

The big day finally arrived

Jaz makes me do things that I’d never normally do. Jaz is my best friend and we help each other achieve our goals. In April 2015 we finally got married! After years of back and forth, teenage mood swings, and just life getting in the way, we finally did it!

Our wedding day was absolutely perfect, we travelled to London from Birmingham with a coach full of Black Country folk. Safe to say, central London didn’t know what had hit it!

We were there for the weekend with our family and close friends and everyone was staying over. It was like a huge party. As for the ceremony it was everything I ever imagine it would be. It’s a strange feeling, marrying your best friend (again cheesy but true). It just felt right, like it had all finally fallen into place.

Even on our wedding day Jaz was pushing my boundaries. I was so nervous about our first dance to the point I actually considered cancelling it because my legs often give way under pressure. Can you imagine a more high pressure situation than everyone watching you? I was also worried that it would be pretty boring for our guests as I’m not exactly Michael Flatly, it’s not like they could expect anything more than for us to just stand and sway!

But Jaz convinced me. We danced to our song and Jaz made sure I was comfortable. I can honestly say it was the best feeling in my life. I got my Happy Ending (or beginning) and I know I will continue to be happy with Jaz as my equally evil accomplice.

Kelly and Jaz on their wedding day during their first dance. Jaz is holding Kelly up out of her wheelchair and they are smiling at each other.