Yes, (Oh yes!) to seeing more on screen loving with disabled actors and actresses playing the romantic lead. It’s the most entertaining and exciting way to break down the attitude that disabled people aren’t interested in sex.
As disabled actors recreate the famous ‘faking it’ scene from the classic rom-com When Harry Met Sally, Storme writes about the lack of romantic lead roles for disabled actors.
Y is for Yes (oh!) yes! is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.
(Sorry – this video is only available to watch in the UK)
Actor Storme Toolis caused quite a stir when she appeared in what was thought to be the only sex scene on UK TV involving a disabled character. At the time, Storme was starring as Holly Griffin in the long-running BBC1 drama New Tricks.
I’d love to play Shakespeare’s Juliet or Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett. But because disabled people are not conventionally seen as sexual beings there is a huge lack of disabled people in romantic roles.
The majority of society remains uncomfortable with disability and sexuality, and that is reflected in the very few roles disabled people do get to play.
I think things are changing slowly, but I would not say dramatically. It is going to take a while. It’s so important to see disabled people in the theatre, on TV, everywhere. It was the same with race 30 or 40 years ago, disability is a fact of life – if you don’t see life on screen or in theatre it’s not a true reflection of society. We need to do a lot of work before disabled people are seen in desirable and romantic roles.
I’m doing my best to change things. Recently, I’ve been working on a theatre project with the Barbican called Redefining Juliet. It’s a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but changing the conventional casting of the female lead. I have a lot of ‘different’ Juliets, a larger woman, disabled women; women who don’t usually get to play these types of roles.
Over half the cast is disabled. I wanted to challenge traditional perceptions of what society finds attractive and show different types of women in a desirable role. The response has been overwhelmingly good.
I did a very small sex scene in a programme called New Tricks a few years ago. All the publicity focused on this one scene.
The media was always asking if I was comfortable with it, if I was made to do it. I really enjoyed myself and I think it’s so important to show that disabled people have sex like everyone else.
I don’t know what everyone was so uncomfortable about, but I certainly wasn’t. It was such an ordinary thing – a kiss and then a bit of a fumble with clothes. I do that sort of thing all the time. Lots of actors do nude scenes, Game of Thrones is full of them, but because someone is in a wheelchair and shows a bit of flesh it shocks people. It was so tame!
I’m not sure if the reaction would be different now. My family is from Ireland and there was a headline in the Irish Sun saying ‘Disabled sex scene causes scandal in New Tricks’.
Getting over it
With roles like Elizabeth Bennett, they’re just characters, anyone would want to play that role. I have the same desires as anyone else, but, because I can’t walk, society doesn’t allow me to be seen in that way.
I love burlesque. It would be great to get involved with something like that. Sex and desire is part of enjoying life, disabled people shouldn’t be excluded from that. It’s part of life as a young woman, finding out and experiencing things, being able to express myself.
The lack of disabled people as sexual beings on screen reflects how the world is. Initially it’s going to cause some controversy, but it’s important to show it. Disabled people have sex lives, just because you don’t see it on TV does not mean it doesn’t happen.
When I did the Romeo and Juliet production, all these women that would never normally be cast in that role, as soon as they began performing their impairment or differences disappeared and they were desirable, sexual beings, they were Juliets.
The audience was far more receptive that we thought. Once they saw the actors in the part, they didn’t see their impairments. It shows that once you bring diversity and inclusivity to what people watch, they aren’t fazed by it – they get over it.
Y is for Yes! (Oh yes!) is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z