Ramblings And Mutterings: Ableism In Kink

This isn't a new subject for me to think about, but reading the Intimacy Inc Rules Of Conduct got me thinking about it yet again, in tandem with one of the TAZE monthly meetups having a regular who gets around in a power chair (he's not the first wheelchair user we've had, either, and I hope he won't be the last.) It bothers me a fair bit that our Northwest meetup is in a location that's difficult to impossible for physically impaired people — it's not just those in chairs, but even those relying on canes who find the stairs hard to climb. We don't have much choice in this, as we needed a room big enough to accommodate a very large group, and the best location turned out to be a mezzanine floor.

This isn't a case of ableist thinking going on within the local kink community, fortunately. It does occur to me, however, that a certain absence of ableist thinking might indicate a mirroring absence of concern for the disabled among us – a lack of awareness.

It's accepted as common in the greater world that so-called "invisible" disabilities are ignored or dismissed, which is an ongoing battle. Far less commonly considered is the perception of those with highly visible issues – I've had my own experience with this, having had to use a chair briefly after my heart surgery (it essentially prompted me to get back on my feet at all costs, which could have been problematic) and now commonly using a cane (I don't always need it, but having suffered from hip dysplasia since my thirties, it sometimes comes in handy.) What I've found with the cane is that people react very differently to my using a standard (albeit collapsible) cane and my using a tall, carved walking stick. It's an issue of perception. The way I caught people looking at me when I was in a chair was interesting, too – there was a strong sense that to many people who came across me, I was something of an impediment, an object rather than a person, and if they had any perception of me beyond that, it came with a certain amount of either pity or contempt.

A good friend of mine has come down with a motor neuron disease (it's a lot more complicated than that, but this will do as shorthand) in the past ten years, and has to use a chair much of the time now. She can, on her good days, get around with a cane, but there's a danger of her becoming severely vertiginous and passing out when she's up on her feet. She's a highly vivacious and creative young woman with strong sexuality...but her life has been compromised because people who see her in the chair don't perceive these elements about her, primarily; they reduce her to an asexual being, someone to be condescended to by "helping" and by making attempts to guide and direct her life in the ways that they think is appropriate. When the response is depression and a degree of resentment (as her intelligence is being dismissed due to the condition) those oh so helpful people get bent completely out of shape.

My blind friends, likewise, suffer the slings and arrows of the overly helpful – another area in which I have great sympathy, having been functionally blind for a period of time, and visually impaired since a retinal detachment a couple of years back (this is improving, fortunately, but I still have distorted vision and misalignment in my left eye.) Fortunately for me, one blind friend who's close to my heart got me corrected on that score in a hurry (and also taught me quite a few things about managing while visually impaired.) Given that she's been training as a fencer in recent years, I'd say any perception of her as helpless is verging on ridiculous.

For my part, I really don't see this kind of ableism going on in my local kink community, and it might be in part because there's such a range of people and such a range of oddities and disorders to be found communally that the kink-oriented either don't consider disabilities much (aside, perhaps, from severe PTSD, and even then it tends to be concern for the sufferer more than anything else) or those of us who do have some sort of disability tend to shrug and say "So the fuck what? Let's play!"

There probably needs to be a revised and deeper version of this at some point, but tonight my mind is tending to wander. Rather than rambling and muttering onward, I'll just open this up to the commenters. Have at!