IT’S SAFE to say that sex particularly interests a lot of people!Often people look at someone with a disability and think, “I wonder can s/he?” Let’s say you’re male for the moment, if you can’t walk, the attitude is “well, nothing else works”. And that’s totally wrong.
People often talk about “the disabled” as if they were some homogenous group stuck away in a corner, completely separate from every other sector of society. And, of course, they’re not. They’re just ordinary men and women trying to get on with their lives. But in the area of sexuality, people with disabilities lose out pretty badly.
First of all, whether or not you have a disability, we’re all bombarded from TV and magazines with this so-called perfect body. Whatever that is, I don’t know. I often say to an audience, “If there’s anyone here with a perfect body, or if there’s anyone ‘normal’, would they mind standing up.” No one ever has in all the years I’ve been speaking publicly.
Men with disabilities often find it easy to attract women. It sounds like I’m bragging, but when I was younger and less grey, women hung around and clung to me and when – no pun intended – the matter of sex arose, it was, “Oh shit, this wasn’t on the agenda.” I’ve often heard women say that they feel comfortable with gay men, and I think likewise there’s a lot of women who feel comfortable in the company of men with disabilities.
Statistically, more men with disabilities go into relationships than women. I think in the case of women what happens is that men either look at them with curiosity, or else think, “She hasn’t got a hope of getting a man”, so they’d make an approach and if it works, it works. But the worst thing I could possibly imagine is anybody going into a relationship because they feel sorry for someone. You might as well write the script for a disaster movie, because there’s no love there, it’s all pity.
A person with a disability can be an appendage to somebody else. People will say, “Isn’t it wonderful the way she looks after Paddy. She brings him everywhere.” All the time in all sorts of walks of life your abilities are being diminished, and likewise your sexuality is being diminished and demeaned. The assumption is that if you have a disability you are deaf, dumb, you have a mental handicap, are asexual and basically an idiot!
HOW CAN THE SITUATION BE IMPROVED?
I THINK there has to be a fundamental change in people’s attitudes to disability and sexuality generally. You shouldn’t necessarily separate the two; you have to take a person as a whole being.
As for the ‘cult of perfection’ thing. The fact of the matter is that I have a disability. And I’ve become used to managing life from a different viewing angle. Being in a wheelchair is a great way of spotting women’s bottoms, for example.
Apart from education, another area that could change is media representation showing pictures of people with disabilities exuding a sexy image. Positive imagery, rather than this negative collection box type mentality. In every walk of life people tend to look to role models. And if somebody with a disability turns out to be a sex symbol, there will be other people who say jaysus, if she or he can do it, then I can too.
The culture we live in is strange. You meet these so-called trendy liberals and you get a pain in your arse listening to them waffling on and on. But when you want to promote some sort of positive image around disability and sexuality, they say it could be very embarrassing. There’s a lot of prejudice out there still.
People with disabilities often have low selt-esteem. 80 per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed in Ireland, so they can’t go out and buy the trendy clothes they’d like. But at the same time, I have more perfumes than my wife! I am as vain as bedamned! And I’m not ashamed of that. I think it’s great. I try and project an image. People are often afraid to admit that they’re proud of themselves, I think that is a shame.
What’s in play is a “medical model” of disability based around hospitals, wheelchairs, crutches. What we really need is a “social model” of disability, which is an entirely different animal, because it basically says you get out there, you socialize, you interact with other people.
People with disabilities are going to have to educate themselves, and I would have no hesitation in using the phrase ‘getting off their backsides’ and being more positive, and take pride in how they look. Don’t be afraid go out there and play the game.