[Originally published in Velvetpark issue 1, 2002, by Kelly Mack and photos by Ginna Pinna]
Turn on MTV or watch Queer as Folk and you can find many kinds of gay people, but you will rarely, if ever, see a gay woman who is disabled. Sexuality for people with disabilities can be sensitive and complex. Some have been disabled since birth, or from a very early age—long before they were able to develop an understanding of their sexuality. Others acquired their disabilities later in life, and had to deal with significant changes in their self-image and sexual expression. Aside from being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer (GLBTQ), throw in a disability, and being a woman, and you've got a complicated knot to untangle.
While many disabled women may feel desexualized, defeminized, some butch-identified gay women even feel demasculinized because their bodies may not fit in with what society considers to be the norm. It can also be liberating not to conform to these expectations: disabled women are at once women, and yet not recognized as being sexual
It is generally understood that being a GLBTQ woman with a disability can bring problems in the dominant, straight culture, such as finding a job or obtaining health care. But this may also create challenges within the GLBTQ community.
Disability is a unique experience because it is possibly the only minority group that anyone can join at any time. In fact, as poeople age, they can almost count on obtaining a disability, whether it is heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or some other illness that affects their physical or mental abilities. In the United States alone, 27 million women 15 years and older have disabilities* (*from a 1997 US Census Survey). Considering this, it shouldn't be a shock that people in the GLBTQ community have disabilities or may acquire disabilities later in life, and should be aware of how this may affect sexuality and other aspects of life.
LauraLynn Jansen, of the Mautner Project for Lesbians, feels that the GLBTQ community is more advanced than society as a whole in accepting people with disabilities. But it seems that no matter the community, problems come up when people make assumptions. "I've seen so many people hurt by other people just whispering and staring," Jansen says. She feels it is important for people to ask questions and not assume anything about another person's abilities.