[Guest Blog] Sex & Physical Disability by Alannah Murray

Part of the point of this “new voices in sex writing” pitch call that I put out months ago was to lift up and amplify marginalised voices. You may remember an incredible piece by my metamour Pippin a few months ago – well, I think this piece by Alannah Murray, also about sex and physical disability, is a perfect follow-on to that. I’m so proud to be publishing it and sharing it with you all today. Check out Alannah’s site and follow her on the Twitter!

Without further ado, over to Alannah…

Sex and Physical Disability by Alannah Murray

Hey everyone! I’m one of the incredibly grateful people chosen to guest blog for
Coffee and Kink! My name is Alannah. I’m 22, from Ireland, and I’m a postgraduate
researcher working towards a MA Research degree. I developed an auto-immune disease as a child which has blessed me with a slick power assisted wheelchair. You should see it on a dance floor!

Because of my physical disability, I see the world a little bit different than most (and I don’t just mean everyone being taller than me!) I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the fashion industry and advertising, and how advertising affects public perception of disability. I’ve been a vocal advocate of disabled people for the past few years, but I was also a college student for four years – a time where you go out, make all your mistakes, and then venture out into the world. My generation also witnessed the birth of apps like Tinder and Bumble.

So, today I want to tell you all about my experience of being a young physically disabled
person, the funny ways able-bodied people have affected my experience of sex and my body, and what I hope to see for the future of the emerging sexual liberation movement.

The misconceptions around physical disability and sex range from mundane to hilarious.

You find the latter a lot in online dating. Like most people my age, I decided to give Tinder a go when it first got popular. I made sure to use plenty of pictures of myself where my wheelchair was visible, and I had wheelchair puns in my bio. Let it be known now that I adore my body for what it is, and I’ve learned how best to use it. It’s surprising how many people on Tinder have a curiosity about having sex with a disabled person. I’ve had multiple people ask me if they can have sex with me IN my wheelchair which to me just sounds like a logistical nightmare – and looking to get injured. Someone else asked if they could turn my wheelchair into a sex swing; I wanted to let him try purely based on me wondering if it could be done. Others made cruder comments about what an ideal height I was at in my wheelchair, asking me if I was “still functional”. That is a sure-fire way to make sure I will not be having sex with you, ever.

My point is, my experience of disability has been fetishised when it comes to online dating; and yet, in wider society, disabled people aren’t seen as sexual beings. Take disabled bathrooms. I know people have sex in them, regularly. I see you sneaking out together, you aren’t slick. BUT, people would never expect to see a disabled person in that situation. I think if I left that bathroom with someone else in tow people would assume that I just needed a hand in there, that whoever I was with was “incredible for doing what you do”.

Little would they know it would be ME they were doing. It would be the perfect ruse, really. You also never find condom machines in disabled bathrooms. So, able bodied people appropriate disabled spaces to express their own sexuality but don’t expect disabled people to do the same. Society has sanitised and infantilised disabled people so much that people don’t know how to handle it when they express themselves sexually. When they put themselves in those spaces, when they demand to be equals in sexuality with able-bodied peers.

Part of embracing my body is learning every inch of it.

I grew up never seeing my body in magazines or on a runway. I grew up hating how parts of my body jutted out more than others. I hated all the evidence of medical procedures strewn across my body that you’d never see in editorials. It was always someone else’s body, whether it was a doctor or a physiotherapist, or even my parents. I never felt like I was in control of it. So, as I got older and I started working to tune in to my body, I decided it was time to invest in it. It was time to enjoy it and treat it kindly after all it had been put through. That meant doing what any responsible body owner would do when they want to treat themselves; I went sex toy shopping.

Sex toy shopping was… an interesting experience initially.

I didn’t really know what I was looking for, and I was embarrassed. I was 18 at the time I think when I wandered in to my first shop. It was a haven of lace and I think I fell in love with every bra set in there. The toys were down the back, and normally in these situations a staff member would come over and ask you what you’re looking for or something like that. My experience was a little different. The staff were looking between themselves, as if to debate whether to approach me. It was more like trying to figure out how you were gonna lure an escaped pet into the house. Eventually one came over and asked if there was anything they could do, but they were obviously uncertain; maybe even uncomfortable.

I ended up buying a small bullet vibrator which absolutely wasn’t gonna do anything for me, but I was so eager to leave that I just bought it and proverbially ran. I tried to not let it sully my experience because I think it’s important to be in tune with every part of your body and what it needs. It was a long time before I tried shopping in person again though, and my life has been a lot of online trial and error. Plus, shopping online isn’t ideal because I still live with my parents and they love opening my  post. I normally dread when I need to upgrade; thankfully I’m sorted for the moment.

It’s not just toy shopping that can be daunting either.

Trying on lingerie is quite hit and miss for wheelchair users like myself. A lot of dressing rooms aren’t equipped for disabled patrons, whether it be sizes or grab rails. The amount of times I’ve just had to try and ignore gaps in curtains or having my chair poking out of a dressing cubicle is unbelievable. I’ve learned not to be shy over the years, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with having a compromised shopping experience because people don’t expect variety in their dressing rooms. However, it’s not all bad!

Retailers seem to be catching up in terms of access; albeit in small doses. In larger retailers
you normally get one singular accessible dressing room… Heaven forbid there’s more
than one disabled person in your shop at any given time, right? Customer service has also
gotten vastly better in terms of lingerie shopping. My favourite experience is lingerie
powerhouse Victoria’s Secret. They recently open a 3-floor store in Dublin and let me tell
you, I’m convinced it is heaven on earth! The staff are incredibly professional and thoughtful, and it reminds me that attitudes towards disability and sexuality are changing. With more brands like Aerie lingerie using disabled models and disability being featured more within modelling through the likes of Aaron Philip and Jillian Mercado, disabled people are becoming more visible; but people’s attitudes still need to change, especially when it comes to sex.

Which brings me to my next point – What my trip to Amsterdam taught me about people’s attitudes towards sex.

I went to Amsterdam last year with one of my best friends. I was having a tough time in
college, she was getting divorced, it seemed like the perfect way to get both our minds off it. There are a lot of reasons people go to Amsterdam. Mine were more culture based – there were lots of museums and stuff I wanted to see – but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to also sample some of the more NSFW culture points.

Funnily enough when we were lost trying to find our hotel we ended up in the red-light district by accident. I think it’s a great testament for how normalised sex work is in Amsterdam, nobody was really paying attention apart from some stag parties. People were completely unbothered. Why would they be, I suppose. I for one found my friends reaction hilarious – she wanted to walk a little quicker because that wasn’t something she’d been around before. Traditional family and everything.

After two days in Amsterdam we decided our last night would be our ‘party night’ where we would go to a café and ramble down to see what trouble we could get into in the Red-Light District. It was surprisingly picturesque, and the neon really added to it. The paths were accessible too which made navigating around a little easier. However, that was where the access stopped. For those who were “window shopping” as I heard people referring to it, there was a step down into the rooms and they were quite tiny. So, if you were in Amsterdam with a physical disability looking for a good time, you were out of luck.

It was the same with the clubs. Some of them were up multiple stairs, or down multiple stairs. There was one that had steps at the front and the security said they were more than willing to help carry me in. I didn’t because of the financial barrier (it was 45 Euros for 8 shows if I remember correctly, and I was just completely smash broke). I just didn’t understand the logic of being inaccessible. This was one of the biggest draws Amsterdam had for tourism, and it was almost completely off limits to an entire demographic of people. It also wasn’t my wider experience of Amsterdam – everywhere else had been great and most places only had one step in, with some friendly local or random passerby more than happy to help you navigate it. It occurred to me that it was as much of a social barrier as it was an architectural one. They weren’t designed to be accessible because obviously it wasn’t expected that disabled people would be occupying those spaces. It wasn’t for them, essentially.

As a 22-year-old queer person who is also disabled, watching the sexual liberation movement take off has been a double-edged sword.

While I am obviously ecstatic to see more people be open about the need for representation and consent, I wish there was more of an emphasis on access for disabled people. I want to be able to access spaces that will allow me to be my most open self, where I can go and be myself without worrying I’m taking up too much space in my wheelchair. When we have diversity panels discussing sex, I want to see more disabled people present to discuss what sexual liberation means for them. It is important that we stop disassociating disabled people from conversations about sex; we have sex, and these spaces are ours too.

We could benefit from disability being seen clearly in lingerie advertising, not in a fetishising way but in an empowering way; acknowledge that disabled people want to, and have a right to, be sexy. Advertising and advocates alike need to catch up and recognize that diversity comes in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Sexual education needs to be more diverse to include disability, and it needs to be accessible to EVERYONE.

Viva la sexuality!

If you’re interested in keeping up with me, my twitter account is @Wheelie_Healthy and you can check out my (frequently inactive) blog. You can also follow our insta (@Wheelie_Happy) where you’ll find my previous work and my contact details if you want to get in touch for anything!

“Is That a Vagina Joke?” (or: “Check a Box”) – Amy Watches You Me Her, S1E4

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, for I watched episode 4 of this travesty three weeks ago and have only just gathered enough fucks to write it up.

Episode 4 begins with Jack and Emma fucking. Jack says, as they finish, “it feels like we just gave orgasms to everyone within a two-mile radius!” Um. What? The pillowtalk that follows consists entirely of them congratulating themselves on how sexy their performance was. [Spoiler: it wasn’t.] Emma reveals she used to feel relieved after sex was over (poor woman!) and wonders if this new spark is “all Izzy.”

Jack goes jogging with Emma’s friend Carmen’s husband, Neighbour Dude. [Edit: his name is Dave!) Dave is interrogating Jack in a “he blatantly knows” kind of way. Not one to mince his words, he tells Jack “I think you’re a fucking moron” and lectures him on keeping fantasy as fantasy, then admits he’s jealous and asks how the rules work.

Also this just in: when two women have sex, apparently their vulvas just “smoosh together.” Well then.

Jack admits he thinks he has “never found a fucking G-spot in my life.” I have two comments on this:

  1. This is literally 5 minutes after “OH EM GEE WE JUST REINVENTED SEX.”
  2. It’s, like, a couple of inches inside and on the front wall in most vaginas. It’s not hiding!

Dave mentions that Carmen thinks Emma is in love with Izzy. No she isn’t, they barely know each other. She’s infatuated at best.

Next scene, Jack is at work (he works in a school, remember.) A teenage girl comes in who turns out to be Lori’s daughter (Lori is their nosy neighbour, who is also the Dean of the school and therefore in charge of basically Jack’s entire career.)

Lori’s Kid: “Who was that chick at your house?”
Jack: “Why do I have to tell you that?”
Me: “You don’t, Jack! You’re the fucking teacher here! Tell the brat to mind her own business and throw her out of your office stat!”

Lori’s kid is acting inappropriately sexual and Jack tells her to stop with the “Lolita act.” Ew. (Also LOLITA WAS A FUCKING TWELVE YEAR OLD ABUSE VICTIM, READ THE FUCKING BOOK FOR FUCKING FUCK’S SAKE.)

Jack says Izzy is his niece, leading Lori’s kid to say he must be “old as shit.” Okay why isn’t this kid in detention yet? Jack finally gets rid of her, gets Emma on the phone, and they decide no more Izzy at the house. Lori comes by and Jack goes into full-on Kiss Ass mode, and invites her to a party. Smooth, Jack-Not-Fred. Very smooth.

We cut to Emma and Carmen, who are drinking juice on a pier. Carmen is giving Emma a much-needed reality check re. Lori and the future of Jack’s career. She lectures Emma about ruining her life with the “Izzy” situation and the spectre of waking up one day “with saggy tits, wondering where your awesome life went.” Nice. She steals Emma’s phone and threatens to dump Izzy for her if Emma won’t do it herself. Emma grabs the phone back and runs off.

Meanwhile, Creepy Pseudo-Boyfriend Andy is pissed that Izzy has been booty-calling him and breaking dates for 3 months. Fair. Izzy is vegging out on the sofa in jeans, comfy booties and… a lacy bra!? Fuck me sideways, I don’t even wear lacy bras to go out in, never mind on the sofa at home. There’s a knock on the door and…

…surprise! It’s Jack! Izzy scolds him for coming round unannounced. He points out she did the same a couple episodes back. I guess mutual stalking is okay?

Jack: “Why aren’t you dressed? It’s like 12:30.”
Me: “STUDENTS, Jack. Students.”

He makes a show of dumping her – apparently they won’t be “requiring [her] services any longer.” These people have no fucking clue if this is a sex-worker/client or a love relationship and they really need to make their minds up. Izzy calls his bluff, stating that Emma had no part in this decision and he’s unilaterally decided to duck out. Yeah, no shit.

He tells her to keep away from his wife. She calls him a “misogynistic dickbag.” I suddenly like her a lot more! She makes a bet he’d call her again within 2 weeks. He says, “stop acting like you’re irresistible.” “You don’t think about me?” she asks, taunting him. They make out. Her shirt is off. They crash into a lamp.

“This counts as our date, right?” he asks amidst the making out. Then right on cue, Izzy’s roommate walks in. Roomie is pissed – apparently the lamp was her grandmother’s and is an antique, and also Izzy broke the eminently sensible “Rule #1” – never tell clients where they live. She calls Jack “Clark Griswold,” a reference which is lost on me.

Roomie asks if Jack is a client or “something else.” I’m glad I am not the only one wondering this. Izzy goes, “umm…” and we fade to black.

Goddamn, even for this show, that episode was inane.

Please for the love of God buy me a gin if you want me to keep doing this.

“Bad Writing and Clunky Dialogue and Crap” (or: “Cigarettes and Funions and Crap”) – Amy Watches You Me Her, S1E1.

Contains Spoilers.

I have set myself this ridiculous challenge of watching and reviewing new Netflix drama You Me Her so that you don’t have to. I was really, really hoping to have more nice things to say but as it is, I think I’m going to have to get through this by making fun of it mercilessly. You can follow what I think as I’m watching at #CKWatchesYouMeHer.

The premise is simple: a married couple invite a young college student, who also happens to be an escort, into their relationship. Things go about as well as can be expected.

Episode 1 – Cigarettes and Funions and Crap – opens with suburban white married couple, Jack and Emma, at what we assume is a couple’s counselling session, bemoaning the fact that they don’t have kids yet and lying about how often they have sex. Cliche the first. We meet their equally boring and suburban neighbours in two minutes of screen time that serve absoluely no purpose whatsoever except to illustrate that Emma is friends with the wife of the couple next door. Okie-dokie then.

Coming home late from a night out, Emma walks in on Jack masturbating and things get weirdly sex-shamey. Yes, he’s a grown man who likes to masturbate. Deal with it. (On a completely unrelated aside, can the notion that people in relationships don’t/shouldn’t masturbate just die in a fire already?) They have some weird, aggressive and totally unsexy sex wherein she tries to get him to spank her and he doesn’t seem keen.

Eight minutes in, I tweet “this is about as romantic as a root canal.” Also, weren’t jokes about married couples not liking sex any more fresh and edgy in about… 1842?

Jack is advised to cheat on his wife with an escort, in order to save their marriage/sex life, by his brother. For some inexplicable reason, he goes for it straight away and we are subjected to his excruciating date with young escort ‘Izzy’ (inexplicably her real name. Nothing about this show makes any sense.) For our next cliche here, we have “college students who are also escorts to pay the rent.” (“But we’re ESCORTS, not h**kers, which is totally different because sex work stigma or something, no-one seems to have a convincing argument for this…?”)

The dialogue throughout this show is so badly written it’s painful. Jack comes out with such gems as “you are also unhideous,” to which Izzy replies “that’s cool. D’you wanna make out?” SEXY. The writers do, however, get in a “unicorn” quip, for which I have nothing but respect.

He rips her shirt. They make out for like two minutes and then he realises he “CAN’T DO THIS” and right on cue Emma calls and Izzy just… leaves. That’s like three cliches in one, yes? Actually, this probably some nice foreshadowing for what’s to come when a horribly dysfunctional triad inevitably materialises out of this mess. At home, Jack confesses to Emma and she’s understandably pissed. Sadly, this mainly comes out as anti-sex work rhetoric and her wanting to see pictures of Izzy. Because “does she have nicer skin than me?” (something Emma worries about in the next scene) is totally a bigger issue than her husband having massively and deliberately violated her trust.

We cut to, presumably, a day or two later. Emma is out with her friend Neighbour Lady (I need to look up the character’s name even though she serves no actual purpose thus far) and telling her about Jack’s tryst with Izzy. Neighbour Lady asks Emma what she’s going to do… and then poof! Izzy appears in a puff of unicorn glitter (okay, not quite) and asks for “Lola.” Because the totally sane thing to do when your husband cheats on you with an escort is hire the same escort yourself.

We’re seventeen minutes in and I’m tweeting, “this show is 1000% ludicrous.”

Izzy is drunk because she’s never been on a date with a woman before, and she awkwardly toe-fucks Emma under the table. Only the tablecloth isn’t even very long, so everyone in the restaurant can see their drunken, extremely unsexy toe sex. These two have less than zero chemistry and their subsequent kiss in the bathroom a few minutes later (after Emma confesses who she is and grabs Izzy in a way that totally bypasses even the most cursory consideration for consent) reminds me of all the worst bits of The L Word mashed together into one. And it’s about as realistic.

Emma confesses to Jack what she’s done and he seems surprisingly fine with it. She also drops in here that she’s been with women before. How can you be married to someone for many years and not tell them a huge detail like that you’re bisexual!? The fact that she’s cheated is glossed over, because it’s not really cheating when it’s between two women, is it? (Spoiler alert: it is.)

We’re twenty-one minutes in and I’m getting a bit angry.

In the next scene, Jack hangs around outside Izzy’s building and presses the buzzer repeatedly until she comes along and talks to him. Can anyone say STALKER ALERT? Seriously, this behaviour is creepy as hell and not okay. He then goes home to Emma and goes down on her on the kitchen floor (without removing or even moving her dress at all, because that’s how TV Sex works) while Izzy goes home and cries because she’s sick of getting caught up in other people’s bullshit and wants to quit escorting.

This show has all the hallmarks of “cute young bi women exist to save failing cishet marriages” and, by the time the credits roll on episode 1, I’m thoroughly unimpressed and possibly even a bit depressed.

A ridiculous premise. Characters I am totally incapable of caring about. Plot holes out the wazoo. Sex-negativity, sex worker stigma and gross stereotypes. Literally the only thing this show has going for it is the fact that it’s brought something that might, kinda, vaguely resemble polyamory (if you squint hard) to mainstream TV screens.

If you want me to keep reviewing this crap, buy me a coffee gin to keep me going.