Queer People With (Dis)abilities

By Jessica Mahmoud on June 25, 2017

This title may look familiar. That’s because I had a post about this intersection of identities on this blog up for a while.

However, somewhere in editing or customizing, I deleted it, probably because I didn’t think it provided enough information in comparison to other pieces. But no worries, I didn’t forget about it, especially because I myself identify as a queer person with a disability. So let’s talk about that.

In this post, I’ll talk about the language around disabled identities, dispel stereotypes, the intersection of being a double minority, and the challenges we face.

The Words

I feel like I talk about language a lot and this is no different for folks with disabilities. You’ll notice that the title of this post has parentheses around “dis.” In my experience, this is mostly to acknowledge that the word disability is referring to one’s ability and serves as a reminder that not everyone is able-bodied. Able-bodied is the phrase sometimes used to describe someone who does not have a disability.

In referring to the disabled community, here are some words to avoid:

Crip, handicapped, special, retarded, brain damaged, deformed, victim, slow

This is the first similarity I want to point out about the queer community and folks who have a disability: the language. My best advice is to mirror the language the person uses and if you don’t know, just ask!

Stereotypes of Disabled Folks Surrounding Sexuality

Before I get into talking about the intersection of specifically being LGBTQ+ and disabled, let’s dispel some common stereotypes and myths about sexuality for disabled folks.

•An LGBTQ+ identity is the reason or result of one’s disability

•Disabled folks can’t have sex

•Disabled folks are all asexual

•Folks with disabilities only want to have sex with other folks with disabilities

•Disabled people only have kinky sex

Being LGBTQ and Disabled

Disability and LGBTQ+ identities are both minorities, so being both makes a person a double minority, or oppressed for two different reasons. Specifically:

Deafness and queerness: As Connor R. McLaren explains here, he felt unwelcome in the Deaf Community for not being “Deaf enough.” I have heard a similar experience from folks in the LGBTQ+ Community, whether that be for gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Autism and queerness: Trans and gender non-conforming identities are often described as part of autistic identities and not one’s gender identity (Duke).

Coming Out: In college I facilitated a group looking at this intersection and one thing I realized was how folks with both of these identities, like myself, face two coming out processes, all the time. For example, not only do I face the decision to share my queer identity with others, but also my identity as a disabled person.

When I have to take my medications, I might get questioned on what/why I’m taking that and I face the decision to explain my disability. The same goes for when I get questioned about minoring in LGBTQ Studies, if I’m in a relationship, or about my sexual health. Finally, this could also come up when I’m buying senior/disability public transportation tickets, or if I’m not feeling well in a situation and want to leave. I’m not adding this to complain, but rather to give a personal perspective on the topic.

“Passing:” LGBTQ+ identities come with a lot of stereotypes, for both sexual orientation and gender identity, that is sometimes referred to as “passing” as their identity. Trans folks can face this in not conforming to binary gender presentations or nonbinary stereotypes. Folks that are not straight often have these ideas of “what it looks to be ___” which can also be referred to as passing. This is also heard in reference to the privilege of being straight-passing or in a straight-passing relationship.

Disabled folks face this as well. This can be a very real struggle for folks with physical disabilities. However, people with more invisible disabilities may also face times where their struggles come out and they have to decide whether they should try and hide them. For example, if I’m dizzy, I may try and “pass” by pretending I’m totally fine, in order to look like I’m not ill or having trouble in the moment.

LGBTQ+ folks with disabilities may face both of these struggles.

LGBTQ+ and Trans identities being seen as a mental illness. I think it’s important to remember that being gay was seen as a psychiatric disorder until 1973 (Canadian). Also, trans folks are still sometimes diagnosed with gender identity disorder, often in order to get access to hormones and/or surgery.

Media Representation

Similar to LGBTQ+ representation, disability, in my opinion, has the same importance of being present but also accurately represented in the media. The good news is, GLAAD reported:

“The percentage of regular broadcast characters living with a disability is up this year from 0.9 percent to 1.7 percent, the highest percentage since GLAAD began tracking disability statistics in 2010″ (Where).

The intersection of being LGBTQ+ and having a disability is present in Empire, Switched at Birth, and several streaming shows. HIV/AIDS is also present in the media, on How to Get Away With Murder, where PrEP is also brought into the show, Shameless, and Amazon’s Transparent. For more information, check out the 2016-17 report, here.

I hope this makes you recognize some of the struggles that folks who are LGBTQ+ and disabled may face. Feel free to check out the sources below, and additional resources I’ve listed.

**Fun fact: The picture is me after my brain surgery that I got for my epilepsy**

Sources:

An Introductory Guide to Disability Language and Empowerment. Sycracuse University Disability Cultural Center. http://sudcc.syr.edu/LanguageGuide/

Canadian Mental Health Association. (2015). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, & trans people and mental health. https://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/lesbian-gay- bisexual-trans-people-and-mental-health/

Chally. Disability and Sexuality 101, or, Do Disabled People Have Sex? FWD (feminist with disabilities) for a way forward. http://disabledfeminists.com/2009/10/25/disability-and-sexuality-101-or-do-disabled-people-have-sex/

Clare, E. Sexual Orientation. Sexuality and Disability. http://www.sexualityanddisability.org/having-sex/sexual-orientation/

Communicating With and About People With Disabilities. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/pdf/disabilityposter_photos.pdf

Disability Language Style Guide. Arizona State University. National Center on Disability and Journalism. http://ncdj.org/style-guide/

Duke, T. S. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth with disabilities: A meta- synthesis. Journal of LGBT Youth, 8(1), 1-52. DOI: 10.1080/19361653.2011.519181

McLaren, C.R. (2016). I’m Deaf and Gay — And That’s Totally Okay. HuffPost The Blog. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/connor-mclaren/im-deaf-and-gay-and-thats-totally-okay_b_7498750.html

Mosaic Science. (2015). Ten Myths about sex and disability. https://mosaicscience.com/extra/ten-myths-about-sex-and-disability

Respectiful Disability Language. Kids as Self Advocates. http://www.fvkasa.org/resources/files/history-nyln-language.pdf

The National Youth Leadership Network and Kids As Self Advocates. Respectful Disability Language: Here’s What’s Up! http://www.miusa.org/sites/default/files/documents/resource/Respectful%20Disability%20Language.pdf

Where We Are on TV ’16-’17. GLAAD. glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf

Additional Resources:

Finch, S.D. (2015). 5 Lessons I’ve Learned As a Partner of Someone with an Invisible Disability. Everyday Feminism http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/partner-invisible-disability/

Leary, A. (2017). I had to come out twice – as queer and as disabled. Hello Giggles. http://hellogiggles.com/i-had-to-come-out-twice-as-queer-and-as-disabled/

Parsons, J. Deafness and Sexual Health. https://senmagazine.co.uk/articles/articles/senarticles/deafness-and-sexual-health

(Sex)abled: Disability Uncensored. Health Equity Institute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA020ShNQr8

Swankivy. (2015). Letters to an asexual #28 (Autism, disability, illness, abuse, and more!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qO1NE275Gsg

Tatum, E. (2013) Misadventures in Queer Lady Dating While Disabled: It’s Not You, it’s Me. Autostraddle https://www.autostraddle.com/misadventures-in-queer-lady-dating-while-disabled-its-not-me-its-you-175782/

Originally published on Color it Queer

Hey I'm Jess, a student at Montclair State University studying Journalism with a minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Studies. My pronouns are she, her, hers, and herself. I enjoy smashing the patriarchy, questioning the gender binary, and making new friends. With hopes to be an activist for the LGBTQ Community, I educate people on my Wordpress blog, https://coloritqueer.com/

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