Have you noticed just how casual and acceptable ableism is? It is generally tolerated in most spaces, kink spaces are definitely not excluded from this phenomenon either. Ableism is the social prejudice against and discrimination of people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its core, this belief is rooted in the idea and the assumption that disabled folks are in need of "fixing" and due to how society equates productivity and value, disabled folks are seen as less than. Like racism and sexism, ableism throws an entire group of folks into the ‘less than,’ column which results in misconceptions, generalizations,and harmful stereotypes of people with disabilities. Like I said kink spaces aren’t ableism free. You may find yourself navigating it not only externally, but internally as well throughout your kink journey.
I am a Dominant who idenitfies as polyamorous and Queer. I am also a sex educator, sex positive performance artist, and producer, who is disabled. There have been many times when my disability has been seen as a weakness or used to devalue me and what I have to offer. My response to this has been: “Your ableism is showing; you might want to do something about that.”
When I got involved in the sex positive scene in Seattle almost a decade ago I was just coming out of a very intense case of postpartum depression and had been diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. I was a member of the hidden disability club, but I struggled with identifying as disabled. My own internalized ableism prevented me from owning my disability.
When I started doing the work surrounding my internalized ableism and owning my disability, I noticed that people started treating me differently when I was transparent about my mental health. Most folks didn't believe I had a disability because I "didn't look like I was mentally ill" or because of all the volunteer work I did with the Center for Sex Positive Culture.. I didn't fit the narrative of someone with a mental illness, until some of the symptoms would come out to play when I was stressed, tired, or having difficulty emotionally regulating.
About 6 years ago my world fell apart in a very public way. I had a nervous break at work. I lost many of my chosen family in the kink scene at the time as my mental health started to rapidly decline. It turns out I was misdiagnosed. I didn't have Bipolar I Disorder, I had Borderline Personality Disorder. Being transparent about my BPD has led to some very uncomfortable conversations surrounding whether or not I should be involved in the kink community or even date as a polyamorous human. I had hoped to find tolerance and open-mindedness as I accepted my new diagnosis. I was instead met with a lot of misconceptions and assumptions surrounding my mental health. Mental illness is highly stigmatized. Stigma marks people as “other” and devalues them. It is ableist as fuck.
Fast-forward to today, I am a lifestyle and Pro Dom that lives with two of their partners who are both service minded humans. Each of us is navigating an invisible disability. As I get older, my body is changing. Chronic pain is a part of life due to injuries and just aging in general. My limits as a Top when negotiating play can vary from day to day depending on my pain levels or if I'm not feeling particularly mindful. One of the biggest challenges of working through my own internalized ableism has involved kink. I used to pride myself on being able to go for hours topping my boy in an impact scene. Some days my wrists hurt too much to even pick up my floggers. I have to remind myself that my boy isn’t going to love me any less or judge me for listening to my body. As my body changes I recognize that certain kink spaces aren’t as accessible for me.
Accessibility can look like many things, such as:
In my Pro Dom work, most of my clients are disabled. Many are living with chronic pain, fatigue, PTSD, and more. Being able to be a safe space for folks to let go and dive into their kinky needs is a major perk of the work. Being trusted to guide sessions that can provide some relief against pain, catharsis, and moments of mindfulness all through BDSM is deeply enriching and empowering not only for me a disabled practitioner, but my clients as well. I believe that BDSM and kink can be therapeutic, but aren’t replacements for therapy.
In BDSM I have learned to accommodate for how my mind and body works in comparison to able-bodied and neurotypical folks and communicate this to current or potential romantic and play partners. For me kink is part of a tool box that has helped me navigate my disability, especially in the areas of subverting social dynamics and societal expectations as well as being open to the fact that some days just aren't the best days to do a scene or play.
Finding the tools I needed took some time. This is ongoing work. Here are some things that helped me, that could be place to get started examining your own internalized ableism and/or address ableist behaviors:
This is lifelong work. You won’t always get it right. By doing the work you can open the door to free yourself from internalized ableism and/or release some of your ableist views that you may not even realize that you are carrying.
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