By Bishakha Datta
Your open letter to Shonali Bose,the director of Margarita With A Straw, has compelled me to write back, not on her behalf, but in the hope that I can persuade you to see Margarita through a different straw. Or in a different shade of grey.
Like you, I too am friends with many young women who are disabled, although I won’t call myself a “close accomplice”. Whenever I hear the word accomplice, I automatically think crime, but of course, it’s no crime to have a disability. Or to have a disability and want love sex romance without the dhokha.
But let’s not get stuck on the words themselves. Let’s move on to the ideas you conveyed through them.
One idea you must immediately abandon is the bizarre notion that “sex is the last thing” on the minds of those who are disabled. Come on! Let’s get real. Let’s get down and ‘dirty’. Do you really think that someone who doesn’t have one hand doesn’t masturbate with the other? Do you really think that someone who can’t see doesn’t paint her own mental images of a perfect lover? Do you really think that someone whose mind may not be fully functional doesn’t have wet dreams? And do you really think that just because someone’s in a wheelchair she may have no feeling between her legs – or between her ears?
As you’ll see if you google it, “the biggest sex organ” is the brain. Yes, the brain. Simply put, we wouldn’t be the human beings we are without our brains. We wouldn’t have thoughts, feelings, emotions…or memories, including sexual ones. We wouldn’t be tripping the light fantastic, if you think of dance as the vertical expression of a somewhat horizontal passion. And we certainly wouldn’t be singing songs like “you and your banana, stuck in my head” or “pyaar kiya to darna kya” from Mughal-e-Azam.
Today, we may be in Google-e-Azam, but we’re still all the same species, no? Whether or not we have fully working eyes ears mouths limbs or brains, we’re still all human beings, no? So why do you think some members of our species – the disabled – are ‘sexless’? Why do you stick them with this joyless label that sucks the life out of them? Why do you feel that if a disabled person has “10 difficulties in life, sexuality would be the tenth?” Do you really think that just because some needs, desires and aspirations are not spoken aloud – specially in a country where we zip our lips around sex – that they vanish?
Rack your brains. Re-examine your assumptions. Do you know anybody – and I mean anybody – who is not a sexual being? Sure, some may not openly express their sexuality, like widows who are expected to be chaste. (It’s always women.) Others may express it only in safe spaces, specially given the furore around some kinds of sexualities. All said and done, most of us are cool with difference when it comes to sexuality. We’re cool with men who get it off with men, women who get turned on by women, and the explorations of those who are T or B or I or GQ – even though the law may be stuck three centuries back.
But you can’t accept people with disabilities as sexual beings?
Do you not see that sticking those who are disabled with the sexless tag is part of the problem they face, not the solution? Do you not see that the ‘sexless disabled’ does not exist anymore than the ‘oversexed nymphomaniac’? Do you really think that those with disabilities are some children of a lesser god who bypassed evolution and have no desires for love, sex or romance? Do you not see that the more we silence the sexuality of those who are disabled, the more it dries up and shrivels, “like a raisin in the sun”? Or festers like a sore. Or stinks like rotten meat. Or sags like a heavy load. Or maybe even…explodes, all courtesy Langston Hughes.
My worldview on this is so many galaxies away from yours on this that I am almost speechless with despair. So I’m going to let others do the talking. I want you to read the words of Nidhi Goyal, who’s in her 20s and visually-impaired and who says it as it is: Why should disability spell the end of romance? I want you to hear a father who talks about the sexual needs of his cognitively-challenged son. I want you to hear Virali Modi, the runner-up to Miss Wheelchair India talking about sex on Quora. About sex, not disabled sex. “Your sex life is your sex life,” she says.
And I want you to read all the stories on the website I run, where women across disabilities talk about their sexualities, right from how tough it is to express it when you are seen as an ‘imperfect body’, to how stigmatising it is when you are dumped into the same bedroom as your male cousin (since it’s assumed you’re sexless and safe from him) and to how scary it is when your caregiver sexually assaults you. And to the joy of having an orgasm in a wheelchair. I want you to google everything from ‘sexuality and disability’ to ‘sexual surrogates’ to ‘queer crip porn’ so that you can open up your mental aperture.
And then I want you to reconsider much that you wrote in that letter (except the bit about Kalki being great. Let’s shake hands on that! Hallelujah – at last, we agree on something.) Including the assumption that those who are disabled are too ‘good for’ or ‘pure for’ or somehow ‘above’ love sex and romance. Or that sex itself is bad or dirty or carnal and must be hushed up and shushed up and blown the house down.
It’s none of those things. It’s time you dumped your assumptions about sex, sexuality and disability into the nearest dustbin. And woke up to smell the roses in Google-e-Azam.
Bishakha Datta (@busydot) writes and films non-fiction, works on gender and sexuality, runs the non-profit Point of View in Mumbai and is perennially interested in what’s marginal, invisible or silenced.
(The wheelchair Kamasutra: Image courtesy Streetsie.com as seen on sexualityanddisability.org)