May 092011

Surprisingly, there are some trends that I tend to notice in sex educators, particularly those of us that do alternative/non-traditional education. Many of us identify as women (cis and trans). Many of us have red hair. Many of us are queer (and many of those queer educators are fierce queer femmes). There are quite a few who are Jewish (religiously or culturally). Quite a few have curly hair. A bunch of us majored in either sociology or women/feminist and gender studies. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but to many of us.

Another trend I’ve noticed is that many sex educators are also suffering from chronic pain. Some of us also have other disabilities (such as me and my patella femoral osteoarthritis and debilitating migraines), and some of us are more open about it than others. However, a LOT of a us have it, and given the nature of this field, this can present more problems than one might think.

When I am booked, I don’t always have transit from the airport to the location, or the hotel. I’m not asking for every place I go to rent me a car, but to tell me (politely, of course) that there is great public transit in your city, and it will only take me 45 minutes (or sometimes up to two hours) by train/bus/lightrail/metro/walking/etc doesn’t always take into account the fact that my body is often screaming in pain by the time I get to the airport, deal with my luggage, go through security, take the underground train, wait in airport seats, squish into airline seats, carry my carry ons through the airport, struggle to get my luggage off the carousel, and make it to the curb. Some days I take a wheelchair through the airport just to be able to save my spoons. Some days I don’t, but that often means I don’t have the energy or pain tolerance to then cart my luggage (while walking with a cane), through public transit through a city that I don’t know, and argue with people for a seat because I don’t look “disabled enough” to need one, particularly as a younger person. A hotel with a shuttle is great, but often, because many toy stores and dungeons don’t cover accommodations, I am stay with a friend, or at a cheap motel that doesn’t offer this service. Asking me if I need a ride from the airport to the store/dungeon/center/hotel would be incredibly appreciated, and you’d get a much better presentation from me, as I won’t have to struggle between taking my pain meds, or pushing through the pain to do my workshop.

Another thing frequently happens on college campuses. Students are often used to traversing college campuses as the bird flies; up and down stairs, across grassy and/or gravely quads, etc. When I have to do this, frequently while carrying a suitcase of sex toys, handouts, stuffed vulvas, etc, it is completely draining, and I feel guilty when I have to ask them to slow down, take ramps (especially given that I am not in a wheelchair, and don’t usually feel like explaining my medical situation to some 20 year old I’ve just met). The same goes for booking me in a historic building with lots of stairs and no elevator, or one with an elevator, but just assuming that I can take the stairs.

I love what I do. I’m ok with not being met with a limo at the airport. I’m fine with not staying in 5 star hotels — if my hosts can put me up on their couch or spare bedroom to make it more affordable, I’m happy to do that. However, the little things, like getting place to place, are what frustrate me. My last trip to San Francisco, I paid more using cabs to get to/from the places I was speaking than I actually made speaking at them. The idea that everyone is traditionally able bodies, full of energy, and doesn’t have any issues like disability or chronic pain making it more difficult to hop on public transit is an ableist concept. A wonderful sexuality educator recently experienced this on an international trip, where after 24 hours of air travel and airport waiting, she was then told to take another 2 hours on public transit to get to the city…for a workshop she was doing for free. I’ve been in similar (although not international…yet) circumstances, and I have to make the choice between breaking down in tears at the epic journey in front of me, or sucking it up and paying money for a cab or a shuttle, even though I often am in the red from presenting in general.

So please, if you’re someone booking an educator (or really, anyone), please think before you suggest. It’s ok to say something like “are you comfortable taking public transit?” to feel them out. But know that when you ask, you might hear no (for a plethora of reasons), and if you hear a no, that’s when it’s time to figure out another way. Ask your staff, ask your fellow students, use your resources, but figure out a way to get them from place A (usually an airport or train station) to place B (usually your store/college/center/dungeon/etc or maybe a hotel) that doesn’t involve an arduous journey that may end in exhaustion, frustration, and/or tears.