Oct 312011

I frequently speak on disability awareness, the intersection between disability and sexuality, and other such awesome topics. One big part of that when speaking to able bodied folks is talking about how to make their education and workshops that THEY provide more accessible overall.  Here are some quick tips to think about when writing/talking/presenting, whether around sexuality or anything else. Remember, it’s ok to mess up — I still do it sometimes. NO one is perfect, no one is an expert. This being said, take a moment to review the things you do and say, the language you use, and how you market your classes, and let’s work on recognizing able bodied privilege and working on reducing ableism in our communities.

Think about your language! Lots and lots of words and phrases in the English language come from an ableist perspective. Some are easy to call out; using retarded is not ok, period. Others have wormed their way in more sneakily — calling something lame is ableist, as is calling something (or someone) dumb. Idiot is also quite ableist, although not as obvious to most people. Another HUGE ableist word (and one I myself am still working on removing from my vocabulary, since it is so ingrained) is the use of the words crazy, insane, etc. Lots of people have issues that present mentally; who are we, lay people, to decide what sanity looks like? Saying someone is wearing a crazy outfit, or is insane because they are working to hard IS ableist, as prevalent as the language is in our culture.

Another way ableist language comes up as lot is in doing activities. Rather than say “everyone please stand” you can say things like “if everyone who can stand will please do so.” Instead of “please walk around the room” you can say “please move around the room.” Blanket statements like “everyone has two hands” might be less of an issue in small groups where you can see if people have two hands, but if you don’t know your audience, don’t make assumptions about what limbs people do or do not have.  Bethany Stevens, JD, is great at modeling access in her presentations introductions, and I’ve totally started doing it. Saying “can everyone who can see, see me ok?” and “can everyone who can hear, hear me ok?” is much more inclusive than “can everyone hear and see me ok?” I also make sure to let everyone know that I am open to requests for accommodations throughout the presentation and/or activities.

When you’re scheduling workshops, think about where they are at. If they are not physically accessible (either for wheelchair users, or anyone with a cane, crutches, or knee/hip/foot/ankle issues), you should probably put that on your flier/adverts. On that same note, if it IS accessible, put that on there — people love to know they are thought about and welcome. If it is somewhere in the middle, like there is a rear ramp somewhere, or you have burly folk willing to assist anyone who needs it, let people know that too. Even if you cannot find a perfectly accessible place (frequent in queer and kinky communities, or when working with non-profits who have to rely on donations of space), the fact that you are acknowledging accessibility is a huge step, and many PWD, myself included, can then make an informed decision about what attending will look like. Also, if you’re willing to provide an ASL interpreter, or describe the pictures/power point slides, make sure people know how to request those accommodations in advance, so that they don’t show up just crossing their fingers you have ASL savvy folks on staff.

People learn in different ways (Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences) and everyone processes at different speeds and in different ways. Regardless of who may or may not be in your audience, make sure to repeat your take home messages and important points more than once, and if possible, in more than one way. This will help EVERYONE “get” it better than if you just rattle off facts from your power point.

Know that some folks with disabilities comes with service dogs, or what I like to call service people. Sometimes, we need help getting in, getting settled, getting around, taking notes, making sure we understood what was said, having advocates, having people to carry our stuff, etc. Being respectful to us also means being respectful to our companions, whether of the furry or human variety. If someone mentions they’ll be attending with a service animal (or human), reserving a seat on the end of a row for the dog is generally appreciated. On the same note, if someone needs to see the ASL interpreter, or has vision issues and needs to be close to something to see it (and brings this up), making sure they get a spot close to the front shows consideration.

Having resources available in your area is awesome. Know who the sex positive doctors are; ones that aren’t going to flinch when someone says “how can I have sex safely, given that I have _____ or this condition?” Think about accessible spaces (accessible can mean lots of things; ADA, near public transit, affordable, etc) where people can get sex ed, and have their questions answered. Know who provides cognitive level appropriate sex education to folks with various developmental disabilities? Where can someone with disabilities (and/or their partner) find a local support group? Are their gynecologists near by who offer accessible exam tables to folks with mobility issues? This is just a start, but if you have answers to these questions, it’s a great place to get going.

These are just some very very very basic tips. I would love to hear other thoughts and suggestions on combating ableism in sex education (or education as a whole), as well as questions that other folks might have about providing inclusive settings. Let the discussion begin!



May 182011

I speak and write a lot on sexuality and disability. From classes on Negotiating BDSM in Disability Context to working on multiple writing project, the topic of sex and disability is a pretty big part of my life. And one part of how I talk about/with/in regards to living with disabilities is the Spoon Theory, originally created and written by Christine Miserandio, a woman with lupus. However, I find that the concept of spoon theory applies to most people with disabilities, and actually, to life in general. She talks about how “healthy” people (in her case, those without lupus) have an endless supply of spoons…but I beg to differ. I think spoon theory works very well in regard to polyamory/non-monogamy, in that you have a set supply of spoons, and have to figure out how many spoons each relationship gets. It also works well in general, when you’re trying to explain to people that they may want to be the best employee, the best parent, the best partner, the best sibling, the best soccer coach, etc, but they only have so many spoons in a day/week to divide between all of these things.

Basically, taking the concept that we all have limited resources, and have to decide how to best use them in our life, can be related to anything. In regards to disability, it is truly a great way to get friends and partners of people with disabilities to understand some of the difficulties that PWD may go through in life.

When I teach at a Kink conference, I often have to choose between attending all the workshops and skipping the play parties, or attending a few workshops, napping and then hitting a play party or two, because I just don’t have the spoons (or physical/emotional resources) to do it all. Often, people don’t get it, and view me as snobby or lazy because I don’t “make the most” of the kink conference, but I know that if I don’t practice this self care, I’ll spend the next day or two doped up on percocet and unable to do anything. Putting it within the spoon context often helps people to “get” what I’m talking about.

Here is the beginning of the spoon theory story:

My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.

As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to have Lupus and be sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?

I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.

As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.

At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.

Click here to read the rest of spoon theory.



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.


Oct 282010

A few weeks ago, I sat down and spoke with Laurie Handlers on her weekly tantric radio show Tantra Cafe about the intersections of sexuality and disability. We talk about how insurances don’t cover many things related to sexuality/disability, how to look at redefining what sex means and how it feels best and works for you, as well as other things across the the spectrum of sexuality and disability.

Click here to listen to my radio interview on Tantra Cafe.


Sep 072010

Another call for submissions, this one for an anthology on disability (different than the ones I’m working one). Please pass this along. I, of all people, know how hard it can be to get submissions.


Ari Ne’eman and Stacey Milbern, Co-Editors

Deadline: January 15, 2011

This year, the disability community is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), civil rights law that protects the rights of disabled people.
Growing up in a post-ADA America has meant that many of us have had access to more opportunities than previous generations. We know if we had been born in 1967 instead of 1987 our lives would look completely different. We know the history of our people is tainted by eugenics, ableism, lack of access and the sting of low expectations. We recognize the work that has been done by disability movements over the last century to make the current lives we live possible. We are proud to be members of this vibrant, breathing, community.

Although the struggle continues, we recognize that the realities of disabled people look vastly different in many ways. With this in mind, we are requesting proposals for chapters in a book-length anthology to document this legacy and record the stories of disabled young people
talking about what it is to grow up with a disability in this day and age.

Part One of our anthology will attempt to explore how a new generation experiences these age old challenges, affording a chance to assess how far we have really come. Part Two of our anthology asks disabled young people to identify what our struggle looks like now.

We’re seeking a diversity of perspectives and topics. A few questions we pose as food for thought:
What does it look like to navigate the medical system?
What is it like trying to find and keep a job as a young person with a disability today?
How are mental health challenges and psychiatric impairments approached by family members?
Do students still have to choose between support and inclusion?
What is the impact of pity and charity?
How do we survive the traumas we experience by people who say they are helping us, whether this is in schools, in doctor’s offices, our places of worship, or within our support systems?
How do people with less visible disabilities choose whether or not to disclose?
How has the nature of “passing” changed or not changed?
How do we fight eugenics, with its many faces?
How do we work with personal assistant services and our support systems?
How is disability portrayed differently in American society?
How are media, and pop culture representations of disability viewed by the new generation of young people with disabilities?
What do our relationships and sex lives look like?
How do we find community?

We are seeking creative non-fiction essays from young people with disabilities ages 13-30 (some flexibility will be available for compelling submissions from individuals slightly outside our preferred age range). People with all types of disabilities are welcome to submit. Speaking from personal experience is strongly encouraged. The intent of this project is to use personal voices to capture the experience of the new generation of young people with disabilities.

Submissions should range from 2,000 to 5,000 words. Please include your address, phone number, e-mail address and a short bio on the manuscript.

Proposals are due by e-mail to voicesoftheadageneration@gmail.com to January 15, 2011 but we encourage and will consider for approval early submissions. Please e-mail co-editors Stacey Milbern and Ari Ne’eman at voicesoftheadageneration@gmail.com with questions.

Jul 022010

Student panelist needed for LGBTIQ & Disability panel (7/16)
Kelly Leonard, Asst Director of Purdue University’s Disability Resource Center, has been asked to pull together a panel on the intersection of LGBTIQ and Disability/Deaf identities in college students, for the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) conference at the Sheraton Denver Downtown. The panel, which will also feature two staff members and reference resources such as http://eliclare.com/background/queer-disability-resources, will be held Friday, July 16th 2-4pm at the national AHEAD conference in Denver (Sheraton Denver Downtown). If you or someone you know identifies as an LGBTIQ college student with a disability, and would possibly be interested in participating, please contact Kelly Leonard at kleonard@purdue.edu .

May 092010

Hey all!

As you may remember, I was working (and still am) on an anthology about sexuality and disability, tentatively titled Sexual Ability. I posted a Call for Submissions, I had people repost it, but got very few essays.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. Similar anthology calls were getting dozens if not more pieces submitted. I’d made sure to mirror mine in a very professional, academic way, covering many of the topics, and all of the requirements.

And a few months back, a message I got on FetLife answered my question. And I feel so stupid for having not realized this.

Because of the subject matter, I was screwing myself over. I wanted people who had disabilites to write about their struggles with them, and how it was sometimes difficult fitting sexuality into their lives…in an academic way, with lots of thoughts and edits and _____.

There are many problems with this. First of all, it was a classist call. Why? Because not everyone has the background and/or ability to write an academically styled essay. If you didn’t have the opportunity to go to college (none the less grad school), how would you even know where to get started?

And secondly, I’m asking people for who (in some case) they may get completely drained just getting to the kitchen to put forth a huge amount of thought and effort. How unfair is that?

So I re-examined, re-looked at my concept, and have decided to do a survey of people with disabilities and their partners, where they can just fill in a sheet of questions when they feel up to it, as much or as little in the way of answers as they’d like. And then I will put this information I gather in this informal qualitative survey and put it together into a book celebrating sexuality and dis/ability. Thank you to Tristan Taormino for her suggestions on survey length, approaching people, etc.

So without any more rigamorale, here is the Sexually Able Call for Participants. Please feel free to re-post anywhere and everywhere. I’d love to get not only a large number of responses, but also a very diverse one.


Call for Participants: Sexually Able

Sexually Able aims to bring light upon sexuality and dis/ability, and create a path for peoples’ voices to be heard.

What is it? It’s a large scale survey of self identified people with disabilities and their partners.  Eventually, it’ll be turned into a book for people to read, enjoy and see the rich and diverse sexuality that is within the disability community.

Why is this needed? As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there is still a large gap in people’s minds when they think about sexuality as it relates to people with disabilities, whether cognitively or physically. While some studies have been performed regarding the potential for differently-able people to lead satisfying sexual lives, in which satisfying seems to center around the ability to orgasm, very little has been written about the experiences involving the sexualities and experiences of people who identify as people with disabilities/ handicapped/disabled/differently-able, as well as their partners.

People of all ability levels are sexual beings. Sex is hard enough to navigate and negotiate when one fits in with society’s notions of what a sexual being is, but once you add in the concept of ability, it can become quite challenge. This book, through these surveys, seeks to bring forward the stories, challenges and experiences of people of various ability levels and their partners, putting a face on the trials that so many valuable members of our society must face and the positive experiences as well. By sharing the experiences of the dis/ability community in relation to sexuality, Sexually Able hopes to challenge people’s viewpoints, foster discussion and conversation, and open doors towards a shift in the social constructions surrounding sexuality and disability.

What does it involve?

Just fill out one of the surveys (for people with disabilities or for partners of PWD), send it in, and have your voice and experiences heard. You’re welcome to take your time, and fill in as much or as little information as you’d like. If you need assistance in completing your survey, please let us know. Please feel free to pass this site/these surveys on to your friends, lovers, support groups, therapists, doctors, caregivers, and anyone else that may identify as having a disability or as a partner of someone with a disability.

For more information and/or to fill out the surveys, please visit http://sexuallyable.wordpress.com. Questions? Email SexuallyAbleBook@gmail.com.

Who is behind Sexually Able?

Shanna Katz M.Ed is a full spectrum sexuality educator with a Master’s of Human Sexuality Education from Widener University. She is currently based in Phoenix, AZ, is the resident sexuality educator for Fascinations, and a member of AASECT (the American Association of Sexuality Educator, Counselors and Therapists). As a sexuality educator, she travels the country teaching workshops at colleges, sex toy stores, dungeons, sexuality conferences and more.

Shanna has a special interest in working in sexuality and dis/ability, and runs workshops and discussions about the intersection of these identities, how to build sex positivity in communities of PWD, negotiating disability in a BDSM context and more.  She’s also working on an anthology regarding sexuality and dis/ability, entitled Sexual Ability.  Please see the call for submissions to submit an essay.

Note on definitions of disability (or the lack of): This survey is for those who identify as someone with a disability, someone who is disable, someone who is differently able, any other such identity and the partners of the former. There is no hierarchy of disability, nor is there any exact definition. If you identify as one of the aforementioned, please feel free to take the survey.