Sexual relationships probably don’t find any space on an IEP. Getting excited about finding a partner might not be on your caseworker’s mind at your next recertification meeting. But I’m here to argue that a disabled person’s learning should include the realm of relationships and sexuality over the course of their school experience. Indeed, they have a right to be able to form sexual relationships, make their choices on who they want to have sex with, and express their sexuality however they see fit. This is nothing shocking or provocative – don’t most people want these things for themselves?
The problem is, most people don’t extend sexuality and sexual license to disabled folk. We are either infantized or pathologized, thought of as hormone-free innocents or furiously touching our genitals without any reference to what is acceptable behavior in public. There is some opportunity for crushes and cute friendships as children, but the notion of intercourse or sexual acts involving someone who is as outwardly disabled as I am is just outside of what the public can envision. There are invisible boundaries around people like me that non-disabled people won’t cross, including dating, friendships, roommate situations, and in general, hanging out.
I’m not sure why, but I blame segregated schools with separate classrooms for special education. I mean, if children are taught from an early age that kids with disabilities are to be kept apart for their own good, what do you think will be their openness to forging relationships in the future? What, in turn, will they face from their non-disabled peers when others hear of their relationship with someone like me? They will likely be praised for their wholesomeness, their kindness, and their selflessness. The main emphasis will usually be about the non-disabled person’s kind tolerance of the disabled individual’s shortcomings, and will rarely feature what contributions a disabled person can bring to the pairing beyond platitudes about how they taught the non-disabled person about patience and tolerance. It’s just so one-sided, and that imbalance is sown in early childhood. So to affirm my natural right to express my sexuality, it’s important to teach non-disabled people that this is my right. Only when the general public supports that notion will we see love and sex between consenting people to also include disabled persons.
It seems like things are just outside my reach. One of the hardest things I’ve had to face is that I probably won’t have a relationship with a non-disabled person that isn’t hiring them for some sort of service or support. I have had so many people come into my life over the years, but all were paid or were part of a school’s staff. And yes, from time to time they stop by for coffee, but it’s rare that I am at the center of that get-together. (I prefer not being at those coffees because it reminds me of a period in my life when I was hardly able to function without someone tracking my every move.) The few friends I made in high school moved away, and I think being a young adult with high support needs in the middle of a pandemic is simply the most significant barrier to forming any natural relationships. It’s also preventing me from establishing relationships with other disabled people for the time being. My thoughts on this are evolving all the time, but sometimes I really worry about not ever finding someone who will love me for who I am at my core, but I know that is a universal concern for most people. I think there’s someone out who will do just that – but will society let us? I think that is the most pressing question that remains to be seen.