Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Penny's Long Fall

She has been in my mind for over a month. What she said to me has been slowly working its way through the corridors of my mind. It all seemed so simple, nearly trite, when it happened.

During a session for self advocates a couple of months ago a woman, of considerable age, spoke of her husband who had passed away a year or two before. She was bereft in her grief and when she spoke of him her eyes shone with the ember glow of memory. He had been her husband, her love and her friend. She talked of him when talking both of what made her happy and what made her sad. His life made her happy. His death brought her almost unbearable sadness.

During break she came and spoke with me and when I asked her what was the most special thing about her man, she said, hugging herself. "He made me feel like a woman."

That was it.

A sentiment expressed in too many songs, on too many cards, and in too many movies. A sentiment that I should have been able to let slip away. But time and again over the weeks that passed it came back to me. It was like the memory, itself, was tugging at my mind ... notice me, think about me, don't let me go.

So I'd think about it but my mind couldn't wander out of the shallow end of thought. Cute. Sweet. But little more. As weeks passed, I thought about it differently. I thought about the loss she experienced and what he had brought her. The fact that she as a woman with an intellectual disability could feel loss and grief at the loss of a husband, a lover, would shock some. But it doesn't shock me. My mind tired of finding meaning where little meaning seemed to be hiding.

Then today, during another session with people with disabilities, a young woman with Down Syndrome who was attending said that her dream was "to grow up and be a woman." And it all twigged.

"He made me feel like a woman." Oh my God, that is huge. It's huge for people with disabilities to feel womanly, to feel manly. This is a population that has been sterilized surgically and psychologically, made to distrust their sex, their sexuality, made to reside permanently in the treehouses of childhood. "He made me feel like a woman." She was, oh my gosh, not talking about 'adulthood' ... no, she was talking about something much different. She was talking about sensuality and sexuality. She was not being identified in gender by her genitals, she was being identified in sexuality by her capacity to attract and be attractive, to generate love and lust.

"I want to grow up and be a woman." She wants to grow up beyond being a 'girl' ... she knows that her vagina identifies her gender ... she wants to be a woman, she wants her sexuality to not be located between her legs but between her ears. She wants to have her skin desired, her body wanted, her mind respected. She wants both the cuddle and the grasp. She wants the moan and the gasp.

"He made me feel like a woman."

No wonder she loved him. No wonder indeed. She was borne into a world that disrespected and denied not only the sexuality but the sensuality of people with disabilities. A world that saw the reproductive capacity of women with disabilities as dangerous, as demon womb, as the wellspring of societies devolution.

And into this world came a man who helped her discover herself.

Something wonderful.

Something powerful.

A woman.


Cynthia said...

My son is nearing 8. I have been thinking about this for 8 years. I talked with someone 7 years ago who did have her child sterilized right around when it became illegal to do so. Too much trouble, too much worry.
It made me very sad.

I have been reading Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality by Terri Couwenhoven. (I see you are mentioned as a resource in the book for all your good writing on this subject) I think she gives a lot of good guidance.

While it would be the right thing to do for schools to teach sex ed to those with cognitive disabilities, adapted to their needs, I sincerely doubt it is happening. My son's teachers can't figure out how to adapt the class work he has now. A strong advocate for special education spoke of her son with DS during her presentation. What is sex? He answers with embarrassment: You don't do it! Too many assumptions had been made that he understood what was being talked about. She had to go back and teach him the basics first.

I want to do better. I want my son ultimately to have the love and respect from a life partner that makes him "feel like a man". It is something we all want, and I hate that so many people are made to feel like they are supposed to be asexual because they aren't society's model of sexiness. How many of us really are?

One Sick Mother said...

Forgive me for saying this, but as a woman I feel I must:


A very em ..."masculine" post, Dave. However, it was worth stating for that 50% of the population who haven't a clue.


Ledabeanz said...

Dave, I am hoping you can help me. I am writing a argumentative paper on this topic for my Honors Philosophy class and I am in desperate need of information.

My thesis is something along the lines of: Persons with developmental disabilities should be allowed to be sexual without consent of their guardian.

I need to know, do persons with developmental disabilites have to get consent of their guardian to have sex? Sexual civil rights and legality for the Developmentally disabled and any other information you may have on the topic. If you are able to help me out I would really appreciated it!!

My e-mail is:

Hope to hear from you soon!!!