"You know what really bothers me?" he asked. We all paused to listen, he had proven himself to both me and the group. He was a deep and thoughtful guy. Earlier he had spoken about how he almost never, as a man with cerebral palsy, got to finish his sentences. While he spoke with humour, everyone who heard him understood the message behind the words. "Respect me, listen to me, take the time to treat me as an equal."
So now that he had decided to speak again, we were all prepared to listen. It amazes me how, in sessions with self advocates, patient each is with the other. "It bothers me that when I go to a club or out for a beer I get asked, sometimes before I get asked my name, I get asked if I can have sex and how I do it." We were all shocked, then he asked me, "what would you say?"
It took only seconds before the answer appeared in my mind and on my lips at exactly the same time. "I'd say," I said, "Yes ... and let me show you."
The room roared with laughter. His hand shot in the air and then laughter poured out of him. "That's perfect," he said through gulps of laughter.
I'm thinking of him a lot today because I'm on my way to Vermont to give a talk about sexuality and disability to several hundred people - an exciting mix of self advocates, staff and family. somehow I want to represent him well. Speak to them about social castration of men with disability of sexual oppression of women with disabilities.
I remember doing counselling for a couple with a disability who had been married for years but who had not been able to have sex. Though they loved each other they had incorporated into their very souls negative messages about sexuality. They each wanted to be intimate with each other but they each feared sexuality deeply.
We explored those attitudes and found little bits of health and built on those. They learned to caress each other, hold each other, express love for each other in non-sexual ways. As the intimacy built as the 'heavenly permission' was granted, they expanded their exploration of each other.
Then they came in to see me with a twinkle in their eyes. They had exciting news, they had been together sexually for the first time in a five year marriage.
"It was good, Praise God!" she said.
And you, I asked him, "It was better than a slice of ice cream cake."
"Two slices," she said.
Reclaiming sexuality, reclaiming personhood, reclaiming joy.
All part of the journey.