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Strong Nudes

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Issue: 37 Section: Arts Geography: Canada Topics: photography, disability

May 26, 2006

Strong Nudes

Sexuality and Disability

by Max Liboiron

It should come as no surprise that people with disabilities have healthy sexualities and sex lives – but it does. According to Bob Gutler, a writer for Bent Magazine, this demonstrates "the power of a Culture Machine, which sells Sex while simultaneously limiting Eros to the smallest possible range of expression." Twelve per cent of people in
Canada are living with disabilities – both visible and invisible. Whether it's sex care workers specifically for people with disabilities, Bob's Flanagan's performance art and poetry, or Internet dating forums for people with 'life challenges,' people are speaking and acting out against the Culture Machine that excludes 'sexual minorities.'

One such person is Belinda Mason-Lovering, an artist who complicates the classical view, use, and revere for the classical nude with her photographic essay Intimate Encounters. The men and women Mason-Lovering pictures are people with physical, intellectual, learning, psychiatric and neurological disabilities. The project was collaborative in the sense that Mason-Lovering worked to create sets, compositions and finished images that represent elements significant to each person who posed. The "nude" in each photograph leaves the classical passive-object role prescribed to both nudes in art and people with disabilities. In the words of its creators, "Intimate Encounters explores the myriad connections between disability and sexuality. A sense of our sexual selves is as vital to our existence as the air we breathe. This is the pervading message present in every image in the series. The quest is to create images that 'tell a thousand words' and which reflect sexual diversity without tokenism."

Saul Food
Saul and Anonymous
Sydney NSW, Australia

"Sexual Being is defined by spirit, not body. Exploring ways we best fit together is my career -- a clear choice of pleasure over prejudice."

"Sexual Being is defined by spirit, not body. Exploring ways we best fit together is my career -- a clear choice of pleasure over prejudice."
Saul is a sex worker and sex surrogate who works with men who have disabilities. Saul has been a sex worker for many years. He has worked in New Zealand and Australia. In the tradition of the ancient temple prostitutes, his career is his spiritual vocation -- "If someone told me I couldn't do this work anymore, I'd cry."

The Explorers
Titi Chartay and Carolyn Dearing
Sydney NSW, Australia

"We must understand the past with clarity; there is nothing more heinous than dragging the scourge of fundamentalist belief systems into our future. Oppression in any form is an evolutionary dead-end."

A smiling veteran of Gay Liberation, the Vietnam Moratorium and Women's Liberation, Titi maintains her activism to this day. A Mardi Gras 78'er, she now applies her experience to the area of disability. A writer, musician and theatre artist, she has a strong practical streak that means she is as at ease repairing a car radiator as she is critiquing literary theory. She is a great believer in the subversive value of satire and maintains through her disdain of current dance music that she is not a Luddite. She has been fond of dinosaurs since childhood and of Motown, all her life.

Titi uses crutches in order to be mobile.

Caroline Dearing is a homeopath with a penchant for ballroom dancing. Her commitment to social justice issues and appreciation of the practical strategic thrust now sees her subverting the legal system from within. She believes that the "sledgehammer approach" of law is often the only way that the rights of the marginalized and the ignored can be respected and as such, is a strong advocate of law reform. She loves a groove to a Motown song and tolerates the presence of dinosaurs at home with whimsical forbearance.

David Toole with his partner Cherylee Houston
Manchester, UK

"Until becoming a performer 10 years ago, I was not really aware of my body as such and the thought of someone finding me sexually attractive would make me laugh.

Recently, however, I have become happier with my body, having spent years giving permission to people to obviously stare when on stage......
Having a good relationship and an opportunity to share intimate moments has been something that has only occurred over the last few years of my life as people with a disability are for some reason not seen as a sexual being......"

David came into dance through workshops with CandoCo Dance Company in 1992. While working with them, he studied for a year at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, receiving a Professional Diploma in Community Dance in 1993. Six years of national and international touring with CandoCo followed, until 1999, when he decided to try new experiences. In 1995, David had his first taste of theatre when he played the part of Puck in Benjamin Britten's opera of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was followed a year later with an appearance in the Sally Potter film The Tango Lesson, playing the part of the designer.
David's most recent performances have been with Graeae Theatre Company in 2000 and also 2001, playing the parts of Edgar in The Fall of the House of Usher and Deflores in The Changeling respectively. In the summer of 2000, he worked with DV8, creating and performing the piece Can We Afford This for the Sydney Arts Festival prior to the 2000 Olympics. David now works as a freelance dancer, actor and workshop leader.

David has no legs due to complications at birth.

The full series can be found at Intimate Encounters.

A supplementary list of practical guides and resources for sexuality and disability: The Illustrated Guide to Better Sex for People with Chronic Pain by Robert Rothrok and Gabriella D'Amore, 1992, Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability, edited by Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo, 2000, MS and Intimacy: Managing Specific Issues, by Tanya Radford, 2000, and Sex and Back Pain: Advice on Restoring Comfortable Sex Lost To Back Pain, by Lauren Andrew Hebert, PT, 1997.

For the more scholarly approach, there's The Sexuality and Disability Journal published by Springer-Netherlands. In one issue, articles range from "I Thought I was Less Worthy: Low Sexual and Body Esteem and Increased Vulnerability to Intimate Partner Abuse in Women with Physical Disabilities" to "In Vitro Effect of Ginseng Extract on Sperm Count."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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