Let's Talk LGBTQ+
Cinema has made us think that eyes are necessary to feel and fall in love with someone. Popular culture betrays the idea of inclusive society
  • Saturday, June 18, 2016 - 17:21

By Manisha Chachra

(This has been included under the LGBTQ+ series as sexuality of disabled people is often ignored.)

Why LGBTQ+ Series? Read here.

 

“Privacy? You want privacy from me?! I will slap you if you talk to me like that,” Revathy tells her daughter Laila when she discovers her daughter watching pornography in the film Margarita with a Straw. The 23-year-old woman, Laila, suffers from cerebral palsy and is not supposed to have sexual desires. This remains the narrative of many disabled people in India.

Ranging from a moral ban on watching pornography, masturbating to wearing make-up, physically disabled people are either considered to be sexually hyperactive or asexual beings.

“In India, sexuality is often equated with a right to have sex or being available,” says Anjlee Agarwal, co-founder of Samarthyam, an NGO that works on disability. “As physically challenged women, we were always taught to avoid wearing make-up or keeping our hair loose because it reflects that women have desires.”

While sexuality is knowingly considered to be grey or rainbow tinted, for disabled people sexuality remains the black spot. Nidhi Goyal, a disability rights activist working with Point of View, says, “Sexuality is a wide spectrum, not normative in definition, comprising of enjoying your body, being comfortable with your relationships and interactions. However, as a visually impaired person you have to negotiate with many aspects of your sexual self.” 

The glare of the realm of love and romance remains coloured with the notions of able and perfect bodies. Nidhi, who is significantly influenced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies, says, “The way we acquaint ourselves with the realm of relationships is through cinema and books. Cinema has profoundly explained that eyes are necessary to feel and fall in love with someone. Thus, the popular culture betrays the entire idea of inclusive society”.  

In a similar vein, Sachin Chandel, who is pursuing M Phil at JNU, says, “As a visually challenged person, I strongly believe that it is a misconception that sensory organs have so much a role to play in love or even normative kinships. ‘Seeing’ an object is seen as privileged reaction over realising feelings through someone’s touch, smelling their odour, hearing their voice.”

For a disabled woman, to express a desire to get married or assert the right to have a partner remains a complex challenge. In many of the workshops held by Samarthyam, Anjlee says, “Many girls would express that they can’t even think of getting married or fantasizing about Shah Rukh Khan, as it is almost equivalent to committing a sin. Marriage for a disabled boy might not be considered as divergent as marriage for a disabled girl.”

Recounting her personal experience with matrimonial sites Nidhi says “I would put all my information on the matrimonial sites, including the details of me being visually challenged. Every time I received a call from the boy’s family, they would sound highly impressed with my profile, all of them indefinitely neglecting the impairment I have. When they learn that I am blind, they would stutter and stammer. Later on, I laughed at how my visual impairment led to their speech impairment. Such experiences have become a routine affair for the disabled persons.” 

While marriage is considered the sanctum sanctorum in the social structure of India, motherhood leaves a little freedom to impart whatever you want to your child. Commenting on the intersection between patriarchy and disability Anjlee says, “I always desired to have a girl-child. But I had a hysterectomy at a later stage in life and adoption for a single parent is intricate in a country like India. It is challenging for society to see a woman in a wheelchair with a child on her lap. The social structure is such that either disabled women should not get married or if they do, they should get an abortion on getting pregnant.”

Motherhood remains a struggle for both the able-bodied and the disabled woman. But the universally accepted impression is that disabled women always need assistance. Recalling her interviews with different disabled women, Nidhi says, “The simple reiteration that no prospective mother would like to hear is that they can’t become good mothers, they would always need a support system. This has become so monotonous that almost all disabled women have an indoctrinated disability to be mothers.”

However, for many, disability has not spelled an end to romance, admiration for bodies and a desirous sexual self. The positive reinforcement of sexuality does occur, Nidhi says. “Many a time, my friends would say that I don’t look like a blind person. I don’t know what a blind person is supposed to look like. However, now that I have become a stand-up comedian, I laugh at what they say. I have been on dates, I wear eye makeup and I carry my favourite set of earrings. After working at a sexuality and disability blog, I realised how constant social conditioning shapes choices for a plethora of women, and someone has to rupture this system”.

A physically challenged woman who didn’t wish to be named, says “I have watched porn, masturbated and sweated and I am glad to have lived it all. I have done fashion shows in this wheelchair and that is the choice that one makes to be human.” 

For trans persons, disability is a tougher obstruction to overcome. A physically-challenged transgender artist says, “I have an urge to grow boobs and this is why, I am planning to go for a sex reassignment surgery. Even now I wear padded bras for my boyfriend. However, there have been instances when guys have adored me, but if they saw me walking, I would be subjected to a cold reaction," she says.

She adds that the surgery is not to draw away attention from her disability but to be true to how she sees her femininity. "The operation is for the love I have for breasts, for my feminine self and not to gain an approval from an external agency.”

Elaborating on feminine sentiments, she asserts, “Sexuality, for me, is the ability to make a choice, a liberty in my physical interactions.”

Recalling her childhood, she says: “As a kid, I would play with Barbie dolls, and wear my sister’s frock and it was in my teens while exchanging secret messages with a male classmate, that I realised my acceptable self, a self that desires to be a woman”.

Expressing an intense love for her body, she says “I am a big fan of yoga, and my body is quite curvaceous. In fact, my yoga teacher views this as universe conspiring for my desires, so all of a sudden I have started feeling spiritual as if I have both Shiva and Shakti within me.”

 

Also read: Dear savarna queer men, let’s talk about casteism within our movement

 

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