People with disabilities have more than a difficult history when it comes to matters of the heart, when it comes to love and relationships. It might not be seemly to write of the violence perpetrated on the bodies of people with disabilities … the castrations, the forced sterilisations on a day celebrated with lace and chocolate. But you can’t understand the one without recognizing the other.
Years ago, after hearing the story of a man with a disability, beaten because he was caught making love with his boyfriend, forcibly separated from the man that he loved, and who endured years of taunting and bullying by those paid to care for him, I decided to do something. Along with the direct support staff who worked most closely with him. We worked at finding the other man, his long lost love, and we brought them back together. Too much had happened, too much pain, they met, they embraced, they cried for a very long time in each other’s arms and then the said ‘goodbye.’ Neither could conceive of a relationship, with anyone, ever. But they wanted the goodbye. He said to me, after it was over, “Love is wrong, people hurt you for it.”
Years ago, after hearing the story of a man who was punished, sent to his room without dinner, for being caught with his girlfriend, in a downstairs room. He came out of that room to find that she was gone from his life. He never saw her again. I offered to help him try and find her. He just shook his head and said no. He said it was too late. He said he was too afraid. He said that he was worried that she hated him for getting her in trouble. “She lost her home because of me. She lost her friends.” I offered a few times but then stopped offering when he asked me to stop offering.
These stories are not uncommon. These stories are still happening. While it is better, while people with disabilities are beginning to have the right to relationship, the right for sexual expression, the right to use the heart for other than the pumping of blood, it is better for a tiny minority of people.
There are still those who stand guard over the lives, the bodies and the hearts of people with intellectual disabilities. There are those who write policies that police rather than free. There are still staff who believe that their opinions should become people with disabilities facts.
If you haven’t seen it, you should really rent “The Sessions” and/or read Mark O’Brien’s incredibly moving piece about wanting sex and love and relationships as a person with a disability.