Newsflash: I’m Female!

The desexualization of disabled people seems a bit overstated to many TABs. Nobody makes a public announcement that they don’t find the woman in the wheelchair to be sexy. There aren’t any articles in Cosmo saying, “Men who use crutches have zero sex appeal.” It is one of those unspoken and often unconscious things making it impossible to prove or disprove, yet disabled people are clear that it is part of their reality.
Thanks to the unintended consequence of prosthetic eyes normalizing my appearance, I have received a lesson on disability desexualization and to my surprise discovered it is worse than I thought. In addition, it has given me new insight on womanhood.
When I became active in Bi Forum, I knew women sometimes weren’t comfortable because of unwanted male attention, but I thought it might be an exaggeration or oversensitivity. AS I observed the group, I sometimes saw hyper sexualized behavior directed at other women and began to understand on an intellectual level that a problem existed. Because I was not perceived as female, I was never the recipient of such attention and it protected me for which I felt fortunate.
Bringing the issue to the group’s attention, I sooner or later had to admit that I could only report what other’s said not speak from my own experience. That admission made certain my words were not taken seriously. The men stripped me of sexuality then refused to listen to me when I spoke about inappropriate hyper sexuality. Only now do I see that I could not change things because of a dynamic beyond my control.
Then I began to get a little taste of what the women experienced. In the Era of Prosthetics, men not previously known to me are behaving in ways unfamiliar to me. On a bus, I was told that I was “girlfriend material.” Playful and unintentional flirting caused a counterman to go above and beyond. The words “pretty” and “beautiful” have entered my ears more in the past year than in the sum total of the rest of my life. People are more comfortable. Mild in comparison to what most women encounter, I still find it disconcerting. And even if the attention comes in the form of compliments and “perks,” it is still behavior based on me being a sexual object not a woman. Desexualized and denied personhood. Sexualized and denied personhood. Frying pan to fire.
One of the most complicated aspects of my new status involves flirting. It used to be that people only flirted with me when they had actual sexual interest. I was either not sexual or an object of concrete desire. It took an awkward situation with a male friend for me to discover another utterly baffling category – flirtation without intent.
How on earth are you suppose to know the difference? I guess if you grow up with it, then you probably learn to distinguish without much trouble. I, on the other hand, have no discernment skills. None. Until recently, I have never been a woman in another’s eyes without them wanting into my pants.
It is a new experience I find exciting, confusing, fun, stressful and above all informative. Since I am still desexualized on a regular basis, I cannot fully understand what women encounter each day. What I have experienced in the last year is enough to make me appreciate desexualization in a whole new way.
That said, I also have learned that desexualization is alive and well. I changed not a wit in terms of behavior or self-esteem. In fact, my new eyes made me feel less attractive for a time. Yet male attention went from zero to noticeable. This is not okay.
Desexualization has become a blessing and a curse. It spares me the full force of unwanted male attention. It denies me womanhood and thus wanted romantic attention.
Here’s a very female analogy to articulate how it feels. I’m that woman having excruciating menstrual cramps who is “blessed” because she knows she’s not pregnant.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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