Disability Kink

Sex, disability and prostitution

It’s time to talk about sex. I make no apologies for this. One of the problems that arises when discussing disability in relation to sex is that subcultures exist in which members of some impairment groups, such as wheelchair users, amputees, or people with restricted growth, are treated as fetish objects. A common reaction is to be disgusted and hence to regard any attempt to broach the topic of disabled people having sex as unacceptable. For those affected, both extremes can be equally difficult, resulting in unwelcome and often unpleasant sexual advances in one case, and repulsion by the targets of their affections in the other. It may seem odd to complain both about being attractive and being unattractive, although I suspect rather less so to women than to men, but the key point is that neither of the objectionable groups display evidence of considering us to be normal human beings.

Many disabled people find a regular sex life hard to obtain, not only because of physical impairments but also because of psychological ones impacting upon the ability to have a full social life. However, solutions proposed to this problem are not always satisfactory. A Google search shows that, in 2003, the New Zealand Green Party campaigned for the legalisation of prostitution for the benefit of disabled people. In case you are wondering, I have no idea how this would be good for the environment, but it is highly revealing about attitudes both towards disabled people and towards sex workers. Arguments in favour of prostitution should surely be based around the concept of liberty, not just the obvious fact that there are men who want to have sex. Conversely, prostitution is presumably illegal in New Zealand because of the belief that it is exploitation, which can never be justified.

At the other end of the liberalism scale, there have been equally perplexing arguments in Denmark, regarding a government policy to use state funding to provide sex workers for disabled people. The opposition parties have claimed that this is immoral, despite the fact that prostitution is perfectly legal for everyone else in the country. Danish society clearly takes the view that sex workers are not being exploited and so it is absurd to suggest that the situation changes merely because disability access is provided by public money. The European Court of Justice has ruled that prostitution is a service for the purpose of laws on the right of establishment and so it would be entirely reasonable, and some would say necessary, to make it equally accessible to all, in countries where it has been legalised.

I did not take this substantial diversion in order to resolve the question of whether paying for sex should be illegal. In fact, because this is a blog about disability issues, I am going to somewhat tantalisingly reserve judgment. Nevertheless, I am keen to reassure you that any thoughts which I do have on the subject are not influenced either way by the fact that disabled people have been known to use prostitutes. The purpose of raising the topic is to show that the attitudes exposed in the opening paragraph are not just limited to perverted ‘devotees’ with disability fetishes and to sexually repressed prudes. The Green Party of New Zealand seem to think that disabled people have an insatiable appetite for sex which overrides the rights of women while many Danish politicians are obviously disturbed by the fact that we have sex at all. What we want is for people to realise that we are neither uninterested in sex nor gagging for it but have exactly the same desires as everyone else.

As a child, I was very successful in my schoolwork but found it difficult to make friends. I went to Cambridge University but dropped out after a year due to severe depression and spent most of the next year in a therapeutic community, before returning to Cambridge to complete my degree. I first identified myself as autistic in 1999 while I was studying psychology in London but I was not officially diagnosed until 2004 because of a year travelling in Australia and a great deal of NHS bureaucracy. I spent four years working for the BBC as a question writer for the Weakest Link but I am now studying law with the intention of training to be a solicitor. My hobbies include online poker and korfball, and I will be running the London Marathon in 2007. I now have many friends and I am rarely depressed but I remain single.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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