There was a bizarre scene in last week’s episode of The Office, wherein Pam complained to Oscar that their boss Michael was sleeping with her mother.
“How would you like it if Michael was having sex with your mom!?” Pam asked.
After a brief pause, Oscar told her, “My mom is in a wheelchair…”
The embarrassed, stunned reactions on behalf of both characters suggested that Oscar might have told Pam his mom was dead. His mom is in a wheelchair, so – she can’t have sexual relationships? Using a wheelchair is not like being in a coma, and it’s not death. Wheelchairs don’t render their users incapable of sexual activity, nor do they erase sexual desire. I was baffled and pretty disappointed that The Office writers would desexualize and infantalize people with disabilities in that way.
Coincidentally (?), Chally at the FWD blog covered this in a post on Sunday. As she points out, people with disabilities (PWD) are often characterized as passive and stoic, not really living. That’s just not true.
It’s not that disabilities don’t affect people’s sex lives, but they don’t necessarily destroy people’s sexuality. Our media puts forth the message that only those with supposedly perfect bodies have sex (unless some frat guy sleeps with a fat chick on a dare). Straight, thin, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, cis-gendered white people are framed as “normal.” Everyone else is sexually deviant, sexually inactive, or unfuckable. That message has seeped into our culture and warped our “reality.” The consequence of this is not only intense body insecurity, but judgement about other people’s bodies and their potential as sexual beings.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes able-bodied folks treat PWD explicitly as sex objects, fetishizing them on the basis of their disabilities. Trust me; it’s out there. In terms of sexuality, the dominant culture pushes PWD to the margins, either desexualizing them or fetishizing them. In reality, PWD have sex lives as diverse as people without disabilities! To The Office writers, I’d say: don’t make assumptions about what PWD can or can’t do, or like or dislike to do in the bedroom – or on the floor, or up against a wall – based on their disabilities.