Stories from the brainreels Disability As Spectacle presentation

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This month I have a podcast extra special for you. But don’t for a second think this is going to be special as in very special. This will be the polar opposite of special in that way.

AJ Murray and I co-presented at the UCLA Disability As Spectacle conference in mid-April, and this month’s episode is a recording of our presentation. This was a gathering of disability studies scholars, disabled artists, and amazing creators and amplifiers of disability culture. It was a huge honor and privilege to get to present there and to make a spectacle of ourselves. The conference theme fit perfectly with the presentation AJ and I gave last year at Emory. So this year, we expanded it to a longer workshop and presented again. The title is “Validation for Black, Disabled Male Sexuality in US Fiction Film,” aka why aren’t there people who look like AJ getting it on in the movies, and when are we gonna make that happen over here?

If you feel that talking about sexuality in movies is frivolous right now in the face repeal and replace of the ACA and its nightmare consequences, I would argue it’s not necessarily frivolous. It may not be life or death, but it’s far from superficial.

We count on social media, mass media, and entertainment to inform us and reflect back to us our cultural values. Deliberately leaving disability and sexuality out of our media reinforces the idea that those things don’t go together, or at least that they shouldn’t be celebrated or acknowledged as a natural part of human reality. So yeah, on the best of days, it’s dehumanizing the way mainstream films make at least these three main mistakes: 1) avoid showing or discussing sex all together, 2) have all these damn fantasy sequences or implausible storylines where disabled characters are suddenly able-bodied thanks to sex, and 3) make it seem like it’s only white, straight, cis, middle class disabled characters who are desirable and desirous (especially if they pay for sex or find someone else who’s also sick or disabled who will sleep with them). I just truly feel like any of the things we do to dehumanize anyone in real life or in media representations is harmful and perpetuates, well, I’ll just say it: a white supremacist patriarchy. We’d like to see some media made where Black, disabled sexuality is not considered doubly-niche but is treated as spicy and delightful enough for all to enjoy.

Please enjoy the presentation recording. We do keep it quite fun, lighthearted, and informative. We also talk about sex, and we cuss because it’s me and AJ. There are a couple video clips and pictures that were in the PowerPoint. I’ve added in an Audio Description where needed so you can follow along.

Click this sentence for an accessible transcript of podcast episode #059.