As the proud media partner of the virtual LoveAbilities Festival, that’s happening this 15-19 October, we are bringing you this series of interviews with presenters so that you get to know them better and their workshops.
This week, we speak to Angela Car who is a sex-positive disability educator born with Spina Bifida. She shares her unique perspective navigating relationships, sex and intimacy, and with 20 years of experience in both the mental health and disability fields, she will be moderating the panel discussion on “Womxn Sexuality & Disability” and presenting a workshop entitled “I am Enough. Self-Love and Mental Resilency”. Her areas of expertise include LGBTQ+, bladder and bowel incontinence, polyamory and kink. Angela’s podcast called DISIRabilityALT explores disability, desire and alternative relationships.
Q: Growing up, what are some of the struggles that you had to go through regarding relationships and intimacy? How did you overcome them?
Having a disability, I was bullied a lot when I was young. So, by my teen years, I did not know how to flirt or even make small talk. I wanted to go to my senior prom in high school though. A friend of mine encouraged me to ask a friend of hers. I asked him and he said yes. We then started a relationship that would last 21 years. He would say though, that in those early years, I hardly ever talked to him.
I also had questions related to my disability and sex, but I didn’t know who I could ask or how to ask. I talked with doctors but did not get helpful answers. I didn’t feel comfortable talking with my parents. I had an accepting boyfriend at the time who supported me.
Q: Are there any unique challenges about the dating lives of those living with disabilities?
Yes, I think that society sees people with disabilities as childlike and helpless. So, when I go to a bar or coffee shop, people will not approach me to get to know me or to flirt with me. I have to take the lead and go up to them. People may offer to open a door or help me but the only things they will usually say are very ableist. Things such as “Oh, you’re so brave” or “I’ll pray for you”. I’d much rather they talk to me about anything other than my disability.
I think because of this, those of us with disabilities get into a negative mindset and think that we will never find love because of our disability. We often need to work on improving our self-esteem and body image before we will find a partner.
Q: Could you share a little bit about your journey to becoming a sex-positive disability educator?
I entered the kink scene in Philadelphia, PA about 8 years ago. Before that, I was a very shy, introverted “little disabled girl”. When I entered the kink scene, I found people who accepted me the way I was. I found people who were willing to talk with me and get to know me on a deeper level.
Professionally, I had gone to college and graduate school studying psychology and criminal justice. I started working as a graduate assistant doing research around people with disabilities who are victims of sexual abuse. I wanted to get a full-time job helping those folks, but I couldn’t find anything. I went on to work as an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health issues.
20 years later, I became a Pure Romance direct sales consultant and through that, I realized that I wanted to start my own business providing sex education specifically for people with disabilities. I started by doing presentations and sharing my own story and writing a blog. I took classes and I networked with others. Today, I have given many presentations, and I also have a podcast on Disability, Desire and Alternative Relationships.
Q: What are you hoping participants learn from the panel discussion (Womxn Sexuality & Disability Panel)?
I want people to see different womxn from all different areas with different types of disabilities who are all sexual beings, who all have similar needs and desires for human contact, relationships, and intimacy. I want folks to see that womxn with disabilities are sexual beings. I want to challenge the notion of people with disabilities being child-like and asexual. I also hope to brainstorm some solutions to barriers to sex for people with disabilities.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about womxn’s sexuality and disability?
I would say the biggest misconceptions is that womxn with disabilities are child-like or asexual…that womxn with disabilities cannot have sex, or do not want sex and that people with disabilities are not sexy.
Q: Any advice for those who are living with disabilities and are currently going through personal struggles regarding sexuality and dating?
My advice to others would be to not give up. I think as people with disabilities, we have to put ourselves out there a bit more than other people. We have to let others know it is safe to talk with us, and we are also people interested in the same things as other people. I have had to be more forward in flirting with people and letting them know I am interested in them. I also advise people to talk with their doctors about sex and if they don’t get the answers they need, to seek out a new doctor, if and when possible.
Q: How can someone who is not disabled, but dating someone who is, better understand their partner?
A partner can do some research about the disability their partner has. They could ask a lot of questions about their partner in a curious and respectful way, and not be judgmental. I am much more open with someone who is willing to learn about me. They could also go to the doctor appointments with their partners, if the partner is agreeable to that. My partner comes to most, if not all, of my appointments with me, and he has learned a lot about, not only my condition but specifically how it affects me.
If you’re interested to attend Angela’s or other presenters’ workshops, please go to www.loveabilities.org to get your festival pass!
Images: Angela Car