On Sexuality, Disability & Mental Health; or Sustainable Living

From when I was a child, I can remember wanting my Mum to be better, wanting to make her happy. It was perhaps the strongest emotional drive in me. Long before she was diagnosed with MS, I knew she was deeply unhappy, which was expressed mainly through her anger. I wanted her to be ok. It was what I wished for when I blew out the candles, or the tooth fairy visited.

So now I attract partners, sometimes friends that I would like to fix. Habit.

Mum did get better. Not physically, but emotionally she is the most reliably happy person in the family. Definitely not angry. To be fair Seroxat has a lot to do with that, but so does my Father’s unerring loving care towards her. Truly in my experience anti-depressants have never suited a person so well. I think knowing she will never move her body again by herself, gives her conscience clear reign at accepting the drugs. Inside she is very sad at what has become of her, but that is successfully suppressed, and she shows immense gratitude for all she does have, always professing sheer joy in her state of being. As well as the suppression of pain, there is the countering effect of transformation, and I do mean spiritual. Mum knows that in the height of her youth and health, she was unable to appreciate what she had, so dogged was she by anger and lack of confidence. Now that she has lost the use of limbs, sometimes eyes, sometimes mind; she knows more keenly what she had previously, but much more than the value of these physical aids, she is now open to love in her life in a way which she never was before. Most people I know on anti-depressants still get depressed, but not Mum. They really work with her, year after year.

from a recent Drawing Theatre session I did with Paul Kindersley

from a recent Drawing Theatre session I did with Paul Kindersley

On Wednesday 7th August, Mum will be modelling with Spirited Bodies, and this time (she took part before clothed for portrait with Dad) she will be nude. She is really excited about this, saying that although she doesn’t particularly think her body is beautiful, the idea that people will spend time drawing her is very incredible and uplifting. She says it feels like a gift, and she recognises she may be a role model for other disabled people to take part in future. She may not have a wide pose range, but my Goodness can she hold still.

I still have issues on occasion about being asked to look after her. Doesn’t happen very often. I am busy in my life, the other side of London, whizzing this way and that, my parents have their routine and I don’t see them a lot. My brother and sister are much closer to home. I would resent caring for my Mother as I felt I lost a number of years due to her earlier negativity, lack of love for me. On top of this, I have in recent years felt as if I have lost my Father for the enormous task of taking care of Mum. He is exhausted and needs every bit of free non-family time for himself. So I raised this point not long ago, and now we are in the process of reclaiming that forgotten Father/Daughter relationship which may be the precedent for some of the most crucial relationships I form.

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Spirited Bodies is a challenge to keep flourishing – sometimes I recognise in writing the familiar spiel in emails and documents, I have lost some of the necessary passion and zeal to lift this off the ground. Become normal, ordinary, I forget how magical it is! Others in the team get judged by family for putting so much time into life modelling and this project, when before they held high earning jobs, keeping their families in the trappings they are accustomed. This is a real test on relationships, for loved ones to see past the financial value, and appreciate what it is that makes them happy. In our case life modelling and taking that further to others.

model Kayleigh

model Kayleigh

This societal/monetary pressure is a most damaging force, an unfortunate reckoner, and in this respect I am grateful for my rebellious youth which long ago set a precedent for not being expected to achieve or earn in a certain way. And I surround myself with people who understand that and do not judge me for my nude activities. It can be a harsh shock when I find myself in less than usual territory in the company of ‘normals’! But I am getting better at it.

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Attracting a damaged mate has opened up a new vista as I retread the possibilities of more open relationship. I am a dynamic being full of expression and desire, so a physically weaker character with whom I fell in love, cannot hold permanently my capacity. I was getting desperate, thought of splitting up – but we didn’t really want that. I entertained the idea of becoming a surrogate – offering myself for the (sexual) healing of others and my financial gain, but it didn’t quite click. I thought of exercising after long, long pause the lesbian in me, and here I hit a note. I realised my experience of cunt has been so much more limited than mine of cock, and all related hormones. I thought how empowering to feel comfortable with cunt, to know others’ and their ways, not just my own. To know them intimately. Last time I investigated I would have been on drugs or pissed; there was room for so much more exploration. And breasts – if you do not have large ones yourself, how wonderful to feel another’s pendulous pair!

Kayleigh is not my lover, but I love these pictures and wanted to use them

Of all the possibilities this seemed least threatening to my boyfriend, or most reasonable. There is also a feminist argument for it. Men remain so tightly bonded by comparison, and we women must catch up if ever we are to match status. My boyfriend is appreciative of this sentiment.

And so I found myself another lover, and what a difference it makes. She has a delicate touch, so sensual; I feel new with her and myself opening with abandon. I feel such gratitude for this amazing opportunity to be intimate with two people, and I am much more thoughtful and peaceful with my boyfriend as a result. I want to cherish him more and show appreciation for his understanding. Before he felt burdened to try to keep up with my numerous social activities which of course he could not begin to; now this obligation is shared! Both my boyfriend and my girlfriend have varying degrees of social phobia, but spurred on by the prospect of keeping up each of their sides of the bargain, we find harmony. Finally I might not turn up almost everywhere alone (despite having someone at home for me), which sometimes created an awkward impression. Now I can really keep my friends guessing!

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On Mental Health: (because recent events have brought me closer to the realm of mental health concerning others)

I learnt young that falling into the system could be damaging. I saw my Grand-Mother drugged in a corner, barely present, except on wild occasion as she stopped her meds, and released the wacky conversations with ghosts in the room. Decades of drugs, Electric-Shock Treatment and institutionalisation took care of her (paranoid schizophrenic) but she looked so innocent to me. She had been the first woman in her town in Lancashire to get into Oxford University where she read English, and met her husband, a colonial type of the old boys network. She had once been very intelligent, not at all ‘mad’, but something had driven her to insanity. After my Grandparents died, old family friends revealed that Grandpa’s blatant affairs had been the trigger; whilst they were living out in Africa, far from her home, and her alone with the children.

As a child I considered; if I was mad and I probably am, I never wanted any authority to get hold of me. The world is mad obviously, so I’d rather take care of myself. I appreciate this doesn’t work for everyone, and that the system though far from perfect, has moved on from ’50s strategies.

I’ve never been attracted to men of a certain class either.

I just wanted to use these lovely pictures which have no direct relation to the post

I just wanted to use these lovely pictures which have no direct relation to the post

Spirited Bodies is proud to be part of The Sex Maniacs Ball in September, which is a fundraising event for The Outsiders Trust to enable disabled people to meet partners and celebrate their sexuality. There may be a life modelling workshop, as well as a nude disco along with various other nude activities and therapies.

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Night of the Senses

After I had been to the Erotic Awards I wasn’t sure if monogamy was such a good idea. Fuck For Forest and Rock Bitch both described to me how living in a sex commune was where it is at. Based in Berlin and Scotland respectively their invitations to sample their lifestyle did intrigue me, and I’ll admit, the incredibly stunning members of 90s feminist rock band Rockbitch known for performing live pagan sex rituals at their gigs and always naked, plus their fine tuning to the anti-feminine mores of society, felt tempting. Fuck For Forest seemed young by comparison, like very horny continental elves who looked like they might live in the woods! They said Berlin however is where they reside due to the leniency and opportunities for artists there (their public sexual antics have presented problems with authorities.)

I was invited by my friend Estelle Riviere to be one of her models for her Monsterlune fashion show. This was a great honour as her clothes are supremely unique, quirky and erotic; as well it is a big pleasure to hang out with her and all the other models.

me trying on my costume at Estelle’s

Fellow model and friend Lucy Castro

Backstage at Night of the Senses

Estelle’s clothes are characterized by what she calls hoods, or balaclavas! Most with tiny eye holes lend the wearer a minor disability which felt apt for the evening. I was not very confident about where the edge of the stage was, but the main emphasis was to revel in looking strange and sexy. She chose each costume for the 15 of us modelling individually, so they somehow expressed us all. My outfit was one of the least erotic while Lucy’s displayed Japanese art-porn, Jon had a long dangling cock, James wore pussy pants and various offered some nudity. Creating original clothes is Estelle’s passion and it was wonderful to share in her show experience and learn from her natural and relaxed direction. This was an art project as much as a fashion show and all the models are her friends, some who have modelled for her several times and traveled to do so. They are mostly fellow life models and artists who are part of the club scene she enjoys.

This was no ordinary fetish experience; The Night of the Senses raises money and awareness for disabled people to enjoy sex and relationships via the Outsiders charity. Wandering about the busy venue many differently abled people were enjoying the festivities so that a high level of accessibility felt normal. That alone was mindblowing and felt like a pretty awesome vision of the future. I mean I have worked in very accessible places before like the National Theatre, and I never saw such a high proportion of disability there. The atmosphere of inclusivity was like a warm embrace for even the rarest of fetish club attendees such as myself. I used to frequent those haunts back in the 90s but unfortunately never stumbled across this one until now (this was the 25th anniversary! It used to be called Sex Maniacs Ball.)

With free and open sexuality so high on the agenda it could have felt daunting if one is not looking to explore that. For myself it was a huge privilege to be among these people and witness their world, meeting new people with radical lifestyles. Unlike when I was younger I did not feel the need to experience so much at first hand; I could appreciate more as an observer. In any case there were plenty of shows designed especially for that.

I have wondered about the viability of open relationships and it was inspiring to meet groups of people who have made them work as what they call polyamorous relationships in communes over several years, in fact at least 20 years in the case of some of the members of Rockbitch. One of them described to me how it began by one woman falling in love with another and gradually more becoming involved in the romantic and sexual union of the group. There used to be men involved, but now there is only one who I also met. Others are welcome to join if they meet the criteria of the commune, though apparently men generally can’t hack it. I’m not surprised; both Alex and Suna who I met radiate immense power which could be quite intimidating if you don’t really know what you are about. No longer playing or performing as Rockbitch, they remain in commune pursuing individual projects and helping to host the Erotic Awards which has long been their supporter and friend.

Fuck For Forest have a site where punters pay to view erotic images and home-made porn with the proceeds going towards saving the environment. I thought I would do my bit and posed for their lens. In my usual life I am used to being more nude-friendly than others around. On this night I was surrounded by nudity as celebration and normality, nature.

There are so many awards categories, including for sex workers, writers, porn/film makers, activists. This is not the first time I have come into contact with the clash that is part of the firmament of contemporary feminism (anti-sex industry) and pro-sex worker activism, which is also differently feminist. I can appreciate elements of both argument. The sex industry as it stands rarely honours women who are a large part of its currency as it ought to as the Goddesses they are. To vilify the industry however and demand its closure, does nothing for the women who gain a great deal from their jobs there. And I know from 1st hand experience how working in that industry can offer a sense of liberation. Laws need to change, but to empower the workers, not close it down.

There was an air of solidarity at this event that tantalized one’s expectation. As Grayson Perry has said of it “the good people in a gloriously murky industry”. Beautiful and natural people all around, being themselves as fabulously eccentric and relaxed as they are. Smiles and welcomes, introductions from strangers which it was perfectly fine to decline, but weren’t we all having a spectacular time! There is extensive description of the Erotic Awards philosophy on their website which I reccommend for appreciating immensely their joyful ethos, (eg http://www.erotic-awards.co.uk/nos_lbod.html). Sex-positive vibe rocks!!

My boyfriend has noted that I am somewhat impressionable. Every time I go away a few days or visit an unusual scene, it is as if I absorb my environment, for a while ready to take it on as my own! He says that like a method actor, I am a ‘method-lifer’. I like to think I keep the parts that are helpful and fun. It is true that I am ever curious about what other folk are really like. If I get a chance of an audience with some fabulous types I am most obliged.

Sleeping with Mum while she dreams of Venus & Mars

My sister and I are looking after Mum while Dad is taking a rare and much needed break. I am floored once again by what Dad lives with. I am moved by love too.

Mum asks that one of us sleeps in her bed with her, basically because she feels safer like that. This is my call and though the closeness feels right, my sleep is interrupted for her noisy breathing. I do also feel grateful for the intimacy between us now which never there was before.

In the morning lots of energy is needed for all the processes of getting up, and most of that is Rebecca and I getting Mum up. Before breakfast is done I need a nap and we haven’t got ourselves organised yet.

The best part is the conversations that would never otherwise happen. We had hoped to take a bold trip out into Central London as we have done before, but that was without taking into consideration the extra mileage of doing everything else for Mum too. Usually a daytrip works when Dad and a carer have done the first part of the day for us. We are rethinking plans as I write.

Last night Mum dreamt she walked on the planets Mars and Venus, as she was in her 20s. Remarkable – she always dreams of being mobile and young, sometimes walking in outlandish places like the bottom of the ocean. She said she had thought of Botticelli’s painting ‘Venus and Mars’ yesterday.

Rebecca brought us tea in bed before the rigmarole begun. Mum mentioned her lack of confidence in life resulting in her getting few jobs and not having friends. After moving from East Berlin she didn’t really settle here. I remarked that she might have overlooked at least one type of confidence she didn’t lack, which was with men. She was beautiful and was rarely without a boyfriend, sometimes several. To hear her relating her past put fresh light on my own life patterns. I have been working on unpicking them to make positive changes, and I wonder how much more may I do.

I have a very big feeling about spending this quality time with Mum. It strikes me physically; I felt it growing in my belly area a day or 2 before coming here. It’s much bigger than us. It’s about love and it moves me. That she has changed so much, and her condition; she requires us to rethink ourselves makes her into a change-maker. It makes me rethink the way I live.

A few years ago faced with the imminent prospect of dying Mum told us all for the first time that she loved us. That love and openness have been growing.

Sandro Botticelli's 'Venus and Mars' depicts Mars asleep while Venus is awake and alert; meaning that love conquers war or love conquers all