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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The Death of Sam

I am with my Mum this evening and we are talking about her step-Father Sam, who died 26 years ago┬átoday. Nonny (my Grand-Mother) couldn’t have moved from East Germany to London without the help of a man – not for his money, but his emotional support which she needed after living away for 14 years.

Sam was married but his marriage was definitely on the rocks. In those days both parties had to agree to divorce, or you had to have strong evidence of adultery, desertion (for 7 years), physical or mental cruelty. Nonny and Sam lived in sin for 3 years before his wife cooperated.

As a teenager Mum & her sister Karen said to Sam, “You’re not our Father and you can’t tell us what to do!” He said, “I know.”

Nonny & Sam married on Euston Road at the registry office in 1967.

Mum said he was a good man, especially for Nonny; he looked after her. She was a bit vulnerable and he had the quality of friendship, as well as being her husband and love. He was kind and generous and easily approachable.

Mum says, “As I grew older, I regarded him more as my Father. My real Father only asked me once to come to East Berlin, but it was on my son’s birthday so I couldn’t. I went there on my Dad’s birthday instead. Usually if I wanted to see him I had to invite myself, which I did.

In England, before they were married I was ashamed of Nonny & Sam not being so, and I didn’t know how to introduce Sam – the situation was unusual.”

Sam knew Nonny & Gramp from way back in the late 40s through the Communist party.

Mum says, “After living in East Berlin I vowed never to join the Communist Party, or any party. You might accuse me of sitting on the fence but I speak from experience.”

Nonny & Sam’s marriage was always positive, favourable and stable. He nor she ever did the dirty. She was 45 when they got together; she had been through a lot, lived in several countries and wasn’t having more children. She was ready for a calm life and he was the right man.

When Sam was younger he was devoted to the Communist Party. He founded and ran a non-profit organisation which sold stationery. He did not particularly share artistic interests with Nonny (she was an artist) nor did he have much taste. Nonny made sure he wore nice clothes and he didn’t mind. She wore the trousers in a nice way.

Sam’s influence helped in Mum’s choice of husband. His caring nature proved enduring and Mum was affected by this. His easy going affability won over the volatility represented by her Father.

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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

Meeting With Freedom

When the doctor calls in the middle of the night, come to the hospital, this could be it. We don’t know if she’ll make it, but we need to know from you what you would like us to do if – if the life in her is not worth – if when she opens her eyes there is nothing there. They have the power and they need to know, have you thought about it? Yes because it happens each time – different doctors, sometimes different hospital, but each time she is under they have to ask.

Sometimes my instincts check in advance, they are not feeling adrenaline, I am sure this time will pass. Often I am pulled in to the brink on the edge of the rollercoaster seat. By the bedside crying, and appreciating time in the relatives’ suite, because that is the most meaningful conversations the rest of the family ever has with Dad. The family drama; and when the doctor calls, I know now that he is hoping. This time could be his meeting with freedom. He has discussed her wishes with her and the answer is to switch off from a life not worth the trouble. Meanwhile they continue, we keep on.

At the front of The Royal Festival Hall, Lucy and I find a table and furnish it with my large painted Spirited Bodies sign. We discuss the press release, skirting over our brushings with mental health. I was supposed to prepare the meeting we are about to have with our brand new SB models. We’ll wing it; well it’s not like we haven’t done it before. The hardest thing I find is putting myself in the position of someone new to the whole business. Remembering what it was like before nudity was normal, and even then it wasn’t that new to me. And tuning myself to a sensitive mode that is ready for newbies both anxious and nervous, as well as those in it for the craic, or because they just love what we’re doing. I’m a tiny bit nervous but it’s going to be fun.

They arrive one by one, with warm hand shakes and smiles, chairs gradually accumulated from across the room. They find me familiar, I have been emailing them individually, and it’s like we know each other, except now they’re all here I don’t know who each one is. It’s ok. We have important informations to impart and light-hearted anecdotes of bodily fluids and anti-sexual encounters. We – Lucy and I – are on familiar territory, and we pick up after each other. I try to feel what the interested faces are hoping to glean, and they ask about the photographs (for London Drawing) and how to choose poses. It goes well and I am high and full of love afterwards. That’s why we do it, because of them (and us). I love it when they are happy. The artists make another level of content, but for me it’s for the models first. They make me feel both humble and worthy. They are on edge with excitement to meet themselves in a space that is about just being, and being drawn. And they will be together, as in a drama, complimenting and interacting with each other, creating a story where there are bodies. We will be guiding them, but now already these that we have met, know more what to expect. Their minds will imagine and start to build the scene of the next event. The seeds are gestating in time for a rich bloom.

Crazy Cousin

10 years ago I heard through my family, that a second cousin of mine had been sectioned in a mental hospital; he was only 18 and I didn’t know him. I did know what his Mother was like however, and my ears pricked up. I suspected immediately that rather than insane, he had simply been misunderstood. His Mother was very over-protective and any normal teenager might be deemed crazy by the reactive backlash her overbearing may produce.

I paid him a visit and felt confirmed of my theory. He had been driven to some minor violence and locked away. Oh and experimented with hard drugs, which were now more available to him than when he lived at home. He was of course drugged up on prescription pills, and had a new set of friends on the ward, who were troublesome enough to help keep him sane. We became firm friends; I knew I could fill a unique role where other relatives would fail. Having gone off the rails myself I knew that if I hadn’t had the freedom I’d had in those formative years, I could have ended up in the scary place he was. As it was I was able to find the best possible place and friends with which to share that experimental time. My crazy cousin was no more mad than we had been, except that a duality of a loving/repelling relationship with his Mother blocked his potential to find commune elsewhere. In this light my own Mother’s seeming hatred of me was a blessing; she’d had no problem freeing me.

Growing up became a big ordeal for my cousin; there were several episodes in hospital, rounds of medication, sheltered housing, therapy. Other people in the family didn’t know what to make of him, but I remained constant. He grew enormous for a few years on the drugs, and let his hair and his beard get longer and wilder. His room was a state of filth with quantities of porn, piled, scattered. But he did learn to cook and sometimes accommodated my non meat-eating ways, even if he threw a steak on his own plate to balance the vegetable overload.

He was shy of women as girlfriends, but comfortable as their friend. Most of the people in his family were women, and when he was housed with lots of people I saw many girls come to him for counsel. When he got better his sisters invited him to stay for long periods.

Confidence takes such a long time to establish, and normal work has eluded him. He is much better now though and been off the meds for some years. He looked like a new man when last we met in the Summer, much slimmed down and clean-shaven. He was doing some voluntary work and about to begin a course in Autumn. He wanted to take me out for a meal, he has ever been grateful to have a kindred spirit to talk to. I remember nearly 3 years ago, he came to see a show I performed with a friend, and in the opening scene, I climbed out of a suitcase, naked. I had not warned anyone prior to performance of the nudity, and it was my cousin who decided never to come to one of my show’s again! At least he always asks now if there will be me naked in the show and on finding there will be he declines invitation. I guess it just feels wrong to see one’s family naked for some.

My cousin took a picture of me in Highgate Wood

I met my cousin when I was in the middle of a long relationship with an Italian, and had become somewhat estranged from friends of my wilder youth. My cousin was not dissimilar to some of the men I used to know, and I guess being away from them made me warm to him the more; he bridged a gap, and did not arouse Massimo’s jealousy! I grew very fond of my cousin and he laid down a lifelong foundation in me for a love of bears – men who are big and gentle, kind and strong.