Saturday, 3 May 2014

Aussie, disabled and queer? Tell your story

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If you're an Aussie, have a disability, and are Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans*, Genderfluid, Intersex, or Queer, there's a researcher who'd like to have a chat with you.

Christopher Brophy's PhD research project Queering Ability: Queerness, Disability and Resistance is looking at the experiences and day-to-day life of people who identify as both disabled and GLBTI+ or otherwise non-hetero or non-cis. It's also about living with, and challenging, cultural ideas and stereotypes about sexuality and ability.

Christopher says the research grew out of many of his own experiences.

"My own experience as both a gay-identifying man and someone with a less visible disability is an influence," he says.  "I can see some aspects of my own experience in participants' stories.

"Other influences would be my previous work in the disability sector, and the passionate people - with and without a disability and everything in between - who I met and learned from.  Certainly my current social work practice in a LGBTI support and community education service is a big influence too."

On a more abstract level, the research is also about questioning the idea that there's a 'normal' way to be - which just happens to be straight and cis and non-disabled. It's looking at how marginalised people, which both disabled people and people who are non-straight or non-cis often are, find a place in the world, dealing with or actively fighting back against those ideas about what is and isn't 'normal'.

"There is certainly research out there on sexuality and disability, though much of it remains hidden away in the academic journals," Christopher says.

"Historically the research has been biomedical in focus, though this is changing and quite often led by disabled-identifying people themselves. There isn't much at all on gender identity and disability. So there needs to be a lot more work across the board, and specifically, work that explores people's experiences in a grounded and positive way."

The idea of disabled people as sexual beings - especially in ways that don't fit that view of what's 'normal' - is one that makes some people uncomfortable. But perhaps that squickiness is all the more reason to get this discussion happening out in the open.

"Even though we don't often talk about it or name it, that Western cultural idea that people with a disability can't or shouldn't have sex lives and be able to express their sexual and gendered identities, is an incredibly pervasive and powerful one," Christopher says.

"The human rights work happening at the national and international level, particularly by WWDA, around the forced sterilisation of women with intellectual disability is an area where the pervasiveness of those cultural ideas and that 'uncomfortableness' crosses over into what could only be described as violence. So there is that really serious element too."

Getting involved in Queering Ability means doing two one-hour interviews on the phone, via Skype (video, audio or chat), or if you're in Tasmania you have option to do the interviews in person.

Either way, you'll receive a $30 Coles Myer gift card as a token of thanks, as well as the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of what 'normal' looks like when it comes to ability, sexuality and gender identity.

You'll need to be 18 or over to get involved, and you don't have to be out about either your disability or your sexuality or gender.  Your participation is confidential, and you'll only be referred to by a pseudonym in Christopher's thesis and any other write-ups about the research.

To get involved or find out more, click here.