Contributed by Harmony Bongat
Content Warning: mentions of abuse and suicidal ideation.
My name is Harmony Bongat. I am a disability advocate, co-facilitator and educator, and a queer history researcher and content creator. I sit on committees and panels where I represent my intersecting identities – mainly queer, disabled and Asian – at decision-making tables, ensuring our voices are present in conversations they have historically been left out of. Last year, I was invited to participate in SIXpo (which stands for stands for “Sexuality, Inclusion, and eXploration Expo”). I had just spoken at ConvergeCon about disability and sex and had also recently attended the pleasure-positive Explore More Summit, so it was right in line with my current eco-system! Last year, the conference was online and it was really fun to be a part of. SIXpo was hosted through several disability organizations and self-advocates, including myself. I felt a little out of my element, not having an academic background, but I was able to offer invaluable lived experience, information and advice. It felt really great to talk openly about sex with other sex-positive folks, especially during the pandemic, when I was stuck in my house and struggling to stay a part of my communities. This year, I’m taking on a larger role and really excited to dream up all that SIXpo could be!
I acknowledge that sex is a charged topic. Many of us feel uncomfortable at the mere mention of the letters S-E-X and that is okay! I am not going to jump head first in the deep end. I want to meet people wherever they are, as I don’t think it’s fair to talk about or engage with anyone who is not ready for such engagement. Having said that, if this post makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to leave and only come back to it when and if you feel ready! My good friend Heather always reminds me that we have consent over our bodies and minds and need to take care of our needs first and foremost. (I am actively learning and practicing this!)
When we talk about sex positivity, we don’t mean having sex all the time, everywhere, with anyone, or talking about sex every minute of every day. What it means to me is that we discuss sex in an open way. It means engaging with other people, creating space for them to ask questions openly, discuss or think about sex, sexuality, setting boundaries, consent, healthy relationships with everyone in their life, family planning and how to practice safer sex, physically, mentally and emotionally, among other subjects.
People who have disabilities are frequently left in the dark when it comes to being connected to sexual health resources and given information about sex and sexuality.
There are several reasons for this. People who are disabled are often infantilized – treated like they are children. There is also a misconception that people with disabilities do not have sex or engage in relationships. And sometimes the presumption is that all disabled people are asexual, which means that they experience little or no sexual attraction, on a spectrum.
None of these misconceptions are true!
There is also another upsetting fact: people with disabilities are statistically more vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse. How can anyone know what abuse is if they don’t learn about what safe and unsafe relationships look like?
Information is power. If we deny this power to marginalized people, we are re-perpetuating that marginalization by actively excluding them.
Even I struggle with what abuse looks and feels like. I have asked myself if the mistreatment I’ve suffered during my life met the threshold of abuse. I decided that, if I had to ask myself that question, then chances are that it did. Another scary reality is that, even if people with disabilities know that they are being abused, they likely don’t know what to do or where to go when they need help, especially when the abuser is their spouse, sole provider or caregiver.
There is so much information and so many resources I hope we are able to offer to the disabled world with our SIXpo festival. I think the world is ready for it. We live in a climate where there is more openness to talk about charged subjects; Black Lives Matter, and other movements, have taught us that we need to demand more of this “new normal”. I think that, to create the change we want and need to see, we have to move these causes up together. The world only becomes a better place when it becomes better for everyone. (These are not my words, but ones that I have stuck with me).
Disabled people are let down by this world every day. They are denied equitable access to public and private spaces. They are thought to be a “bother” if they ask for what they need. They are misrepresented in TV, movies and other media, often used as a source of motivation for a more leading character. They are re-traumatized within the government-run solutions that were supposedly built to help them. They are denied equitable access to information that is freely given to non-disabled folks. This festival is not going to solve all of these problems; I don’t think that should land squarely on the shoulders of any one person – or generation, for that matter! In working on SIXpo, I can lean into one of the many things that I’m passionate about – sex and disability – and that feels really powerful!
I want to engage with people. I want to spark interest and creativity. And I want to freely give information that I think the world needs. The whole world. Period.
If you’re interested in reading more about SIXpo, and following us as we go on this journey, you can visit our website, www.sixpo.ca. We’re currently planning our next expo. If you’re interested in volunteering or collaborating with us, get in touch! In the meantime, stay tuned for more, and stay curious. Imagination is what we need to have if we are to create a better world for everyone!
I am a 40-year-old queer, disabled, Filipino, mixed-race settler on these stolen lands. I am a solo parent to a 22-year-old son (who is my favourite person and the best part of any of my days!) and a cat mother to an adorable, curious one named Houdini. I am also poly or ethically non-monogamous, a divorcee, sober 9 years and I have CPTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, chronic pain, experience suicidal ideations and am neuro-diverse. I am partially sighted or visually impaired, due to a neuro-to-optic-nerve miscommunication. Suffice to say, if intersecting identities were in a deck of playing cards, I’ve got a full hand of them! I’m also sex positive, fat positive, practice body neutrality, love therapy and self-care, engage in community as often as possible and am ever grateful that I am able to (finally!) love my damn self.