I had a BLAST at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2016 & AVN Awards in Las Vegas! Fellow disabled sexologist and all around badass Robin Wilson-Beattie and I were invited to present on two panel talks, including “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Selling To Every Body.” More on the specifics of the talks, and the extreme gratitude to our brilliant and most generous AVN host Sherri Shaulis, in my next post. Yes, friends – she is the reason disability was featured for the 1st time in AVN’s history!
I went into this trip wanting to be mentally prepared for what I might see and feel. To aid in calming myself down, I wrote a few questions so that I could hone in on my purpose there as a journalist or ethnographic researcher running around collecting data – not a human needing to be cool. One of my central questions was how would the social atmosphere be for me? Specifically examining: the experience of paternalism in the porn realm, the source of paternalism from stars or passersby, and deciphering the type of paternalism I experience in that space. In sum, I wondered, how would interactions play out at a porn fest?
I am justifiably paranoid about ableism given the intensity and many expressions of microaggressions and other forms of violence disabled people contend with daily. Some recent ones I have experienced include a woman trying to give me $10 as I was leaving the grocery store and crying when I didn’t take it, as well as a person exalting my ability to carry a bag of take-out on my wheelchair footplate.
My paranoia was not needed at AVN, as remarkably this was one of the spaces that I felt welcomed, mind and body. I say mind and body because there are many spaces that my mind is welcomed and even celebrated, but my body is disengaged with. Meaning my ideas have currency and appeal, but my body can cause discomfort and often distance socially. Frankly, I felt the crowd was so welcoming it was akin to a coming homespace like Society for Disability Studies. Can you believe a sex expo would be that welcoming? I am thrilled to have found another homespace!
Part of the celebration of ease in sociality was due to overt sexual expression being normal, the other being it was a super-Sapphic space. The overt sexualizing of the bodies of women may seem antithetical to a feminist stance, as good feminists should not bow to the power of the male gaze (or enjoy anything that may lean that way). A few things are wrong with this assertion: 1) there are many feminist porn stars and creators, and 2) good grief, they are conceding to my/our hedonistic gaze too. I love nude bodies of all types! I also value and want to celebrate sex work and workers. This platform allows many people to experience the world of sex products, and those who a part of them. It was a trip to be frolicking among porn stars, including BBW powerhouse Kelly Shibari, amputee porn icon Long Jeanne Silver, hoverboard guru Luna Star, and trans performer of the year Venus Lux. I wish I knew more about mainstream porn so I could squeal with delight in meeting all the famous people, but I’m satisfied with the meaningful encounters I had with these people.
Everyone I talked to was engaging and super-friendly. Not overly friendly, like those with fake sweet tones dripping from their voices when addressing those with visible disabilities. I can’t hear well, but I can hear that grossness. I find ableist tones are imbued with overt sweetness, assumptions of lacking cognition, dismissive, or a mix of all that fun! Aside from an academic I chatted with, not a single person spoke to me like I was an infant or something to be placed on a pillow to be looked at. People interacted with me like a fellow human. It was remarkable. It is also quite sad to even have to note this truth; it shouldn’t be rare yet it continues to be.
The experience gave me hope that bondage gimps and disabled people who identify as gimps are welcome and valued in more spaces. Kudos to all of us who come as we are!