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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Disability Intimacy, Edited by Alice Wong 
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With "Disability Visibility," Alice Wong shook us all up with her remarkably constructed collective of writers sharing with refreshing openness and honesty the contemporary disability experience.

As a follow-up to "Disability Visibility," Wong is back with "Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire."

I should start, I suppose, by telling you just a little bit about myself. I'm a paraplegic/double amputee wheelchair user with spina bifida who has, in just the past three months, also survived both bladder and prostate cancer. I'm well past my life expectancy and have also accomplished far more than most anyone expected.

I was married in my early 20s, briefly and poorly, and I also spent a good majority of my 20s shouting an enthusiastic "Yes!" to anyone and everyone who was interested in me sexually whether I liked them or not and even if they found me to be nothing more than a sexual novelty or curiosity (rather common, actually). My years of being a survivor of sexual abuse/assault as a child and adult have undoubtedly complicated matters.

Fortunately, I eventually figured out that it was not really sex I desired but intimacy. While the two can certainly peacefully co-exist, and often do, it's certainly not mandatory and over the years I've discovered far greater satisfaction in friendships than anything romantic. Over the years as my disability worsened, the act of sex became more challenging and painful and after my most recent cancer bout it's removed from the equation.

My dream of one day being Richard Gere in "Call Me" is left in the dust.

Thus, I approached "Disability Intimacy" with a tapestry of anxiety, hesitation, exhilaration, and an awareness that I'm at this unique place in my life where intimacy, emotional and physical, is both craved and feared.

"Disability Intimacy" is, as one would expect, the much anticipated follow-up from one of the leading disability activist voices. Wong is uncompromising in her views, simultaneously bold and revolutionary while also being communal and surprisingly vulnerable. It's important to note, however, that Wong is the editor here - "Disability Intimacy" is a collective of essays on love, care, and desire from a diverse community of voices with a diverse array of experiences in the realm of intimacy.

"Disability Intimacy" defies easy description. It is no one thing. It is not solely about sex. It is also not devoid of discussions about sex. It is not solely about romantic love. This is not a warm and mush collection of essay - in fact, it is often quite intellectual and grounded in thought and meaning and discussions around politics and social justice.

"Disability Intimacy" invites a discussion of what intimacy is and also invites a more inclusive approach to it with broader and more universal definitions of what it means to be intimate with another human being.

For me, intimacy is an invitation into fullness of relationship with another person or living being that is based upon mutual love and respect. I consider friendship just as intimate as a romantic relationship - the intimacy is simply expressed, in most cases, differently.

"Disability Intimacy" explores caregiving, community, access, and friendship and how these things can offer us alternative ways of thinking about the connections that we form with others. While many with disabilities shy away from honoring "forced intimacy" or intimacy created by caregiving relationships, I lean toward a broader perspective that finds some beauty in the way vulnerability can create intimacy in different ways. Of course, this is different with "paid caregivers" than the caregiving that happens naturally in everyday life.

Again, "Disability Intimacy" challenges us to think about these things.

"Disability Intimacy" does certainly explore sex, sexuality, sexual liberation, and disability justice. "Disability Intimacy" talks about the joy of sexual discovery, disabled love stories, disabled joy, and disabled kink.

25 voices here. 25 original pieces brilliant in their own individual way and all curated by the brilliance and sensitivity of Wong. There are essays, photo essays, poetry, drama, and even erotica honoring the full spectrum of the disability experience with dreams, fantasies, and deeply personal revelations.

What isn't here? Stereotypes. Shaming. Othering. Ableism. Inspiration porn. Infantilizing. So much more.

"Disability Intimacy" is bold, daring, revolutionary, challenging, vulnerable, empowering, well-informed, intelligent, daring, loving, compassionate, sensual and, yes, downright intimate.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic