It’s something that is often assumed, but not often discussed — the stereotype that people with disabilities do not have sex or have conventional relationships. To some, coming out as asexual/aromantic while being disabled is a slight to other disabled activists. Am I a self-fulfilling prophecy? Am I dealing with internalized ableism? Don’t I know that other disabled people are fighting the idea that we don’t love or make love, and I’m making it hard for them to do that?
It’s unfortunate that having the opportunity to finally clarify who I am and how I feel about sex and romance is seen as some type of infraction. To be a good representative for both communities, should I hide that I am disabled, or should I hide that I’m on the asexual/aromantic spectrum?
To me, the answer to both of these is no.
I feel that my disabilities and my asexuality/aromanticism are connected, but not in the ways able-bodied people might think. I don’t see myself as someone who could not be loved, either romantically or physically. As a matter of fact, I am polyamorous and have relationships with many wonderful people. My aromanticism, which often gets unfairly attributed to neurodiverse people whether or not they identify as aspec, comes from my soul. It is not a matter of having a brain that doesn’t function like most people. It is not because I was traumatized, not exclusively, although I feel it could have played a part. Like being polyamorous, I simply love in a way that is different than the norm. Sometimes, I feel romantically attracted to other people; other times, my love is less romantic, but that does not make it shallow. It just means that it feels different, and comes with different behavior.
Just like being disabled, it’s hard to explain being aspec to someone who’s never lived like I do. If you can take for granted that your body will always do what you want it to, and will never be in pain, or stiff, or ill, it’s hard to imagine being disabled. Likewise, if you have never experienced a lack of sexual attraction, or the absence of romantic feelings, you just will have a hard time imagining what it’s like living like I do. Or rather, loving like I do.
When I first stumbled across aspec orientations on Tumblr, I felt like a whole new world of belonging was opened up. Not since finding out that I could be neither male nor female did I feel so liberated and validated. When I discovered the ace/aro spectrum, and the effects were strikingly similar. I went all out, exploring my identity, exploring labels, and being proud to express myself. And then I got to thinking: how could I integrate my experiences of being a disabled lover into my newfound aspec freedom? Answer: by coining my own label. Thus, wolandsexual/-romantic was born.
I define wolandsexual/-romantic as being disabled or chronically ill, and having your desire tied directly to your current pain level or energy level (“spoons”). If you don’t have a chronic illness, you can’t imagine what it feels like to feel completely and utterly tired. You are so tired that you are faced with the desire to simply rest, and nothing else. So what happens to your sexual attraction? Naturally, it’s diminished. And of course, you don’t want to have sex when you’re in pain. So even if you might have the desire, you can look at someone you might otherwise be attracted to and go “ugh, not now.”
I have been approached by other a-spec people saying that this term is an absolute revelation for them. And for that, I am grateful. Together, we are defying the stereotype that disabled people are sexless people. Asexuality, or being aspec, isn’t not having sex, it’s having low or no attraction; we still have sex with people. It’s just that it’s complicated. Especially if you don’t have the spoons.
Sapphire Crimson Claw is a queer nonbinary author and activist seeking to educate the general public on nonbinary trans identities and issues, life being disabled, and being on the ace/aro spectrum.