Written by Lucy Beall-Lott
Photograph by @sam_chinomona
The first time I understood my “otherness”, when it came to sexuality due to my disability, occurred when I was sixteen. I was filling up my grandmother’s car with petrol in Texas, I was wearing shorts, and I did not yet understand how exactly my condition was on display - and what others may think because of the visible aspect of my scarring. I was still unaware of what the label of “disabled” could imply. There were some other teenagers in a truck several feet away from me at one of the other pumps, and not knowing I could hear them, they discussed how I would be “hot” if it weren’t for my “weirdo baby hands”.
They drove away and I returned to the seat of my own car, a new feeling forming in the pit of my stomach that I wouldn’t even begin to shake for four years. Why wasn’t I attractive with my scarring? Did the red across my hands and knees really affect other’s perceptions of me to that extent?
Due to a lack of collagen seven, the anchoring fibril that connects your top layer of skin to the bottom layer, open wounds can erupt across my body in areas of previous trauma. For me, this is my knees, feet, elbows and sometimes hands. The scars as a result of this will remain with me for the rest of my life, and can be debilitating - I have had over ten surgeries to correct the scarring in my esophagus and will soon undergo a procedure to correct the scarring in my right hand. My condition is highly visible.
As I continued to grow and date, I began to see just how much distance my skin condition placed between me and mainstream sexuality. A boy I had been speaking to asked me if sex would make my “vagina fall out”. I was shocked - was this the same thought everyone had about me? And why?
The harmful stigmas contributing to the idea that those with disabilities are somehow incapable of having sex or meaningful relationships is a result of our treatment in the media. I felt ashamed watching many movies and television shows as a teenager beginning to date - if there was a person with disabilities shown onscreen, they would no doubt be the butt of a joke, usually a sex joke. I, like many others, took this to mean that I was not meant to be found attractive, that sex was meant for those with bodies different from mine.
After almost dying, having two surgeries and moving to London all in the same year, I watched as the Body Positive movement began to gain the attention of popular media. I also noticed that I, despite the odds, could feel beautiful, attractive and even sexy. I began looking at my eyes in the mirror instead of the splashes of red across my knees, I wore clothes that showed my arms, and noticed how I began to feel excited and proud instead of ashamed.
I saw others being praised in magazines, on tv and in social media, but there was still a gap in this praise - there were no people with disabilities pictured in a positive way that did not glorify their conditions. A friend who shares my condition, Ariana, and I discussed this frustration - if there was a person with disabilities in the media who also had a fulfilling sexual relationship, they were praised and hailed as an exception and oddity. Their partners are praised for being better people than the rest of us. Still, this label of “otherness” caused an uncomfortable feeling to rise in my stomach.
If there was no one who represented me in the media who was considered attractive, then where was my place in this discussion?
Through modelling lingerie to raise awareness for my condition, I have seen how the media is beginning to change - there is a discussion forming on sexuality and disabilities. But it still pleads the question: why must those with disabilities prove their sexualities to others? Will I always be asked if sex will make my vagina fall out, will my wonderful boyfriend always be made to feel uncomfortable as others refer to me as “the girl with the scars”?
By calling attention to the harmful ideas that are perpetrated about differently-abled individuals, we are beginning the discussion that will abolish these harmful stigmas concerning disabilities and sex.
I no longer view myself in this critical light, and will not allow myself to feel “other” in terms of my sexuality. Instead of discomfort rising in my body I now feel an overwhelming sense of hope when I look in the mirror. By spreading this vital awareness within the Body Positive movement, others may begin to feel the same hope within them.
In the meantime, I will keep wearing my lingerie in front of the camera to further the discussion of sexuality and disabilities, wearing lipstick as red as my scars.