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How Poetry is Breaking the Stigmas Surrounding Disabled People and Sexuality

Being disabled comes with a storm of stigmas that make doing normal activities seem different and unnatural than when a “normal”, able-bodied person does the same activities. With that being said, sexuality or even the act of having sexual relations with someone else is often one of these “stigmatized activities” and will be explored through books and poems written by disabled people in order to gain a new understanding of this matter.


Beauty is a Verb is an anthology of disability poetics and essays on disability. These collections of poems and essays collide and coexist with one another to communicate what it is to live with a disability and what this says about normalcy for the disabled community. To communicate what disability is to able-bodied people, poets like Laurie Clements Lambeth, shift and mold the language and structure of her poems in order to ground the readers into her experience. Not only does she make the readers read what is written in the text, but she makes readers physically feel the effects of living with a disability through her poems. 


In her poems “Hypoesthesia” and “ The Shaking” Lambeth romanticizes the asexual stereotype in a manner that refutes the undesirability of disabled people through the form and diction of her poems as well as the representation and placement of the image of the body; her disability is communicated to the readers in a physical presence with the movements and flow of the poem being the grounding factors and the image of the body as a representation of something atypical and sexual.    


The speaker in “Hypoesthesia” communicates the intimate feelings she has during sex through a contradicting narration of a lack of feeling in her body which picturizes sexuality in an atypical manner; the asexuality associated with disabled people is romanticized. The speaker’s disability makes it so she experiences a sudden disconnect from her lover’s touch in a physical sense; she even wants to ask him, “Are you touching me,” (10).  Since there is a lack of feeling, the speaker compensates for this by emphasizing the numbness which contrarily makes the reader feel. 


With every movement of her lover, the readers are able to envision and in a sense, physically feel, what is happening, however when the speaker “lets go of [her] body” and “[looks] down with fascination at the man [she loves]  in the process of loving [her],” suddenly her disability and the lack of feeling allow her to view her sexual experience as something other than only physical (14-15). 


She abruptly disconnects from the physical ministrations of her lover. She undergoes a kind of out-of-body experience in which her inability to feel what is happening is compensated as she watches in silent awe at her lover’s devotion to her disabled body. Sex is an experience that immerses all the senses, so when these feelings are subtracted, the result is something that shouldn’t resemble sex, yet somehow in her narration, the speaker still packages the essence of this “senseless sex” and delivers it to the readers in an impactful yet unusual manner. 


The final result of the image of sex is a combination of her inability to feel the physicality of the experience and her sole focus on her lover’s attention to her body which are aspects that are not typically focalized during sex. With every change in movement and every act of devotion to her, her lover’s body and perhaps her own, shift in their beauty because they are simply not normal; her body is of course disabled and numb to physical sensations at the moment and her lover’s body is worshipping this atypicality which, by default, would make him atypical also. The speaker's romanticized narration then expels the stereotype that disabled people are undesirable. 


Lambeth’s poem “The Shaking” is written in a way where conventional, censored ideas surrounding disability and sexuality are challenged at the very start of the poem where the speaker says, “I know I scared you last night by shaking,/ the only time you were forced to share/ a dream that shook me to waking” (1-3). The lines compare her unexpected seizure to the sex she usually has with her lover.  The image of the body becomes obscured then and there is no clear outline of what a normal body looks like during sex. 


The entanglement of disability and sexuality becomes a little less intertwined and the placement of the disabled body becomes more focalized; this allows readers insight into the perception of sexuality and disability. Disabled bodies exist separately from sexuality; they are simply two parts of an individual and each has its own space and importance.


Laurie Clements Lambeth’s poems “Hypoesthesia” and “The Shaking” engage with the concepts of disability and sexuality to oppose this notion of disabled people being undesirable. 


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