This early April at the kinky event I organize every month in Milan I had the pleasure of hosting an unprecedented workshop about uncommon eroticism and disability. The speaker was an extraordinarily brilliant and cheerful woman who left all the participants slack-jawed (and blindfolded, but that’s another story). Not allowing you to meet her felt like a shame, so I immediately made up for that with an interview…
Ayzad – Hi there! I am Ayzad, the guy who invited you to hold a disability and BDSM workshop at Sadistique. And who are you?
Anna Castagna – Hi yourself! I’m Anna, and a whole book wouldn’t fit my description. Very briefly, let’s say I am a very dynamic person: I love challenges and emotions, I like to get engaged and I think you never stop learning. I love BDSM. Sex is my job: I have an Educational Sciences degree, another in Psychological Sciences, and I am a certified sex educator and consultant with AISPA. Oh, right: I am also a disabled person.
I must confess that when I asked you to lecture within the playful context of a kinky club I was a little scared that the participants could react badly to such an unusual proposal. The first surprise was instead receiving lots of positive comments and encouragement even in the weeks leading to it. Do you think it was for the extensive presence of sexual explorers, or is the subject itself resonating in general?
I believe that, just as with everything else, a project’s success does not depend on just one cause, but many. The subject is definitely beginning to emerge out of the fog and to make people curious, even if there is still so much work to do. Seeing all that interest made me happy, and I think that there were lots of very openminded persons there besides the explorers. The true turning point is the will to keep asking yourself new questions, forsaking the old and open yourself to the new… and I really hope I contributed to this approach at least a little.
For what I know, however, that was the first time ever that non-normative eroticism and disability was discussed in Italy… and one of the few about sex and disability in general. How come?
Disability is unfortunately still considered an asexual condition. If we haven’t been able to fully dismiss this concept, just think how outrageous may sound talking of disability and alternative sexualities! Our culture is still suffering from a series of influences that make us think of differently abled persons as unattractive, not sensual, frail, almost imprisoned in a perennial infancy. Unless we work on these stereotypes, it will be hard to tackle some topics in their entirety.
And yet these conditions affect… how many among our fellow nationals?
Just think that 7.2% of the Italian population is disabled in some way, so we are talking about roughly 4.5 million citizens.
…who, applying the usual handy statistic that states one person in six has erotic domination and submission fantasies, brings us to a population of 750,000 persons. Besides the fact that sexuality is a right for everyone and it shouldn’t be ignored for even just one person, these are not “marginal phenomenon” figures at all! If I think of the energy Italy spends bickering about immigration, which is about a similar 8.5% of the population, the disinterest appears even more absurd.
Exactly! You are right about not ignoring the fact even if it only involved one person! Yet the topic remains in the background, as if it wasn’t interesting enough. I believe that, no matter what the figures and stats are, the truth is that alternative sexualities and disability is considered a very uncomfortable subject for a society that is still founded on moral constructs deeming some practices as “inappropriate”. Just think that we haven’t really even addressed the vanilla sexuality of differently-abled people, and go figure what happens when you mention BDSM!
This feels like the right moment to tell about what you did with your workshop participants.
My goal was to bring them to what I call “the crack”. I use the word for the destruction of the stereotypes that have been dragging us down that far, in order to make room for new concepts. A crack doesn’t mean finding answers, but starting to ask new questions.
At the event I had everyone blindfolded so as to make them briefly disabled in a shared way, but each one of course with their own story and different emotions. Then I asked them to think about the first three words they associated with the word ‘disabled’. And then, after a few minutes of conversation, I invited everyone to think back to those words and imagine how it would be if someone had considered them according to the limits and adjectives they themselves had associated to their own condition.
Fact is, both with BDSM and with encountering disability, the limits we see in others aren’t really theirs, but projections of our own. The turning point is to understand this and recognize how diversity can feel scary sometimes.
It’s the gospel truth… and yet it is also true that some prejudices they mentioned aren’t totally imaginary, so much so that we had even expected them when we prepared the workshop. Let’s start with the nastiest one, so as to deal with the proverbial elephant in the room: some disabled persons, including some with a very high media profile, have an insufferable attitude. I can understand a life of discrimination can make you less agreeable, but you also have people who exploit their own condition to demand not being subjected to civil communal rules.
That’s true: it is actually pretty common. Unfortunately, the “limit” of the social conditioning I mentioned earlier does hit everyone, disabled people included. In fact, I believe it to be absolutely necessary to raise an all-around awareness. I keep repeating it: «We cannot ask to be understood if we are the first not to, or worse still to discriminate others.»
I’ll keep being the devil’s advocate and counter with: «That’s easy for you to say. You are young, gorgeous, emancipated and living not far from a cosmopolitan metropolis like Milan…»
Nah, saying this ain’t easy for anybody – and I really mean nobody, not even those who are fighting less visible battles than our wheelchairs. Issues are not overcome by playing who is worse off, but daring.
Did you ever think that maybe I am like you described because I got out of my shell and of the fog, and not the other way round?
Ok, let me go back to my real self. As a BDSM person I see that, at the end of the day, even those who are not prejudiced in the slightest feel out of their depth when they deal with an unusual body, with needs and limits different from those they are used to relate to. Kinksters learn to be extra careful with safety and with their partners’ wellness, so some fear of unwillingly hurt someone is understandable.
But there is nothing bad with fear! In fact I see it as a wonderful thing, and maybe it is the fear of diversity that makes it so fascinating; you just have to understand that, admit it, and play together while listening and talking. Fearing for others’ safety is great, also because “different” bodies are best handled with care, trying to understand, feel and learning them. I am convinced that asking one more question is always better than one fewer, because nobody can guess how the partner can react in their mind, body or feelings.
Another point that came out of that meeting was mental disabilities…
Correct. But I didn’t want to delve into that because BDSM is based on consent… and in the case of psycho/intellective disabilities consent isn’t recognized nor recognizable, so everything as complex as kink just dissolves away. Extreme eroticism aside, however, I feel necessary to stress how even psycho/intellective-disabled persons have the right to live and know sexuality in a way which is compatible with their life stories and personal limits. We can’t just go on pretending they don’t have sexual needs too!
…and, among other topics, the compromises connected to be disabled. I recall a terrible movie quote, possibly from a Kevin Smith’s one: «I love to fuck blind girls: they are so grateful…» So let’s set hypocrisy aside and ask ourselves: how much truth is there in how all the above-mentioned prejudices influence a differently-abled person’s consent?
Oh, they definitely do plenty: prejudice unfortunately is a wave that indiscriminately sweeps all of us away, including disabled people themselves. Now it would be very interesting to dissect the deeper meaning of the consent concept itself: how much consent can there really be if I feel inferior to you? How muc consent can there really be if I don’t feel enough? If I think I can only have this opportunity to enjoy sex?
This is the perfect time to stress how all this stems from not knowing oneself, one’s body and sexuality enough. We ought to go out and truly make people aware, give a true education to sexuality to stop it at the source. To be truly free to choose you have to have the tools to fully understand the situation: if you cannot critically analyze it, you inevitably fall back on your few easy choices you already know. Whether it was a joke or an actual case, your example underlines the lack of awareness about their own sex and bodies in both of the characters.
Before going, I’d like to ask you whether the workshop brought on some new awareness for yourself too.
Oh, definitely! Especially about I am not as ill at ease as I thought when speaking in public… But seriously: I was very pleased to see all that interest. I didn’t expect it, to be honest.
Thank you for your time and all the rest. Should any reader want to learn more about your work, where can they find you?
Damn it, you are asking this right as I am totally redefining all my online footprint! I said I love to experiment, and I am diving into a new rather crazy project. I can’t really talk about it now, but can you update the article with its URL when the time will be right?
Of course I can – especially because I am very curious about it all!