“I was alone at my friends home, hiding in the bathroom. I felt choked. My friends were at the party and I didn’t want to go back to those overlapping conversations and unnecessary giggles. I was in pain, perhaps so nauseous from the sensory input that I had a panic attack. How do I extract my queerness from my autism,” asks Delhi-based Mehul Anand.
Anita, a disabled queer from Ahmedabad shares, “I often experience forced intimacy especially when able-bodied people push my wheelchair without my consent.” What actually consenting to consent as a relational paradigm prevents us from doing, seeing, knowing? In the annals of queer movements, this is the most uncomfortable question today. While we regularly espouse the necessity of consent and teaching it, we rarely talk about its nuances. There are several ways in which people negotiate and bargain for their wants and needs in a relationship even outside of sexual interactions. Also, there are plenty of asexual and aromantic people in the community who struggle to partake in the discussion because so much of it is in the context of sexual or romantic relationships/interactions. But consent can come up even in friendships, queerplatonic relationships and parent/child relationships. It is essentially one part of the larger communication skill.
Disability isn’t new, nor coming out as a disabled queer. However, the need to understand the mutual implication of personhood and self-ownership is something that’s been brushed aside. Living under the LGBTQIA+/autism double rainbow isn’t easy, especially when institutional approaches are bizarre.
Anusha Misra, 23, who identifies as a queer, opines that it is crucial to draw crip boundaries to make the disabled bodies bloom with joy. “The boundaries that we, the disabled people set do not bind us in the true sense of the term. Instead, they can be freeing, and redefine independence and accessibility for us. We need to be firm and assertive, and set the tone with which we’d like to be addressed and treated,” says Anusha. In April 2020, Anusha started a project called Revival Disability — a space for disabled and disabled queer folks to reclaim their narrative. As of now on Instagram (@revivaldisabilitymag) the platform documents experiences ranging from trigger words to codependency to consent to self-love. “Consent means respecting the other person’s agency, personhood and seeing them as a whole human being, not just reducing them to their identity. Consent even means not touching or pushing one’s mobility aid without consent. It goes beyond physical intimacy, seeping into relationships, friendships, interactions,” shares a Mumbai-based young lady. Platforms like Revival help people in understanding and processing their disabilities. “People with disability are generally considered asexual/without desires, how do they then navigate through a relationship? It is important to understand them and respect their territory,” she adds.
For Bengaluru-based neuroqueer, Tejaswi, the palette of expression is different. Recently, she decided to come up with three guides that addressed consent from queer-affirmative, trauma-informed, and disability-aware perspectives. “The premise of the consent guides is absolutely going beyond sexual encounters as we believe negotiating consent pervades all aspects of relating,” says the 29-year-old artist and researcher.
Queer bodies often hold complex trauma in them. It may stem from experiencing abuse of different kinds, in various relationships, for differing lengths of time, and of varying degrees. Even today, in large parts of the world, being queer is not just frowned upon but openly met with punitive charges, violent attacks and alienation. The consent guide helps people understand how to approach consent around bodies that hold trauma.
Similarly, many people approach their queer identities by virtue of being a neurological non-conformist. That is why the term ‘neuroqueer’ was coined. They have communication needs and styles different from others. Tejaswi opines, “With a consent guide, the other focus is that many queer people, as a result of systemic marginalisation, live with disabilities, mental health issues, and neurodivergent conditions which leads to them needing to discuss consent in more nuanced ways. For instance, people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) might suddenly feel a disconnect with the act in the middle of a sexual encounter because of executive dysfunction, and it’s important for their partners to be cognisant of this, so it doesn’t affect their self-esteem and they can pull through these situations without conflict or force.” The guide follows a series of videos from prominent queer faces in the online community who shared their own personal journeys and experiences about understanding consent in relational situations.