To have someone over for an intimate evening, there are things to take into consideration. Do you need to wash your sheets? Should you chill some wine? Is the attendant who’ll help you fuck your girlfriend available that Friday night?
Some disabled lesbians and gay men can’t have sex without help.
And for those who rely on attendant services, sex can be complicated.
“[Some] people want to have intercourse and they can’t do it without
somebody there to actually move them and whatever,” says Fran, who wants only to use her first name. “It might mean for someone to actually help them with sex because their partner is also disabled.”
Fran is disabled, but doesn’t need help when she’s planned a romantic evening. Her partner, however, relies on attendant care.
Intimacy is not often something they can share between just the two of them. And it’s hard for Fran to even talk about this. She mumbles a lot, lets the conversation lag.
“There’s a third person and much of your own private life gets put on
“Everybody knows each other and people talk and people like to talk about what so and so did last night when really it’s none of their business. And somehow there’s this unwritten thing that allows people who are providing care and really intimate care to talk about the lives of people that they’re working with.”
While it’s becoming more acceptable among the able-bodied for the disabled to be sexual, homophobia continues to be a serious problem.
Tracie – that’s not her real name, either – asked a female attendant to dry her inside upper thighs because she was sweating. The attendant balked because of Tracie’s lesbianism, thinking she was asking for something more than simple hygiene care.
When a complaint was filed, the attendant’s employer planned a workshop several months later, which only made Tracie more uncomfortable because everyone knew she was the one who made a ruckus.
“It felt like it was just about me,” says Tracie, who’s now dating the facilitator of that workshop. “I also know that some of the questions that came up at that workshop were quite mind boggling.”
One attendant apparently inquired if, by working with a gay client and being around him a significant amount of time, there was a danger that the attendant could become gay.
According to Marilyn Walsh of the Anne Johnston Health Station, a client was once sexually assaulted by an attendant who justified it by saying that the man was gay – so he obviously wouldn’t mind. (The attendant was later fired.)
“[Another] one of our male clients said that the attendant outed him to all of the other attendants,” says Walsh. “Some people have had the experience where the attendants have been gloved as soon as they’ve come in because they know it’s a homosexual client.”
Most people don’t have a choice of who their attendants are, especially if they live in a care facility setting where they have 24-hour service.
An attendant’s salary is paid by the province, through the Ministry Of Long Term Care. They help with day-to-day life – personal care, meals and some housekeeping.
The woman Tracie filed the complaint against is still around.
“It becomes awkward because I like to sleep with my partner, but I find myself working around when this particular attendant is on.
“Even though she did something that was quite offensive to me, she’s still doing my personal care. If I’m not dry after I’ve gone to the bathroom or whatever, I’m scared to ask her to wipe me again because she might think that it’s sexual. Am I going to compromise my own hygiene because I’m afraid of the attendant’s presumption?”
With employees providing such basic and necessary care, some people are put in very vulnerable positions. If they complain about one attendant, will they face the wrath of another who has heard about it? Who will take care of them if there’s backlash?
“There’s not a clear understanding of the power dynamics that go on between attendants and those who are using attendant services,” says Fran. “There is definitely a division of power. It’s great to be able to say this is consumer controlled, but in reality it isn’t. Someone can refuse to come into your apartment if they’re not comfortable with what you’re doing in your own home.
“I don’t want to be putting down attendants, because without attendants people would not be able to live the lives that they do and be able to function in the community,” continues Fran. “I don’t want to make a blanket statement that all attendants are like this because there are some incredibly wonderful attendants who are very supportive, who themselves come from the community.
“But there are some that just don’t get it.”