I am blind. I am not asexual.
My disability and my sexuality are two aspects of my life which I have tried to keep separate but despite my best efforts they have woven together: defiantly entangling with one another until I can no longer tell if I have a preference or I am just blind. I was once asked if I am bisexual because I am blind. The implication was that I could not see the difference between a penis and a vagina, so my sexual orientation was invalidated. For some people, the idea that I was born this way is a hard pill to swallow and so it is easier for them to believe my bisexuality is just a side effect of other things that are wrong with me.
There is a societal expectation that as a disabled person I should act as if I am a little broken. As if I am unable to walk independently even though it is my eyes that are the problem, not my legs. I have had people offer to stir my tea, as if my blindness means that my hands are unable to hold a spoon and move in a circular motion. It makes some people feel better about themselves to have helped that poor little blind woman, even if she did not ask for it. They go to bed that evening patting themselves on the back for the good deed that they have done. Often, I am treated like I am a puppet on strings at which people love to pull. They pull me from one side to another under the ignorant assumption that I need their assistance to be able to move. The problem is that people stop being there to pull the strings when the puppet really needs it.
I was sitting in an empty classroom at my college, shaking and questioning myself. I had been raped just a few nights before by a fellow student. I had decided to contact the police and make a statement. In Britain at the time, there was a massive push about the importance of reporting rape or sexual assaults. The famous “consent and tea” video had recently gone viral and it felt like some sort of feminist revolution was brewing. I almost felt ready to stir my own spoon in this cup of tea, expecting the questions the officers were going to ask me. I was expecting to be asked ‘Did you flirt with him?’ and ‘What were you wearing’. Many years of being angry on behalf of other women had only prepared my responses to outdated and unnecessary questions, ready to go. I knew what had happened to me and I knew for a fact that what I was wearing had nothing to do with my attack. I can be utterly sure of this because the man who raped me was also blind.
Instead of asking me those questions though, the police officers asked me questions that seemed to punch me in the gut; I was asked visual questions. They got angry when I could not describe the pattern on his shirt. They seemed annoyed when I could not draw them the layout of his bedroom with much accuracy. All of my fight, defiance, and anger was replaced with shame and sorrow. Not only shame because I had been raped but shamed that I am blind.
I spent months angry at myself, terrified that he would hurt another woman as he hurt me and that it would be my fault because I couldn’t tell if he had been watching me from across the bar that night. It was a type of victim-blaming that I had not been prepared for, despite my years of third-wave feminist media consumption. Nobody informs you that even though coming forward is brave, the right thing to do, and a display of strength, it does not always work: not always because you are not believed, but because you can not help the police. Your disability renders you useless in that situation. You are no longer going to bring a criminal to justice. You are no longer going to right a wrong. You are no longer going to take a stand against the injustice that you faced where your own body was used against you. Instead, you are going to be just another statistic.
A sense of powerlessness washed over me that day, and it stayed with me. It is coming up on five years since I was raped and I have used so many coping mechanisms of varying degrees of healthiness. Sexual trauma is not a singular event, it lingers in the back of your mind for years to come. You never forget it, but you learn to live with it. Shame is the real killer: it encroaches in every aspect of your life, including your identity. It dampens vivid colours and blocks your view from genuine beauty or pride.
It has taken me many years, a marriage, and a hefty dose sex therapy to realize that in order for me to finally untangle the knots between my disability and my sexuality, I need to reclaim my body, not only as a sexual trauma survivor but also as a blind woman. The world seems so determined to present sex as a purely visual affair that the sexuality of blind people seems to be an anomaly for most of the sighted population. But the truth is, Blind people fuck and we really it! But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we didn’t want to fuck that night. Sometimes we were too drunk to give consent. Sometimes we want to have a voice and scream about what happened to us. Our voices work just fine, yet so many areas deaf and blind to our plight as sexual assault survivors.
We are moving forward in the world. Laws are being amended, bills are being passed. Women are speaking up and being rightfully believed. I think that we need to extend that same courtesy to disabled people.
Ellie Wait, Military Spouse, and Blind Rape Survivor
Ellie Wait is a military spouse and hails from the UK. As a rape survivor and blind person, Ellie offers a unit perspective as the newest advocate in our Movement. We welcome you to congratulate Ms. Wait on her bravery and articulate fashion in sharing her story. We look forward to more poignant perspectives from her as our movement grows.