Normal Bodies can be Disabling?

I’ve always found the quest for normalcy to be a troubling notion.  It’s perfectly OK  to what to have a ‘normal life’, a life relatively free of stress, with nothing impeding your day-today activities.  It’s a very seductive notion. Surely, a life where our impairments were either themselves reduced (possibly through medical intervention), or at least made socially irrelevant (i.e. made not the cause of a disability) would be ideal?  In general terms, I’ve always believed to be the case; I very much support the following statement by disability theorist Carol Thomas:


Disability is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairments and the  socially engendered undermining of their psychoemotional wellbeing.[1]

 And yet despite my general support, I do have a question, how are we understanding the ‘social’ of ‘social oppression’.  Is it only ‘social’ when we engage with other people?  Can our quite personal own experiences of own impairments also be considered social?  After all, it is a social creature that is experiencing them.  I suspect that some disability theorists – not necessarily Thomas, but some would actually regard such experience as mere ‘impairment stories’ and therefore nothing to do with disability at all.  I have always resisted such a categorisation of impairment and disability.  Life, unlike disability studies is a far too messy and complex affair to fit into such neat little boxes. Impairments, in my view may have in, and of themselves, disabling effects and I have a story which I hope shall illustrate my point.

I was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and around the age of two I was put on Tegretol and Clonazepam for the epilepsy.  These allowed my fits to be controlled.  My fits stopped when I was around seventeen.  However, my epilepsy medication – as I mentioned in passing a couple of posts, ago had made me impotent.  And not just impotent, since I had gone through puberty, having to take quite heavy and regular doses, I had not only never experienced an erection; I had never really had a sexual thought.  Then, two years ago, when I first considered moving to Japan with my wife, I decided that since tablets in Japan are costly – no NHS system here of course, and in view of the fact I had not had a seizure for at least sixteen years, that I would go off my mneds.  So with my neurologist, I began reducing the dose every month.  Six months of reducing and I felt that something was wrong.  It was a sensation I had not felt before and I did not like it one bit.  Then, at my monthly appointment with the neurologist it dawned on me what it was when he said:


`Has there been any return of sexual function Mr.  Peckitt?’

For the first time in my life, I was horny.  And I did not like it.  It may appear like an odd thing to complain about, and I guess I shouldn’t expect too much sympathy, but imagine, at the age of thirty-three to suddenly start responding sexually to the world.  At the very least its very daunting.  In some academic circles, I say I struggle with my sexuality, leading some to think I am gay – why must a struggle with your sexuality always be with the fact you may be gay, why cannot one not struggle with heterosexuality?  For female bodies to suddenly gain a significane as sexually attractive after thirty-three years of just being one type of body amongst many can be very disorientating.
It is difficult not to view this development of my sexuality in some ways to be quite disabling, in fact part of is tempted to consider it an impairment.  That line ‘has sexual function returned?’ still haunts me.  For something to return, it has to have been there before, so as I experience my own body now, it is difficult not to view ‘sexual function’ as an impairment.
However, it is also has a disabling effect.  I klnow that many would say that experiences to do with medicine, my coming off anti-epileptics is not part of ‘the social world’ but belongs instead to the rather cold world of medicine.  But since it had the effect of altering my sexuality, It would take a rather cravenly way of viewing the ‘the social’ not to regard that medical intervention  as having social effects.  Sexuality is a way in which engage with the world, for their to be a ‘sexuyal response’ we have to be responding to an other. 
Also, since I still struggle with it, it could be said, to borrow Thomas’ terms, undermine my ‘psychoemotional wellbeing’.  Sometimes, I consider going back on Tegretol, then I might feel ‘normal’.  Watch this space.

[1] Thomas, C. 1999:  Female Forms: Experiencing and  Understanding Disability.  Buckingham: Open University Press.   p60






2 thoughts on “Normal Bodies can be Disabling?

  1. I am not sure where you’re getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this information for my mission. Adalberto


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