In this personal account, Thea Calzoni explores the health and quality of life benefits of sex work for people, like her son, who live with a disability.
I TAKE CARE of my 34 year old son who cannot write or even tell his own story.
I wrote a memory of our embrace – it reveals uncomfortable personal details. And he affirms intimate needs. I tried to be respectful and represent the truth.
â… when someone writes a memoir, he selects from life and from memory. That’s not the whole story, it’s not even an accurate description of part of it. “
I have offered a story that is open to question. It’s not hard to say that I wrote about my son to validate my life and his. Perhaps more difficult to admit my desire to come out of the shadows and be recognized, by celebrating the trials of love. Wanting to be understood, as a writer Clementine Ford said in a article on his personal essay book, How we like.
Love was my angle, up to the chapter on one workshop I participated more than ten years ago on the sexual rights, ways and means of people with disabilities.
The subject was then and continues to be controversial, with the rights of people with disabilities under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funded sexual support contested until September 2021 – when a Federal Court decision find that NDIS funds could be used by program participants to access sex worker services.
I was brought in to attend a workshop on disabled sex after my son and his young friend were invited to their day program to keep sexual exploration out of their relationship. What were my son’s needs and possibilities for sexual expression? Did he perhaps need sex as a mechanical process, the performance of a function? Or could he get involved in something more loving and consoling?
The workshop mainly covered the technical aspects of sexual fulfillment and was pretty dry – until a sex worker came on the scene. My heart leaps. She described her work with people with disabilities as a painstaking process, where she took things slowly, introducing them to a safe experience of being touched by a worker in something other than clinical self-care.
To explain the intimacy that the sex worker suggested she could offer a person with a disability in my memories, I quoted her using the term âmaking loveâ. I put these words in his mouth. For this an Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton challenged me.
She says touching the skin is an important human need and that it is an important part of her sex work with people with disabilities. However, she would never describe it as “making love” due to the need for clarity for people with intellectual disabilities to know the difference between a professional relationship with a sex worker and a possible romantic relationship with a partner.
I admitted to Rachel that I had taken a creative license using the word âloveâ for safe and supportive sex work with a person with a disability. I did this because I wanted to show it as a potential for beneficial human service beyond just being a mechanical activity.
Ever since I spoke with Rachel and watched her video Scarlet Road, I have found evidence of the health benefits and improved quality of life of sex work for people with disabilities. It became clear to me how particularly important it is for people like my son to have a clear distinction between professional relationships (such as support workers, paramedics, or sex workers) and open social relationships.
Recently, a regular disability support worker helped my son understand why hugging his physiotherapist was not good for him. She explained to him that it’s okay to hug your friends and family, but not the people who work out in the gym. He understood. I know he can understand the difference between dealing with workers and dealing with friends.
He also understands the difference between the roles and activities of different support workers – a walk with this person; art with another. But what about his urge to touch a woman? His options for sensual contact with a real woman live remain elusive.
My son understands social roles and can regulate his behavior appropriately for different social contexts. There should be no problem with him understanding that a sex worker would provide different support than other support workers, professionals, family and friends. He is entitled to the support of a sex worker.
Imperfect memories aside, in light of the post, I reached out to Rachel Wotton who introduced us to the agency. Touch the base. I am learning how and why my son’s life can be improved through specialist sex work for people with disabilities.
This is not the whole story, because history continues in life as in art.
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