In high school and up to my early twenties, I was always the last girl in my group of friends to reach a milestone. Last to get my period, last to start shaving, last to feel sexual attraction, and last to start masturbating. Being blind in a multi-racial family — my dad black, my mom mixed (mother from Switzerland and father from Greece) — with both disabled and able-bodied friends, it didn’t exactly occur to me how different I was from my friends until I was sixteen.
At fifteen, getting my period was something I wanted and feared. All the girls around me (my disabled and able-bodied peers) had theirs. Talk about periods was a conversation I could not be a part of. My friends would go on and on about pads and tampons, shots and pills, teas and other recommendations that can take away the pain. Although none of it sounded great, at the time I foolishly thought that to have your period was to be a woman. And I wanted so badly to be a woman, no longer a girl.
My friends were always invited to the adult table, where they spoke about boys, children, and sex. I wasn’t interested in any of those things. Boys weren’t exactly annoying — but they did frighten me sometimes. Their hands always seemed to be grasping and clammy, their voices always holding an edge of demand. I tutored blind elementary students a few times a week, and although they were sweet and I did enjoy coming up with games that would teach them braille contractions, I was just as happy to see them go. As for sex, it didn’t make me nervous; it was completely uninteresting to me. I had no negative nor positive thoughts on it. Sex was sex and that was that.
I was jealous of my friends’ curves and height, their smooth skin unblemished by blackheads and moles and pimples. The attention they received from boys, however, did make me nervous; the whistles, slimy invitations of a “good time,” and the fact that the boys paid more attention to the girls’ clothes and bodies than to the girls’ schoolwork and future plans.
I wanted my period because — as foolish as it sounded — that was, to me, the first step in becoming a woman. I wanted that respect. I wanted my family and friends to stop coddling me, to stop calling me their “little innocent.” I wanted to have a voice, to be heard and listened to. And to have those things, I couldn’t be a child.
I was sixteen when I got my period, and it hurt. It felt as if someone had their hands in me and pressed and turned and pinched everything they could. I’m still not sure if me having an irregular period is a curse or a blessing — never knowing when the pain will start is nerve-wracking. But having a few months’ break from it is a gift. Having my period, I quickly learned that being a woman is not a matter of your body expelling blood occasionally; it is an ever-going and very complicated process.
I didn’t decide to start shaving my underarms and legs until I was seventeen. I did it for the worst reason: because my friends were doing it. My legs have not had that soft, smooth, untouched feel ever since. I didn’t start shaving my vagina until I was nineteen. I will never forget the feeling of shame of not being the right-kind-of-beautiful when a friend of my brother asked me why I didn’t shave — and he told me that I really, really should. I didn’t move from the beach towel for the rest of the time we were at Daytona Beach. It took me two years before I stopped shaving all of it. The thought of that day, his voice, full of judgement and disgust, still brings a blush of shame to my cheeks and a strong urge to grab a razor and get rid of all the hairs as fast as I can.
I was twenty-one when I became friends with a Poet with a capital P. He was tall and dark, and he sang like it was a religion and he was the high priest on a mission to convert the masses. His poetry was everything that was heart-achingly beautiful. His prose was a tool that he used to worship the God he believed in and to honor the ones he loved. That fall semester of college was the first time I wondered about the feel of someone’s touch. By spring semester, his voice and his poems weren’t enough for me; I was interested in the feel and taste of hands and hips and tongue and neck.
I was eight when I first saw porn; for ten minutes, my cousins and I stared in confused, horrified, wide-eyed fascination — the only interest we had in watching it was the fact that our parents told us not to turn to that channel. We quickly became bored and decided that playing outside was more interesting. I was sixteen when I first saw a dildo. Angry with my dad who brought me to the house of the woman he cheated on my mom with, I decided to snoop around her room while they were gone one afternoon. In the top drawer of the dresser on the left of the bed, the dildo was wrapped in a smooth cloth at the very back; there was an adjustable dial at the base, exaggerated ridges, about ten inches long, it was bendy, made of a jelly-like material. I remember awkwardly rubbing it against myself, clumsily mimicking the way my friends described the ways their partners tongues and hands moved. Blushingly laughing to myself, I wondered how this was considered pleasurable. My friends giggled over their boyfriend’s skill with their tongues and hands, and I just couldn’t understand how they — or anyone! — would enjoy this sensation.
I was twenty-two when I first touched myself — almost a decade after my friends first explored their bodies. It was awkward at first. The books and essays say to “romance yourself,” but I wasn’t interested in flowers and candles and hot baths. I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was playing a part, and my outfit, lines, and gestures weren’t right. My friends told me to “get to know yourself — find out what you like and don’t like, think of things that excite you.” Whatever the hell that meant. I’d never been with someone before. I’d never kissed someone at the lockers or made out with someone during lunch behind the stairs. I didn’t know what I liked. I did, however, know what I didn’t like. I didn’t like the way it felt when my breasts were touched against my will. “I’m blind,” my male classmates would say, laughing as I slapped their hands away. “How was I supposed to know your boobs were there?” They might have been blind, but they knew just what they were doing. And I didn’t like the way strangers, in the name of helping the blind girl, would cop a feel. They’d slip an arm around my waist, or curl their hands around my neck, or pat my ass, or trail their fingertips at the skin under my shirt — Good Samaritan gropers.
I couldn’t romance myself or explore myself — it felt too much like I was on display, even though I was alone in my room, door locked, and lights off. I remember getting under the covers, my underwear and shorts still on, reminding myself that the clitoris is sensitive. The first time, I didn’t explore my vagina at all; I just focused on my clit. With just the tip of my right middle finger, moving it up and down, quick, light touches, then slow, hard touches. Circling it, moving the tip of my finger right to left. I only focused on the sensation the movement of my finger brought me. I did not fantasize. It was just me.
When my first orgasm came, with my tongue between my teeth, my legs didn’t stop shaking for a minute or two. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of that day. It’s been seven years since then, and I still have the door locked, lights off, and I’m still under the covers; but I am braver; my hands — palm and fingers — move, press, caress, and curl in places and ways I would have never imagined before.
I was twenty-four when I bought my first clit-stimulator. The Military Rocket; shaped like a rocket, in military green, with a multi-speed dial at the base. I bought it at a sex-shop; ironically, my dad’s ex-girlfriend — the one he cheated on my mom with — took me. We spent an hour at the store, with an employee who wore a bag full of different batteries around her waist. She took out dozens of toys out of there boxes for me to touch. Since then, I’ve tried out four different clit-stimulators. They’ve all made my legs tremble after an intense orgasm, and still leaves me smiling for the rest of the day.
I was twenty-three when I had to duck not only my moms’ question on the opposite sex, sex, and future children — but from my friends as well (some of which were parents already, were expecting children, or were in a serious relationship). There was no man to speak of, the thought of sex still brought out the blushing sixteen-year-old in me, awkwardly laughing with a jelly-rubber like dick in my hand, and the thought of children gave me nightmares of never being able to do anything I wanted, ever, for as long as I lived.
Still, the questions came. At dinner. In the middle of the movie theater. On the city bus. In Publix. I was already worried — not about being in a relationship or having kids. In the year two thousand and thirteen, it isn’t unheard of for a woman not to be in a relationship or not wanting to have kids — but the thought of my sex drive — or lack of — gave me pause.
What was wrong with me? I did find myself attracted to men and I masturbated (a lot) — but why was the thought of having sex such a turn off for me? So, I started to watch porn and read erotic novels by the dozens.
Porn did nothing for me; the sounds the men and women made didn’t arouse any desire: the sounds of the men made me laugh and the women made me roll my eyes. As for the novels, the only times I got hot and bothered was while the characters were tense with desire — the barely there touches, the light thrust during a dance, the slight caresses, and not-so-innocent hug or hand shake. The reactions the characters had towards one another — before sex — was what got me. However, when it came to sex, the actual event, I quickly lost interest.
It wasn’t until a few months after I bought my first vibrator that I found what was wrong with me. Rather, I found that I was completely okay and there never was anything for me to worry about. After a semester on a feminism and sexuality course, I was ranting to a classmate about the absence of study of sexuality and disability, and how society refuses to understand that they do, in fact, intersect. To that, she dismissively replied that disabled people were either asexual or hypersexual and it wasn’t complicated at all. She explained, “Because you are just blind, you aren’t considered hypersexual. Only the extremely mentally challenged are considered to be hypersexual.”
I remember staring at her in astonishment. I didn’t know if I should be angry at this ableist — and ignorant — viewpoint or if I should laugh. Having your sexuality determined by your disability was one of the most absurd things I had ever heard of. Still, the thought of me being asexual had me feeling offended; at the time, I thought that asexual people were cold, unaffectionate, and couldn’t (due to medical or personal reasons) feel physical pleasure. How could I be asexual? — I got horny and I fantasized, and I masturbated. I just didn’t have sex. That didn’t mean I was asexual.
Three months later, I could not get the thought of me being asexual out of my mind. Normally shy with a don’t-touch-me-at-all vibe, I found myself outgoing, talking with anyone and everyone and being as physically affectionate as I could stand. I spoke with men with motorbikes, bicycles and skateboards, with philosophy, statistics and psych majors, with Asians guys, black guys, and Mexican guys, with tall and short guys, with guys with swimmer builds, with stocky and thin guys. Nothing. The thought of most of them had me excited, but when I pictured us having sex, it turned me off.
I hesitated to ask my mom and friends about asexuality and whether they thought I might be. The thought — however foolish it sounded — that they might agree, being disabled was a clear sign that you would be one or the other terrified me. I already faced discrimination and ableist views from society in so many other ways, I couldn’t bear it if my sexuality ended up being determined by disability.
It wasn’t until I ran across a website detailing the misconceptions of asexuality that I began to relax. I started to read more on asexuality, read personal stories of others — both disabled or able-bodied — and they were completely fine; some were married, some had kids, some have sex once-in-a-blue-moon, some have never had sex, some were single. They all lead normal, everyday lives, with fulfilling relationships, physical or not.
A while after that, my mom was telling me how worried she was — she didn’t want me to be alone — and didn’t I want to be with someone? If I told my dad I didn’t want to be married, my dad would be concerned, but wouldn’t really be too bothered; in the United States, it isn’t so unheard of for a woman to be unmarried. However, my mom, from a small town in Switzerland, grew up with the mindset that a woman needs a family, and her children and her husband are the center of her world. I told her no. I took a deep breath and said, “Also, not that they’re connected in any way, but I am asexual.”
My friends and I are in our late twenties now. My friends are married or in serious relationships; some have kids. Their lives are filled with diapers, hoping their mothers-in-law doesn’t decide to stay another week longer, finding the perfect engagement ring or house.
I, however, I am in grad school, searching for jobs. The thought of sex is still uninteresting to me, the thought of having kids is still unpalatable to me, and I am still, all the time, learning what it is to be a woman, with all that it entails. I look forward to what happens next.
And I’m still smiling.
DISABILITY ACTS, founded in 2018, is an all volunteer-run magazine — run by disabled people, featuring disabled writers, who write about disabled life, literature, and more. Please support DISABILITY ACTS. Even one dollar helps. All money goes to paying our writers. You can see updates about how much money we have raised on our Submissions page.