In celebration of International Women’s Day, we celebrate four women who have made it their life’s work to further their causes through the arts and advocacy. First, Carmen Yau, a lecturer and advocate with this message: People with disabilities can be sexy, deserve sex, and must be made aware of their sexual rights.
By True Colors Festival Team
Q: Why did you choose to advocate for sexual rights?
The reason why I decided to focus on sexuality and LGBTQ+ (issues) is my belief that sexuality is at the core of how you understand and respect another person. But the community and professionals avoid this topic because it’s very personal and sensitive. I see myself as both an outsider and insider – I have a very unique position where I can bridge the gap between the disability community and the professionals who don’t feel comfortable and ready to talk about their sexuality.
Q: What’s a common misconception about sex and people with disabilities?
As I always said, and we all know, sexuality doesn’t come from between your legs, it’s between your ears. So, the meaning of this is when we talk about disabilities and sexuality, it’s not about how we can’t perform, or how we can perform. Or how we can interact with people sexually. It’s more about the imagination; your creativity, your authenticity, and your attitude of being yourself.
Q: Why advocate for people with disabilities?
Before I had started my work and master’s program, I remember having a conversation with one of the founders of Hand Angels (Taiwanese NGO that advocates for sexual rights for disabled people). We discussed what we needed to do to promote radical social change for people living with disabilities. Through this conversation, we realized it’s not about how much work we do, rather, it’s about changing the concept and attitude of people looking into disability — a lot of people still come from a medical or ableist perspective, which assumes people with disabilities can’t do certain basic things and hence need our help. With this mindset, disabled people will always fall into the gap.
Q: How do these perspectives affect the lives of people living with disabilities?
Due to these perspectives, people with disabilities are stigmatized and struggle to express and develop aspects of their lives, such as their sexuality. If they are presented as beautiful and sexy and unique, then they would not be stigmatized. What we need to do is to challenge the stigmatized ideology about disability that is present in modern society.
Q: You face pushback when talking about sexuality in people with disabilities. What keeps you going?
I think that’s the biggest challenge; handling the criticism that comes from the disability community. A lot of people with disabilities, their parents and caregivers often express discomfort when I talk about sex. That creates tension. They think that suppressing the sexual expression of disabled women is the best way to protect them. It’s known that women with disabilities usually have a higher chance of experiencing sexual harassment. And the very idea of reproductive rights of disabled women is another crucial, but taboo topic. But the fact is that we need to educate and empower disabled women to be able to say yes or no. It’s about educating and promoting consent within the disabled community, especially among parents and caregivers.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling part of your advocacy work?
To me, the most magical moment in these two years is seeing more people coming up to stand up and speaking on this topic – people who are much more influential than me. I’ve been working and advocating as an LGBTQ+ ally and it is so nice to see that there are finally some members in the disability community who dare to come out now. And that is the most fulfilling moment for me, when LGBTQ+ members of the disability community are able to take a stand, express their needs and share their feelings.
Q: The message of the True Colors Festival is “One World One Family” — what do these words mean to you?
To me, the meaning of One World One Family is that people can be categorized in different ways and different forms – that we can be categorized in little small groups, and we could be fighting with each other. But to me, the only way that we can become one family is when we all can be genuinely authentic. That you can show who you are in your soul, but not be judged by your appearance by the outside world. I personally think that love and authenticity of self and others make us “One World, One Family”.
This interview has been edited and condensed.