The show and photographs of David Steinberg illustrate the beauty of human sexuality is naturally part of the lives of those with disabilities.
We are sexual creatures.
The show and photographs of David Steinberg illustrate the beauty of human sexuality is naturally part of the lives of those with
Warning – this article and the links contain explicit sexual content.
Who is sexy? Who is sexual? Who is sexually desirable? Who is sexually vibrant?
Are the people that society designates “beautiful” really sexier or more sexual than the people who get labeled “plain”?
What about older people, heavier people? What about people with disabilities? Are these people fully sexual human beings even though they don’t show up in movies, on tv, or in advertising? What happens to all of us when we write off huge sections of the population as non-sexual or sexually undesirable?
These are some of the questions addressed in Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility, whose fourth annual multi-media presentation is being performed this coming weekend at the Brava Theater.
Most specifically, Sins Invalid is about the sexuality of people with physical disabilities — an opportunity for people with disabilities to affirm and celebrate the vibrancy of their sexuality through performance art, theater, film, dance, song, and the spoken word. The cabaret-style performances in Sins Invalid range from mild to graphic, from tender to passionate, from the gentle spoken word to a sexually explicit depiction of a scene involving loving dominance and submission.
“The theme of this year’s show is the magic of embodiment,” says Patty Berne, artistic director of Sins Invalid, “the magic of all life and the spirit incarnate.” The 12 artists in Sins Invalid all possess disabilities, some quite apparent, others less so, such as deafness and environmental illness and injuries. “Each of these artists is in a non-normative body,” Berne notes, “and each is a miraculous, sexual being.”
Sins Invalid was founded in 2006 by Patty Berne and Leroy Moore, two Bay Area activists with disabilities who were frustrated with the propensity of many to view people with disabilities as asexual, deviant, or undesirable. “We wanted to address the disconnect between what we know to be true about our beauty and what the world seems to believe — that we are ‘less than,’ undesirable and pitiable,” Berne explains.
But Sins Invalid is more than a statement about sex and disability, going beyond the specific issue of discounting the sexuality of people with disabilities to challenge a whole range of conventional notions about what is normal, what is beautiful, and what is sexy. In place of the familiar notion that sex, beauty and desirability are limited to people who are young, thin, and physically agile, Sins Invalid offers “a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities,” an affirmation that we are all sexual, all sexy, all attractive, regardless of age, body form, or skin color.
What makes Sins Invalid so powerful is that it thoroughly succeeds artistically and erotically, separate from the impact of its political message. Sins Invalid challenges its audience to think about sexuality, beauty, and disability in new and expanded ways. But Sins Invalid is also, quite simply, a hot, arousing, sexually charged evening of thought-provoking, imaginative sexual entertainment that only happens to be entirely by and about people with disabilities.
Mat Fraser, a celebrated disabled performer from Great Britain offers “No Retreat, No Surrender,” an athletic performance piece using martial arts, and “Beautiful Freak,” a tender cleansing ritual. Antoine-DeVinci Hunter, an accomplished deaf choreographer/dancer, asks the audience to share the element of risk he faces every day as a deaf person by rolling a die, each side of which corresponds to a different sound score.
In “The Scene,” Leroy Moore, seeley quest, Ralph Dickinson and Patty Berne enact a sexual encounter in which a dominatrix conducts an erotic medical procedure, captured on live video feed integrated with surreal images. Nomy Lamm offers two rock-opera pieces involving a “nest of legs” comprised of the prosthetic limbs that she has worn since she was a child. Spoken word pieces are offered by Leah Lakshmi (“Dirty River Girl”), Maria Palacios (“The Hunger” and “Vagina Manifesto”), and Aurora Levins Morales.
Sins Invalid will be performed at Brava Theater, 2789 24th Street (at York), San Francisco, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 2, 3, and 4, Friday and Saturday shows at 8:00, Sunday at 7:00. All shows are wheelchair accessible and ASL interpreted. Tickets are $15-25, sliding scale (no one turned away for lack of funds), available from brownpapertickets.com, or at the door. More information at sinsinvalid.org, or 510-689-7198.
Note: The photographs shown here are from my own body of sexual photography involving people with disabilities. They are not part of the Sins Invalid performance.
For more about my photography of people with disabilities, see