Further Exploring Disability and Sexuality in Netflix’s Crip Camp

I recently watched the Netflix documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, which shows Camp Jened, an ability-inclusive summer camp held during the 1960s-70s. As one former camper, Jimmy LeBrecht, explains, Jened was the first home many kids with disabilities we able to find because “at camp, everybody had something going on with their body. It just wasn’t a big deal” (13:23). This feeling of unity and hope that a world could exist where different bodies “just aren’t a big deal” carried over into the campers’ adult lives and fueled the later Disability Rights Movement of the 1970s.  Crip Camp shared the raw testaments of people’s journeys through life in their unique bodies – some of which we’ve talked about. For instance, they showed how drag performance allowed cripples to be loud and proud of who they were (59:10) and how blues music, begun by the African American community, served as a means of pride, expression, and reflection for the disabled community just as it had for the LGBTQ+ community during the 20th  century (31:12).  The primary connection, however, was in the discussion of how people with disabilities are often mistakenly viewed as asexual.

In Eli Clare’s novel, Exile and Pride, he explains the complicated relationship he and other people with disabilities have developed in terms of their own sexuality because of how society has forced this false, undesirable narrative onto their bodies. He states: “It is no exaggeration to say we are genderless, asexual undesirables. We hear and see and feel this at every turn. It digs into our bodies. From this vantage point, sexual objectification appears to be a positive recognition of sexuality” (Clare 131). One woman with cerebral palsy in Crip Camp, Denise Jacobson, shares that this was her experience, too. She playfully tells her story of having sex with a bus driver and shortly thereafter having terrible abdominal pains. When she was rushed to the hospital, they deemed it appendicitis and performed a surgery to remove, what turned out to be, a perfectly functioning appendix. In reality, she had contradicted gonorrhea. When she was told this, she said, “For one brief moment, I was so proud of myself” (52:15), but quickly realized, “The surgeon decided, how could I be sexually active? I mean look at me. Who would wanna f*ck with me?” (52:34). This alone shows the long-prejudiced history of disabled people being seen as either nonsexual or undesirable and how the medical profession has a habit of perpetuating this belief in a very dangerous way. Simultaneously, her gut-reaction of being proud of contracting an STD shows this need for recognition of her sexuality that Clare mentioned. Gonorrhea meant that no one could deny her sexual desirability now.

All in all, Crip Camp was an amazingly well-done and insightful documentary that provides an even more diverse view of the realities and histories of those living with a disability in the United States than we have been able to explore in class. It is a stark reminder that all bodies come in varying levels of ability and sex drive and deserve to exist in a world where this is universally recognized and understood.

One thought on “Further Exploring Disability and Sexuality in Netflix’s Crip Camp”

  1. I loved reading this blog post and now I have a new movie to add to my agenda, so thank you. The connection from the film to Eli Claire’s book significant to highlight the unspoken trials people with disabilities face, including sexuality. In an effort to further push the So What question perhaps questioning the lack of notice this film received and what that says about the highlighted issues in society today. Possibly another train of thought that may follow is questioning the idea of the medical world’s views on disability and their hesitance to fix the issue of medical discrimination.

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