Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There Is No Case Without D. Johnson's Testimony.

When I came of age a quarter of a century ago, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were often classified by “mental age” based on various test scores. If they were adults, but called a “mental age” that was less than their chronological age, it was widely assumed that they could not be interested in love and sex. After all, “He’s just like a three year old.”

That was offensive then, and it’s offensive now.

A woman was discussing her daughter with me once, back then. Her daughter was older than I then was, but deaf, without having had much access to the culture. The mother was talking to me about the daughter’s business because she wanted me to convince her to get off birth control pills. What could she possibly need with those? She was not interested in sex, according to her mother, because “She tells me everything. I would know.” I was uncomfortable with the conversation but I did point out that if I were hanging around with my mother in the mall, having a root beer or whatever, I can’t imagine myself announcing “Nice ass” or something whenever someone attractive passed by. She’s my mother. Boundaries.

To her credit, this woman had an epiphany then and said she would not ever have discussed such things with her own mother, either. She realized that her daughter, who was then about thirty, could decide for herself whether she was interested in men, and what to do about it, without maternal input.

Twenty-five years ago, this was.

A few years after that, the Health Sciences University around there wanted to do a pilot project of peer education on safer sex, for AIDS prevention. There was a huge outcry that people with visible Down syndrome, for example, were involved in making video tutorials in which they mentioned sex. This would be a terrible “example” and “corrupt” the “kids,” to hear the detractors tell it. These “kids” were adult – even middle-aged – and were already well aware of how to have sex. Even when the medical school students said that not knowing about how to have sex in safer ways might kill people, many of their relatives tried to block the program.

Around that time, someone I knew who lived in supported apartment housing fell in love with a homeless young man. Because her “staff” wouldn’t “allow” “conjugal visits” with him (yes, jail terminology was really used back then for free adults) she fled to be with him on the streets. He was accused (against her strenuous objections) of “raping” her because her parents did not like that he was not of the same religious sect as the one in which she was raised, and also they knew for a fact that she was “childlike” and could not be a part of such "sins." Had he not been able to prove that he, too, was developmentally disabled, he would have been taken into prison instead of the “system” of state-supported group homes.

Apparently, if that guy had not been disabled, there would be no other explanation for him loving and being attracted to his girlfriend who loved him too, other than his being a creepy sex offender. She could not possibly have consented on her own, because her parents had filed for guardianship.

That was more than twenty years ago, but people still assume that developmentally and intellectually disabled people can have lovers only if they are being victimized against their will by evil perpetrators who should be punished for loving them. Unless we are fairly successful and can communicate readily, in which case those who love us must be some kind of saintly martyrs, bless their cotton socks.

Although developmentally disabled, I’m typing this blog post all by myself, which makes my wife a saintly martyr instead of a sex offender, I guess. She’s lucky I became interested in writing!!

So, everyone, it’s been a quarter of a century, and I declare that Mr. Johnson is the one who knows if he loves Anna Stubblefield and consensually wanted to be with her. If he is not attracted to her and she was being creepy to him, let him tell us. His family is not who knows this information and neither do judges and juries. Not allowing him to testify is malarkey. It is still malarkey even if most people consider themselves intellectually superior beings who can decide if it’s “wrong” for others to hook up. Ableism is somewhat understandable because it is so pervasive, but we must not let it govern us. (Racism is also no way to make decisions.)

If Mr. Johnson says that Ms. Stubblefield is a creepy stalker who pushed herself on him, then she fits that trope, but again: he is the one whose opinion matters here. Legally claiming that a person is not fully a person capable of choice is a mess, and so is the notion that certain people are automatically undesirable and so thus whoever desires them must be suspected of evildoing.

It is twenty-five years later than it was a quarter century ago. Let us hope we have evolved.

Some further reading:

Thank you for letting me share.