You don’t need to see to fall in love
On August 14, 2015, we arrived at ILS college in Pune for a #SexDis workshop with a group of 25 college students from across the city. The workshop started with a felicitation ceremony in the presence of Justice Z M Yakoob, a retired judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, who is a visually impaired person. Justice Yakoob spoke about the need to understand the relationship between one’s body, space and the environment. He says that he wouldn’t have been successful had he not given importance to his sexuality and explored his body/sexuality, from when he was younger. Knowing your body is very important, especially for visually impaired people, and finding out about sexual organs is just a very very small part of this entire exercise. Post some ice-breakers, our leader Nidhi Goyal started her session with a question: What does the word ‘sexuality’ mean? And was met by total silence in response.
Nidhi then narrated the story of a 25 year old girl, Namrata, who is visually impaired and has gone into a shell and later falls into depression. Namrata meets another visually impaired girl named Prarthana who used to live in the same building. Prarthana used to go out often, both alone and with her friends, and one day she asked Namrata if they could go out together and have fun. But Namrata was concerned because both of them were visually impaired. But Prarthana replied with confidence, saying that there isn’t always someone to go with. Nidhi asked: What was the difference between the two girls? The participants said that Prarthana had confidence, positive perspective and self-awareness, unlike Namrata. But Nidhi points out that she was independent, not just in terms of physical mobility but also independent in the mind.
Nidhi then posed a question to the audience: ‘Why should we meet others and go outside?’ From networking to friendship, the participants gave a range of answers. Nidhi stressed that one would not be able experience the world if they just sat at home, because no potential partner would just come and ‘fall into their lap’. We shifted gears slightly and then spoke about not limiting the freedom of our actions simply because of a disability, followed by a fun exercise. Nidhi asked the participants to describe their ideal girl or ideal boy. The responses included ‘blue eyes’, ‘soft skin’, and ‘biceps’. Nidhi made them question how and why they have these notions of beauty especially since they would not have seen these parameters in practice. The participants reflected on this and admitted that they were heavily influenced by the ideals of beauty ingrained by their families, friends and especially the media.
‘How is falling in love different for a person with impairment?’ A participant said that ‘falling in love for sighted people, is so fast!’ Nidhi discussed how romance starts with eyes in most films and music videos. She tried to bust the myth that romance cannot happen without eyes, and that there are other ways to engage someone. We moved on to the hindi song “Gandi Baat” with the participants trying to figure out what exactly that meant. During the lunch break, however, Anil Rajput, a participant who had completed a Diploma course on Special Education at Nasik under DU, suggested that we should have workshops with sighted people at a college as well, to ensure the change in mindsets. After the break, we split into 4 groups and discussed the case studies. Different themes of choice, age, responsibility, right-wrong, duty, desirability etc came about in their presentations of the discussion. For example, group 1 had the case of a V.I. girl named Radhika who was being warned by her friends to leave her sighted boyfriend as it is difficult to trust him, or that he could leave her any time. After working the problem out, the conclusion drawn up was that Radhika and her boyfriend should win their friends’ trust together.
There was a discussion on how many trust issues or rejection faced by V.I. people are also faced by non-disabled people. The idea of being single/alone was also talked about. ‘There is no age or do-or-die stage when it comes to finding love,’ said Nidhi. This was followed by a conversation on consent, and later the participants were shown tactile models of the male and female organs to help them understand one another better. Overall, the participants had as much fun attending this workshop as we did conducting it.