October 27th, 2021 An Interview with Belinda ’Bel’ Downes for Disabled Ace Day
In this series, we interview a variety of Disabled Aces with diverse backgrounds in honor of #DisabledAceDay and in conjunction with Ace Week.
Coming to us all the way from Newcastle, NSW, Australia, we have a brilliant interview with Belinda Downes AKA Bel. 50 year olds are not often featured in asexual spaces, nor are facial differences spoken about as often as they should in disability contexts, but Bel has the experience to give us a unique insight into both of these identities. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from her and I’m sure you will too!
Please introduce yourself! How do you identify in terms of asexuality, disability, passions, professions, or anything else you’d like to share with us?
I’m definitely Ace. I came out to some colleagues at work about 10 years ago. I’m currently thinking about whether I’m aromantic or not, I’ve recently been challenged on this point and well, I’m thinking about how I’ve defined ‘romantic’. I’m a Linguist/Language Scientist by profession so defining things is part of my jam. I’ll get there.
Disability wise, I have a great face that tells one story for those [who] aren’t in the know – that people with facial differences are average people who have a lot projected onto us. It surprises people when I tell them that they can’t see my facial disability, the Tessier Cleft repair, all they can see is the (awesome) scars from the repair. I have a visual impairment and muscular issues from the cleft. The scars on the other hand are awesome.
I’m passionate about seeing people with facial differences in a proper context, as a contributing part of the communities we live in, not special or people to be feared. I’m also passionate about seeing gambling reform (especially poker machines) in Australia.
I wrote a chapter in the amazing ‘Growing Up Disabled in Australia’ anthology published by Black Inc Books and edited by the powerhouse Carly Findlay. I talked there about my background with a family member with a poker machine addiction. One of the things I’ve heard anecdotally is that not a few people with gambling addictions are isolated in their communities because of perceived differences, whether that be Disability, sexuality, age or other factors. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll also see me retweeting about climate and health. I’m a bit out of my depth there, but it matters to me.
All of these things have something in common, I’m a big believer in fair representation and hearing each other’s real voices, even when it’s scary.
How do your asexual and disabled identities interact with one another and what unique challenges have you faced while living at this intersection?
So many people confuse Asexuality and non-sexuality. ‘Non-sexuality’ or the erasure of a dialogue around sexual identity and expression is a major issue in Disability. I was never challenged about my sexuality by others because I grew up in a conservative Australian Christian community. I didn’t have a partner, still haven’t, and oh how convenient that was. I still love these people, though I’m not conservative myself.
One fun story was when a group of my older friends who held this position told themselves and others that I was living in the ‘lower floor’ of a one floor house. My new housemate was male, so of course I couldn’t be living in the second bedroom, could I?, but apparently I COULD live in the dirt under the house!
I though I was abstaining through these years, but actually I know now that I’m personally sex-disinterested, but also sex-positive. I’ve had a few debates with well meaning conservative people who believe that Disabled people shouldn’t meet their legitimate needs for sexual expression in a safe way, even if I personally don’t feel the need to express myself that way. I feel sad and a little bit angry when I hear that.
Have you personally experienced any ableism from within the asexual or other LGBTQ2IA+ communities?
Fortunately not personally. I have heard about it happening, but I have age privilege, I’m 50, so I think I get shielded from that. I wish everyone was.
Have you personally experienced any acephobia from the disability community?
Again no fortunately.
What advice do you have for folks who wish to become better allies to disabled aces?
Listen to and believe what people are saying about themselves. Don’t project, ask. Admit what you don’t know. That goes for everyone actually, especially if you don’t agree with or understand someone’s opinion or point of view. You don’t have to agree with their position.
I think the overarching issue here is that Disability and Sexuality rights are human rights, not ‘special’ rights that people see when they are called out or there’s a ‘special’ day/week/month. Having said that... Ace Week is pretty... well... Ace!
Shameless self-promotion time! Do you have a business, project, artwork, or other content we should know about? Give us those links!
My current projects are my day job, teaching Linguistics, and my chat series ‘The Reconnection Conversations’, if you’re reading this you might especially be interested in my chat with my friend and sexologist Jayne McCartney, which can be found here.