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Survivors of 1980s AIDS crisis reveal what happened to them


In Honor of World AIDS Day


From the role of lesbians to the vanishing of whole neighborhoods, real LGBTI people share their experiences

by Joe Morgan

Survivors of the 1980s AIDS crisis have shared accounts of their experiences.

As the UK celebrates LGBT History Month, users of Reddit revealed what it was like to be living in what felt like a constant state of tragedy.

Real LGBTI people remember the confusion, the lack of information, the lack of support from the government because of the suffering from the virus known only at the time as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency).

‘I’m a 62-year-old gay man. I thankfully made it through the epidemic that started in the early 80s and went right through the mid-90’s. You ask what it was like? I don’t know if I can even begin to tell you how many ways AIDS has affected my life, even though I never caught the virus,’ one user said.

‘By the early 80s, I had what I would consider a really large circle of friends and acquaintances and once the epidemic really started to hit, it was not uncommon to find out three, four or more people you knew had died each month. We set up informal and formal support groups to look after our friends who took sick. Feeding them when they would eat. Changing them. Washing them. Acting as go-between with families who “were concerned” about their sons, nephews, brothers, etc., but wouldn’t lend a hand to help because AIDS was, you know, icky.

‘After they passed, there were memorial services to plan with no real time to grieve because when one passed, you were needed somewhere else to begin the process all over again.

‘I kept a memory book/photo album of everyone I knew that died of AIDS. It’s quite large to say the least. Who were these guys? These were the people I had planned to grow old with. They were the family I had created and wanted to spend the rest of my life with as long as humanly possible but by the time I was in my late 40s, every one of them was gone except for two dear friends of mine.

‘All we have left of those days are each other, our memories and pictures. I hope that statement doesn’t come off as pitiful though. I am fit, active, healthy and you know what? I enjoy every single day of my life. I enjoy it because most of my friends can’t. In my own personal way, I want to honor their lives by living and enjoying mine.’


Another user said: ‘It was flat out scary. every guy you met was like a possible time bomb. especially the early period when we knew very little about it – didn’t know if you could get it by kissing, by holding hands…

‘Then lots of your friends or friends of friends get sick and sicker and then die. And you never ever quit being really really fucking pissed off about the whole thing. I’m alive today due to sheer randomness.’

And another said: ‘If you were living in the Castro in San Francisco, everyone in the neighborhood was gay… So it wasn’t just your friends that were dying, it was your whole neighborhood. One day your mailman would be replaced, the next day that flower shop was gone… You wouldn’t be invited to the funeral, so it was just like people were disappearing.’

‘It was madness. It was terribly cruel,’ another Redditor said. ‘It was inexplicable and unexplained, for a very long time. Research was underfunded, and in many cases large institutions and public figures rooted for it to be happening. People died suddenly of unexplainable things. Toe fungus! Tongue thrush! Rashes. Eyes welling up with blood. Horrible shit.

‘Everyone knew it was hitting gay men, nobody knew what it was. They called it the gay cancer. People were very superstitious. I had handfuls of groceries and man lectured me on not pressing the elevator buttons with my nose because I could catch AIDS from it. Yes. That happened.’

A lesbian of the era said: ‘While I was not ‘at risk’ (per se, we know more these days), we all lost many good friends. It is true that there is a somewhat mystifying (to me) separatist attitude between some gay men and lesbians, especially back then, this tragic time really brought us together.

‘Sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill friend, and just holding their hand when everyone else was just terrified, was a gift I was one of those willing to give.

‘No one should die alone, and no one should be in the hospital on their death beds with family calling to say “this was gods punishment”. My friends and I, men and women, acted as a protective layer for ill friends, and companion to mutual friends juggling the same, difficult reality of trying to be there, and be strong when we were losing our family right and left. Difficult times, that should never be forgotten.’


Another Redditor paid tribute to the role of lesbians, calling them ‘every bit as heroic as soldiers on the front lines of any war’.

‘These women walked directly into the fire and through it, and they did not have to. And that they did it even as some of the gay men they took care of treated them with bitchiness, scorn, and contempt.

‘It was, at the time, not at all unusual for gay men to snicker as the bull dyke walked into the bar with her overalls and flannels and fades. Much of the time, it was casual ribbing which they took in stride. But it could also be laced with acid, especially when lesbians began gravitating toward a bar that had until then catered largely to men.

‘When the AIDS crisis struck, it would be many of these same women who would go straight from their jobs during the day to acting as caregivers at night. Because most of them lacked medical degrees, they were generally relegated to the most unpleasant tasks: wiping up puke and shit, cleaning up houses and apartments neglected for weeks and months. But not being directly responsible for medical care also made them the most convenient targets for the devastating anger and rage these men felt – many who’d been abandoned by their own family and friends.

‘These women walked directly into the fire. They came to the aid of gay men even when it was unclear how easily the virus could be transmitted. Transmission via needlestick was still a concern, so they often wore two or three layers of latex gloves to protect themselves, but more than once I saw them, in their haste and frustration, dispense with the gloves so that they could check for fevers, or hold a hand that hung listlessly from the edge of a bed whose sheets they had just laundered.

‘They provided aid, comfort, and medical care to men withering away in hospices, men who’d already lost their lovers and friends to the disease and spent their last months in agony. They’d been abandoned by their own families, and were it not for lesbians – many if not most of them volunteers – they would have suffered alone. And when there was nothing more medicine could do for them and their lungs began to fill with fluid, it was often these same women who’d be left to administer enough morphine to release them, given to them by the doctor who had left the room and would return 15 minutes later to sign the certificate (a common practice at the time).

‘I knew a woman around that time who’d had at one point been making bank in construction. But at the outset of the AIDS crisis she had abandoned her career to pursue nursing instead, and was close to her degree when we were hanging out. She was a big, hearty drinker, and fortunately so was I. We’d been utterly thrashed at a bar once when someone whispered a fairly benign but nonetheless unwelcoming comment about her. Middle fingers were exchanged, and afterwards, furious and indignant, I asked her, Why do you do it? Why did you abandon a career to take care of these assholes who still won’t pay you any respect?

‘She cut me a surprisingly severe look, held it and said, “Honey, because no one else is going to do it.” I remember feeling ashamed after that, because my fury and indignation weren’t going to clean blood and puke off the floor; it wasn’t going to do the shit that needed to get done.

‘HIV killed my friends, took my lover from me, and tore up my life. During that time, I did what I could. But nothing I did then or have ever been called to do in my life puts me anywhere near the example set by the lesbians I knew in the 80s and 90s. I’ve felt obligated to remember what they did, and to make sure other people remember it too.’

Complete Article HERE!

My Sex Positive Doctrine

Have you ever wondered about the term, sex positive?

If you’re like me, you see it all over the place, especially on sex-related sites. I confess I use it way more often than I should. It’s become one of those industry buzzwords that has, over time, become so fuzzy around the edges that it’s now virtually meaningless. In fact, if the truth be known, I believe the term sex positive has been taken over by the sex Taliban who have made it a cover for their strict code of political correctness. Oddly enough, this is the very antithesis of its original meaning.

sex-on-the-brainIf you want to shame someone in the sex field—be it a sex worker, blogger or adult product manufacturer—you label that person as sex-negative. You may not know anything about that person other than you were offended by something they did, said or made. But still, you hurl the epithet as if you were exorcising a heretic. This is a very powerful tool for keeping people in my industry in line. But I’ve begun to wonder, who is setting themselves up as the arbiter of what is and what is not sex positive? I have to ask: What is the agenda? I mean, could compulsory ideological purity of some artificial standards of thought or behavior be “positive” anything? I say, no!

Like all good ideas that have gone bad due to overuse—or worse, sloppy use—the sex positive concept once had meaning that was life-affirming and enriching. Sex positive has been in the lexicon at least since the mid-1950s. It frequently appears in journals and research papers to describe a movement that examines and advocates for all the other beneficial aspects of sex beyond reproduction.

I’ve been using the term since 1981 when I opened my practice in Clinical Sexology and Sexual Health Care. The opening words of my mission statement read: “I affirm the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond.” Way back then, I was flush with my quixotic pursuit to stand steadfast against all the cultural pressures to negate or denigrate sexuality and pleasure. I dedicated myself to spreading the gospel that healthy attitudes toward sex not only affect a person’s sex life, but his/her ability to relate well with others.

This came relatively easy for me, because I’d learned something very important about evangelization in my life as a Catholic priest. (Another quixotic pursuit, but we’ll have to save the details of that misadventure for another time. Or you could read about it HERE!) One of the first things one learns in seminary is how to proselytize, to sow the seeds of a creed, and then nurture them taking root by endless repetition of the articles of faith. Of course there is a downside to this, too. Repetition fosters mindlessness, stifles creative thought, and worse makes things boring.Negative-Positive

But the creed statements of the world’s three great monotheistic religions are masterful works of theological art.

  • Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam!
  • Allaahu Akbar!
  • In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Each contains the most profound kernel of religious truth the believer needs to know, but all are easy enough for a child to learn. And like I said, the secret is in the repetition. For the true devotee, these creedal statements are uttered dozens of times a day and to great effect.

Early on in my career as a sexologist, I decided to put the principles I learned in the Church into disseminating my new belief system. First, keep the message simple! I settled on: “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” This has been my mantra for decades. It contains everything you need to know about being sex positive, but it’s easy enough for a child to learn. Even now it soothes me to hear myself say these words. And it comforts me in the same way blessing myself did in my priestly days.

sex positiveDespite my apprehensions, I continue to be an apostle of the sex positive doctrine. I know that even though my industry has corrupted the concept, others have yet to hear the good news. And there’s something almost spiritual about seeing someone grasp the idea for the first time. Let me tell you about one such instance. Some time ago I was asked to address a group of doctors on the topic Health Care Concerns Of Sexually Diverse Populations. Unfortunately, just a handful of doctors attended the workshop—which was pretty disconcerting, considering all the work I’d put into the presentation. I guess that’s why kinksters and pervs, as well as your run-of-the-mill queer folk, are often frustrated in their search for sensitive and lifestyle-attuned healing and helping professionals.

Since the group of doctors attending was so small, I decided to ask them to pull their chairs in a circle so that our time together could be a bit more informal and intimate. Frankly, I’ve never found it easy talking to doctors about sex; and discussing kinky sex was surely going to be very tricky. So, I decided to start off as gently as I could. My opening remarks included the phrases “sex positive” and “kink positive.”

Sitting as close to my audience as I was, I could see at once that these fundamental concepts weren’t registering with them. I was astonished. Here was a group of physicians, each with a large urban practice. Could they really be this out of touch? I quickly checked in with them to see if my perception was correct. I was right! None of them had heard the term, sex positive. The two who hazarded a guess at its meaning thought it had something to do with being HIV+. I had my work cut out for me.

I decided to share my creed with them. “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” I asked them repeat it with me as if I were teaching a catechism to children. Surprisingly, they did so without resistance. After we repeated the mantra a couple more times, I exposed them to the sex positive doctrine unencumbered by political correctness.

  • Sex Is Good! Sex is a positive force in human development; the pursuit of pleasure, including sexual pleasure, is at the very foundation of a harmonious society.
  • And Good Sex Is Even Better! The individual makes that determination. For example, what I decide is good sex for me, may be boring sex to someone else. And their good sex may be hair-raising to me. In other words, consensual sexual expression is a basic human right regardless of the form that expression takes. And it’s not appropriate for me, or anyone else, to call into question someone else’s consensual affectional choices.
  • Sex Is Good! Everyone has a right to clear, unambiguous sexual health information. It must be presented in a nonjudgmental way, particularly from his or her health care providers. And sexual health encompasses a lot more then just disease prevention, and contraception.
  • And Good Sex Is Even Better! The focus is on the affirmative aspects of sexuality, like sexual pleasure. Sexual wellbeing is more than simply being able to perform. It also means taking responsibility for one’s eroticism as an integral part of one’s personality and involvement with others.
  • Sex Is Good! Each person is unique and that must be respected. Our aim as healing and helping professionals is to provide information and guidance that will help the individual approach his/her unique sexuality in a realistic and responsible manner. This will foster his/her independent growth, personal integrity, as well as provide a more joyful experience of living.
  • And Good Sex Is Even Better! Between the extremes of total sexual repression and relentless sexual pursuit, a person can find that unique place, where he/she is free to live a life of self-respect, enjoyment and love.

Finally I told them they ought to think creatively how they could adapt this concept to their own practice. It was up to each of them to make this creed their own. As it turned out, this primer was just the thing to open my planned discussion of health care for kinksters.

In a way this experience was a bit of a spiritual reawakening for me, too. Despite my misgivings about the contamination of the sex positive doctrine by malicious people bent on using it as a weapon against those they disagree with. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to watch these sex positive novices hear, and then embrace, the message for the first time. It was nothing short of a religious experience.

Weed Lube Is Not Lube

But It Apparently Works Magic on Vaginas

Sensual cannabis

Sensual cannabis oil magnifies sensitivity and sensation.

People are freaking out over weed lube. Rightly so, I guess, because it’s apparently magical. But while weed lube is lubricating, it isn’t lube, per se. As in, its main use is not to facilitate intercourse.

Lena Davidson, the marketing manager for botanicaSEATTLE—the company behind BOND Sensual Oil—told me that what most people would call weed lube is really more of a massage oil. Like other cannabis topicals and unlike a traditional lube, it takes 20 to 40 minutes to work and is a self-contained experience that can be enhanced by sex. Being oil-based, it is also not latex safe. People call it weed lube, she says, because we’re basically all teenage boys and we can’t talk about weed or sex without snickering.

As much fun as it is to giggle about getting one’s “pussy stoned” (as Vice did), weed lube is serious business. Sensual cannabis oil, as it is more accurately called, has all sorts of awesome ramifications for sexual equity. Davidson pointed out that while there are more than 26 products approved by the FDA to treat sexual dysfunction in men, there is only one approved for women, and it is the subject of much controversy. Sensual cannabis oil is a long way off from FDA approval, but judging from testimonials thus far, it seems to be doing consistently what that one drug does inconsistently: increasing female sexual pleasure. Women who have used BOND reported “ethereal, long-lasting, and out of this world” sexual experiences, and the ability to rapidly “peak… and then do it again quite quickly,” according to testimonials on BOND’s website. Multiple orgasms are apparently common.

Cannabis-LubeHow does it work? Davidson writes: “THC is absorbed through the mucous membranes that are in high concentrations in a woman’s vagina. Once applied and absorbed, THC acts locally on the cannabinoid receptors, much like an edible. Functionally, the THC dilates the capillaries and increases blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in our body—this enhanced microcirculation magnifies sensitivity and sensation.” (She also mentioned that this same capillary reaction is what causes stoney red eyes.) The experience is not like the head high one gets from smoking or eating weed, but rather a localized sensation of pleasure, users report.

It’s also important to note that, at least here in Washington, sensual cannabis oil is safe. Davidson cautioned that not all weed lube is created equal, but BOND and Ethos Extracts‘ Temptress are made in a WSDA-approved kitchen with food-grade organic coconut oil and ultra-pure cannabis extracts. Coconut oil, though unfriendly to latex, is ideal for internal use because of its natural pH-balancing and antimicrobial qualities.

While the potential to help women with issues such as vaginismus (vaginal pain) and low libido is great in its own right, perhaps the most exciting thing about sensual cannabis oil is that it is a decidedly non-heteronormative phenomenon. What I mean by that is it takes the focus off of the penis as the center of sexual pleasure, where it has been for far too long.

My good friend Kat, a big proponent of sensual cannabis oil and the source of much of my education on feminism, put it thusly: “It’s unfortunately common during heteronormative sex that women feel like their partner’s ejaculative experience is the focal point. I’m usually acutely aware of the other person’s level of satisfaction, which takes me away from my own body. With the weed lube, I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m getting it and it feels fucking amazing.’ I’m actually relaxed and stimulated enough to invest in my own delectation.”Cannabis

And though much has been made of sensual cannabis oil not working for men, that’s not entirely true. It doesn’t work well for selfish straight men who are only interested in receiving blowjobs and having vaginal intercourse (because the penis does not absorb the cannabis oil in the same way that the vagina does). It does, however, work really well for men (and women) who are into anal play, as the absorption of THC through the back door is rapid. Used anally, sensual cannabis oil does not offer the same direct enhancement of physical sensation as it does to the vagina, but it does get you high as fuck, which enhances sex in its own right. Also, anyone willing to perform a little enthusiastic cunnilingus—as any self-respecting straight dude should be—will get a light edible-style buzz. Basically, anything that has not traditionally been part of the penis-obsessed, heteronormative sexual canon is made better with sensual cannabis oil. If that isn’t sweet sexual justice, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of sexual justice, sensual cannabis oil also works well for older women—another segment of the population whose sexual lives are often not valued in the heteronormative conversation. Women’s bodies produce less lubrication during and after menopause, and older women can also suffer from decreased libido and other sexual difficulties—problems that sensual cannabis oil can help with. Edward Lafferty, Ethos’s CEO, said that women older than 45 and gay men make up the bulk of his business for the Temptress oil. During product testing of BOND, “nearly every woman had a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” said Davidson. And “for women who had felt estranged from their innate sexuality by age or physical conditions, it instigated a wave of natural physiological desire.”

Davidson worries that those who might benefit most from sensual cannabis oil will not do so because of the continued cultural awkwardness around weed, sex, and weedy sex. She pointed out that women are statistically less likely to try cannabis products in general, let alone walk into a weed store and ask a scruffy dude about something as personal as their sexual health. What’s more, sensual cannabis oil is still perceived as a sex-shop novelty—something for young party people to rub on one another after the rave, not something that can help women have more sexually fulfilling lives.

But, as Lafferty put it, “The people who use it need it. It’s important. We can be squeamish, but it works.” So let’s get one thing straight: Weed lube isn’t lube, and it’s also not a novelty. According to many of those who’ve tried it, it’s a godsend. recommended

Complete Article HERE!

Death Is Way More Complicated When You’re Polyamorous

By Simon Davis

death become her

Screencap via ‘Death Becomes Her’

In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”

That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.

There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.

“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”

Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.

McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.

This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.

Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.

But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.

Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”

It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”

Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.

In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.

In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.

More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”

Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”

He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”

Complete Article HERE!

These Volunteers Give Handjobs to the Severely Disabled

By Nelson Moura and Yun jie Zou


Hand Angels helping Andy from his wheelchair into bed.

Andy is a muscular dystrophy patient who lives with his parents in southern Taiwan. Due to his severe physical disability, he was home-schooled and couldn’t leave his house alone, so never really had the opportunity to develop either an active social life or a romantic relationship.

When the Taiwanese NGO Hand Angel—an organization promoting the sexual rights of disabled people—first spoke to Andy, they realized this situation meant he’d also never been able to have a frank conversation with anyone about his sexuality. And as a young gay man who didn’t want to speak to his parents about his feelings, this wasn’t exactly the healthiest situation to be in.

So, over the course of a few months, representatives from the NGO counseled Andy online, helping him to understand his own sexuality and place in the world. Next, they “smuggled” him out of his house and took him to a motel for a handjob.

Taiwan—officially known as the Republic of China—has one of the best health systems in the world; its million or so disabled citizens receive some of the most thorough medical attention you’ll find, including everything from long-term care to traditional herbal medicine. What they don’t receive from this system, however, is any kind of aid when it comes to slightly more intimate issues, namely: orgasms.

It was for this reason that a group of social campaigners and volunteers took it upon themselves to create Hand Angel, an NGO whose main service is giving handjobs to the severely disabled. Members say that their work raises awareness of the fact that disabled people are often depicted as desexualized—as well as having their sexuality constantly neglected—despite the fact they share exactly the same desires as anybody else.

In the Netherlands, the national health system provides a grant scheme for people with disabilities to receive public money to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year. In Taiwan, sex remains a taboo, and some Buddhists—the sovereign state’s primary religion—believe that someone suffering from a disability means they’re paying for bad deeds in a past life. So not the best mix for those like Andy, really.

“I can’t tell my parents that I also have sexual desires, and I can’t come out of the closet in front them,” he told me. “My family’s care puts lots of pressure [on me] and sabotages me from normal romantic relations.”

Vincent, the 50-year-old founder of Hand Angel, lost his legs to polio and says his disability allows him to better empathize with applicants’ needs, without any of the patronization disabled people can sometimes face. He emphasized that “disabled people share the same physical and emotional needs as any others, and therefore should have the right to pursue them.”

In order to decide who’s entitled to use their services, Hand Angel first assess an applicant’s level of disability. The person has to be recognized by the government as having a serious physical impairment, but can’t be mentally disabled. Once they’re cleared, the service is totally free, but each applicant can only receive three bouts of sexual stimulation.

Volunteers—the group of 10 people actually giving the handjobs—come from varied backgrounds; some are gay, some are straight, some are disabled, some are PhD students, some are social campaigners and some work in the media. It’s made very clear to me that these volunteers only use their hands for second-base kind of stuff—that hugging, caressing, and kissing on the face are all fine, but anything penetrative (fingering, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex) is not.


The hands of Hand Angel volunteers

When Hand Angel took Andy to the motel, the volunteer caressed him thoroughly and gave him a handjob. He described the intimacy being so intense that, for a minute, he believed he was in love. He knew it was only temporary, of course, but the experience provided him with an emotional connection he’d never felt before.

This is part of Hand Angel’s mission: not just providing a sexual service, but also bringing forth an emotional and social transformation in applicants.

“[Andy] was very introverted before, and didn’t really know how to interact with people,” said Vincent. “However, through months of talking online, I discovered something changed inside him. When our group was reported by the media and got lots of criticism, I saw Andy joined the public debate and argued with those [critical] internet users, trying to illustrate his opinions.”

In Taiwan, where a discussion of sexuality is restrained by strict moral codes, there was also plenty of mockery leveled at Hand Angel. Internet users starting posting comments like: “Do they also offer ‘Mouth Angels?'”; “I’m retarded; can I apply for Hand Angel service, too?”; and “Only three times in a lifetime?”

There even appeared to be negativity on an official level. The executive secretary of the Taipei United Social Wealth Alliance, Yi-Ting Hu, commented on the NGO, saying: “Speaking from personal opinion, I don’t think we need to bring up disabled people’s sexuality as an independent issue. There are more important and urgent problems we need to deal with. Don’t you think if you advocate their sexual rights, it is like another form of discrimination?”

Of course, he seemed to only be proving Hand Angels’ point; to suggest that advocating a disabled person’s sexual rights is a form of discrimination is, first, patronizing in itself, and secondly, just completely bizarre—how is consensually receiving a handjob in any way discriminatory?

Andy summed it up: “I didn’t feel I was the target of pity. The whole process was full of respect and equality. This might be deemed as controversial by society, but as long as you’re willing to look into it, what we desire is no different from others. Just ask yourself: do you need to consult your parents before having sex?”

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