The Melbourne disability & sexuality scene – and more!

After finishing fieldwork in Sydney/New South Wales, I went to Melbourne/Victoria to meet with colleagues and visit organisations. It was interesting to notice the differences in policy between the two states. Although this was not part of my fieldwork, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the country, both culturally and with regards to policy approaches. For example, there does not exist an organisation like Touching Base, since the laws around sex work are different.

My first stop in Melbourne was actually in another city called Geelong, where Deakin university has a campus. I have been in contact with Russell Shuttleworth since my PhD research since we do similar work around sexual facilitation and people with mobility impairments. It was great to finally meet in person! He had arranged for me to give a presentation on my current study, as well as set up meetings with other researchers. First, we met with George Taleporos, who used to run a group called The Sexuality and Disability Alliance, and with whom Russell conducted a study on sexual facilitation.

Photo description: Me, George and Russell looking into the camera, smiling. George is in his power chair and Russel and I stand beside him on each side. The background is a wooden-looking wall.

The second meeting was with Patsie Frawley, Amie O’Shea and Dieu Nguyen. Patsie and Amie have conducted several research projects around people with intellectual disability and sexuality, relationships, sexual health, abuse and so on. Even though we focus on different impairment groups, our common interest in sexual rights and sexual citizenship led us to many interesting discussions! For example, regarding the very fluid notion of consent, which we grapple with from different perspectives. On the photo (below) the four of us are showing their past publications on these topics, which resulted in materials and methods to work with communities. Together with Dieu, they are now commissioned by Synapse, a national organisation working for those affected by brain injury, to do a similar project. It was really interesting and impressive to hear about their inclusive research methods, which also extended to how the projects are carried out in the communities.

This theme brings me to my next presentation and study visit, which was at Inclusion Melbourne, an organisation providing community-based day services to adults with people with intellectual disability. They have an inclusive approach to their service delivery and the way projects are set up. They also work a lot with broader inclusion issues such as LGBT and democratic citizenship (electoral inclusion). A couple of years ago I met with Nathan Despott in Sweden, who is the manager of Inclusion Designlab, that innovates projects and services. It was great to meet again and hear more about their work in the designlab, which is really different compared to Swedish services.

Photo description: I’m standing in the middle, Nathan and Glenda to the right, Jenna and Robert to the left. We’re standing in front of an Inclusion Melbourne roll-up, smiling and facing the camera. 

I also took the opportunity to meet with AFDO, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations. Even though they have not worked specifically on sexuality, it was great to chat with Patrick McGee about the cultural context, both with regards to the disability movement, and the society in general, regarding the way in which sexual rights issues are dealt with.

Photo description: Patrick and I in front of an AFDO roll-up. It’s a close shot with us smiling and not really succeeding in looking into the camera!

Similarly, I learned about the context of disability and LGBT issues by attending a talk by Jax Jacki Brown, by whom I’ve read an interesting article about Scope’s sex and disability campaign, which is part of my research. I also met with Jodie Saxton, an aboriginal Deaf lesbian woman, who gave many insights into indigenous perspectives on LGTB issues.

Finally, I had the pleasure to meet with Helen Meekosha, whose article on disability and intersectionality I’ve used many times in my work. I was therefore a bit starstruck! Apart from her academic work, she is a patron of Touching Base and one of the founding members of WWDA, Women with Disabilities Australia, so we had a great time discussing feminist disability issues. WWDA’s Position Statement on Sexual and Reproductive Rights is great!

Photo description from WWDA Facebook page: Two women, Julia Bahner and Helen Meekosha, sit at a round, copper-colored outdoor table, on a wooden deck with green foliage and red brick wall in the background. Both are smiling and looking toward the camera.

Before returning to Leeds to analyse all these exciting new findings, I’m stopping over in Japan to hang out with Tomoko Hikuma and her family. Tomoko was until recently a visiting professor in the Centre for Disability Studies in Leeds. She has arranged two seminars/lectures for me in Tokyo and Nagoya, respectively, and apart from that I look forward to exploring yet another part of the world that is new to me!