Neoliberal Sexualities

Not all in the disability community agree with the philosophy of sakatsume shingo and the (paid) sex volunteers of white Hands. Kumashino yoshihiko is a man with cerebral palsy who founded a registered nonprofit organization called noir (noāru), which “supports the sexuality of people with disabilities” by providing links to sexual service providers, social networking, and a blog.8 in 2001, Kumashino published A Hurdle of Only Five Centimeters, in which he wrote about his own sexual experiences, starting with a delivery call girl who helped him lose his virginity.

In January 2012, i interviewed Mr. Kumashino in a café in tokyo. At the time he was engaged in a crusade to make mainstream soaplands, love hotels, and other venues for barrier-free sex. Kumashino believes that sex volunteers and other organizations such as white Hands operate from a fundamentally wrong attitude of paternalism toward men with disabilities. He sees them as providing a separate but unequal service that feeds off of people with disabilities. Referring to the older average age of white Hands workers (as noted, in their forties), he asked me, “why do we accept this?” If the market for sexual services was fully accessible, Kumashino felt that people (men) with disabilities would be able to choose more desirable partners than the limited selection at white Hands. I nodded my head but internally wondered about some of the biases that Kumashino was expressing.

Kumashino believes that if white Hands and similar organizations wish to take the high road and be seen as the moral and functional equivalents to personal care assistants for people with disabilities, then ejaculatory assistance provided through such organizations should be done on a same-sex basis. He argues that when able-bodied men masturbate, the hand that performs the act is a male hand; thus it is a same-sex act. When a disabled male calls in assistance, the service provider should be male as he is acting as an extension of the client's will. Otherwise, these organizations should just admit that they are running specialized brothels, as they are in fact doing under Japanese law. In his book and his blog, Kumashino writes about his experiences with various soaplands and other commercial services. One of Kumashino's side businesses is serving as a paid design consultant to soaplands and love hotel owners who wish to remodel some of their rooms as handicap accessible, “barrier free” in the Japanese parlance.

When i interviewed him, it had been ten years since he had come out with his book. I asked him what had changed in the last ten years, and his face darkened. He said that not much had changed. His call to arms (so to speak) for men with disabilities to be more open and demanding about their need for sexual services met with very little public reaction. While his e-mail box was overfilled with private requests for introductions to amenable delivery health services, very few people with disabilities attended his public talks in person, and none of the mainline disability organizations took him up on his offer to speak at their events. He felt that the fundamental problem was that men with disabilities in Japan just did not have the confidence yet to speak to their caregivers (often their parents) about their needs. They were still too stuck in acting the role of the “good person with disabilities” by not being a burden on other people and not expressing their own needs, especially the baser ones.

Sexual Rights for People with Disabilities

In 2005, Kuramoto tomoaki put together an edited volume titled Sexuality and Disability Studies, which explored the location of sexuality within disability. In his provocative introduction, he pondered whether people with disabilities should be considered “sexually disadvantaged/handicapped” (seiteki jakusha) and what the rights of PwDs would be within liberal frameworks such as those proposed by the philosopher John rawls.

Within the disability community in Japan, there appear to be two ways of viewing people with disabilities in regard to sexual desire. In one view, people like Kuramoto (who is blind) would argue that there is nothing about having a disability that necessarily would make one unable to have sex (in any of its variant forms) or be sexually unattractive to other people. The problem is either internal (psychological) or external (discrimination). This would be the stance that Kumashino of noir holds as well. The solution is to reduce perceived discrimination against people with disabilities, as well as to make facilities and services fully accessible.

The other view (which Kuramoto notes as well) is that there are certainly Some people for whom sex, whether by themselves alone or with someone else, is physically very difficult. Whether it is someone with cerebral palsy whose hands are shaking too much to masturbate or someone who needs assistance to get onto a bed, there are very real physical barriers to full participation. This would be the stance that white Hands takes. In our interview, sakatsume noted that many men with severe cerebral palsy find it difficult if not impossible to grab their own penis.

From an economic and social justice perspective, sakatsume noted that many men with disabilities in Japan cannot find work because of their condition and because of social prejudice. As a result, these men are on social welfare and disability pensions and cannot afford regular release through commercial services, which charge at least ¥30,000 ($300) or more for a full session. White Hands thus fulfills a basic social need by providing low-cost release to people with disabilities. This analysis, of course, elides some of the gender issues raised above related to women with disabilities.

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