This artist is proving you can be disabled, queer and sexually active one powerful illustration at a time
Illustrator Dandy Doodlez has opened up about sex, the intersection between queerness and disability, and why the LGBT+ community is so inaccessible.
Dandy developed Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a complex neurological disease that presents with symptoms in multiple body systems, around two years ago and she told PinkNews: “Overnight, I sort of lost everything in my life.”
“I was a very active person,” she said. “I was doing a degree, and I was working for Oxfam. I was doing all these different things, and it just suddenly struck me down.
“I lost the ability to walk, to tolerate light or sound, to read, to count. I had all of this joint and muscle pain, and fatigue.
“I spent about just over a year in the dark in my room. I couldn’t tolerate any kind of light. I had to wear my sunglasses in bed. It was it was very, very extreme.”
Having been isolated for so long, I didn’t really have a voice.
Before she developed ME, Dandy’s biggest passions were writing novels and music, and she desperately needed a creative outlet. At the beginning of 2020, it was suggested to her that she could start drawing using an iPad (with the light settings “way down”).
“I found it was really, is really a great way of expressing myself,” she said.
“Having been isolated for so long, I didn’t really have a voice. So I started to post these things on Instagram as a way of connecting with other disabled people and queer people, just like having that sense of community.
“From there it just kind of exploded.”
Dandy began receiving messages from companies who wanted to work with her, and was even commissioned by Warner Brothers and the BBC. But her most recent project she describes as “astounding”.
Sex toy company Lovehoney has entered into a partnership with disability start-up Handi to overhaul the taboos on sex and disability through a new book, titled The Handi Book of Love, Lust & Disability, which features the stories and poetry of 50 disabled contributors.
Dandy was originally approached to be one of the contributors but while in talks with Handi, she found herself “offhandedly” offering to illustrate the entire book, on top of contributing her story.
“It was so wonderful,” she said. “It was so valuable to me personally, to have a goal, to have a focus.
“Because I think part of becoming disabled, when you’re very active person before, you kind of feel like you lose your purpose, your aim… This was something I could get my teeth into.
“It really felt like I got to know everyone I was drawing. I mean, they don’t all know me. But I know them.”
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Dandy has encountered many misconceptions about sex and disability since she became ill.
There’s this intersection of being queer and being disabled, and a lot of the time people can’t hold those two identities in the head, you have to do one or the other.
She said: “A very simple one is that people think we don’t have sex. It’s so fundamental.
“They think that we don’t want sex or we don’t have normal human desires. Once you become disabled, you’re just completely stripped of all sexual desire, which is of course not true.”
Dandy continued: “The main thing for me, is that there’s this intersection of being queer and being disabled. And a lot of the time people can’t hold those two identities in the head, you have to do one or the other.
“Because they don’t see you as a sexual being, they then can’t make the jump to think you could be lesbian or gay or trans or could be any of these things.
“Personally, I find that very painful, because I only just came out as queer right before I got ill.”
The LGBT+ community doesn’t think that we exist.
When Dandy came out as queer, she was “very active” in her local LGBT+ community, even organising her small town’s first ever Pride parade.
“It was an amazing day,” she said. “But it was the end of that day, I remember is was about 6pm, that I just collapsed. So I had that vindication, and then it was like I couldn’t function anymore. Which was very painful.”
Becoming disabled shortly after coming out showed Dandy just how inaccessible the LGBT+ community can be.
She said: “For example, there is a very small LGBT+ meet up within my town, but it’s up a huge flight of stairs, so I can’t get up.
“There’s this huge issue within the queer community. So many venues are inaccessible. You get parade routes that are inaccessible. It’s an afterthought, and I think it’s such a shame.
“I think the huge misconception is that the community doesn’t think that we exist.”
She added: “I mean, I’ve found another community. So I’ve kind of transposed. But there is, you know, a sense of loss with that.”
You’re either going to be fetishised and not seen as a human being, or you’re not going to be seen as a sexual being at all.
Dandy hopes the book she has illustrated with Handi, which is also working towards creating accessible sex toys, will help disabled people feel seen, but also help demystify sex and disability for those who are not disabled.
She said: “It might be the first time that a disabled person has actually seen themselves reflected and seen that they’re entitled to be proud of their sexuality and sexual identity.
“But I think secondly, is really important that people are not disabled will see it.
“We’re desexualised at the moment, so I think it’ll go some way to combat that, but also there’s the other side of the coin, which is the fetishisation.
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“It’s one or the other, you’re either going to be fetishised and not seen as a human being, or you’re not going to be seen as a sexual being at all.
“So we want to do with this book, what Handi and Lovehoney want to do, is bust those taboos.
“Then we’ll get to this middle ground, where we’re seeing as human beings, as valid as anybody else.”