“The Last Taboo”: Dealing with Disability and Sexuality

Alexander Freeman, Taken from The Last Taboo courtesy of OUTCAST PRODUCTIONS

“When someone looks at someone in a chair, or with a disability, or someone who is outside what we call ‘normal’, they, in their minds, they’re not thinking ‘this person could meet me on an intellectual and sexual level,’ and they’re not thinking ‘oh, I can have a fling with this person’ or ‘I’d like to go out with this guy in a chair’ or ‘this girl in a chair,’ or ‘this is different but I’ll try it out’ and that’s part of the problem…able-bodied people aren’t willing to take the first step to find out what is possible.”

At age 25, Alexander Freeman is no newcomer to the social politics of having a disability. Having dealt with cerebral palsy since the day he was born, Freeman has come to both understand and question the nuances of social interaction that are specific to people with visible disabilities. A few years ago, during his time at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, all of these lingering questions came to a head. After sharing a very personal experience with a close friend, Freeman “was determined to change people’s perspectives” on disability and sexuality “and capture the stories of many people, and tell [his] own story.”

He described his thought process to me: “That single event, that experience that she gave me… I felt attractive for the first time. Like she really saw me, and was willing to go there with me. And that meant the world to me. It did validate me, and I was struggling with my own sexuality before that. Not in the sense of who I was interested in, just a lot of things that were going on, a lot of insecurities. Also after the event, I had a lot of questions. I think that she didn’t know what she was feeling.”

Designed by Caleb Williams

The fruit of Freeman’s labor is The Last Taboo, “a heart-warming story of various people with physical disabilities and one able-bodied partner who tell stories of intimacy and relationships, and how being intimate can validate them.” Freeman’s own story is delicately woven into the documentary. As he told me, “sexuality is something I struggle with myself, that means I have to tell my story. It was Anne Scotina (executive producer and a co-producer) who said, ‘you know, Alex, you should be in the film.’ I thought I should do it, here are all these other people pouring their stories out to me, it was only fair to reveal myself as well. I want to get this out as a record of what I was thinking, feeling.”

The Last Taboo (2013) Official Trailer from Alexander Freeman on Vimeo.

When I further pressed Freeman about this notion of validation through sexual intimacy, he explained things a bit further. The way he sees it, people are like stacking dolls. “One layer gets removed and when you get down to the last layer, that’s when you find the real person inside. Most people only get to the second layer, and I call those layers different layers of selves. That last layer is the true self, I think you need that touch, to share that self, so that person who dares to go there with you entirely reaches the final self. It’s particularly important because then you truly know a person, so when that person dies, the one who was able to reach that final self can honestly say that they knew them.” He also told me that this experience doesn’t necessarily need to be sexual, “it’s the touch of another person that lets you know that they are there, that they see you for exactly who you are.”

Morgan Jennifer, Street Team Member at Colours Wheelchair
Taken from The Last Taboo courtesy of OUTCAST PRODUCTIONS

Freeman was sold on the idea, but then he had to sell it to everyone else. As a filmmaker, Freeman thought that a documentary was the best way for him to share these deeply personal stories with the world. As Freeman told me, a film like this is “essential.” He said, “Prior to 1990 (when the American Disability Act was enacted), people were kept in institutions. A lot of people with disabilities were sterilized. When we are getting all of these images of what is beautiful, that’s what we see, that’s what we internalize – this is okay, this is not okay, this is normal, this is not normal. We need to get rid of this perceived taboo. I think a lot of people have attempted to tackle sexuality and disabilities, but people are still hesitant.”

Freeman quickly made his idea a reality. In 2010, While at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Alexander decided to transfer to Emerson College, one of the world’s best film schools to study- you guessed it- film. “It was like, 9:00 am and I just decided, okay I’m 23 with a general communication major, I should probably go to the school where I will really be happy, where I can be around other filmmakers and focus on my craft. After a long process of convincing myself that I was good enough for film school I applied to Emerson College. I started in January of 2011.” That first year at Emerson was a busy one. Freeman joined a Documentary Film club on campus, Captured Emotion, and pitched his film idea to the group. “They were skeptical because of the topic, and because it was such a delicate issue. I pitched it, but it was not picked, so I decided okay, I’ll make it by myself,” said Freeman.

Gary Karp, Internationally Renowned Speaker, Trainer, Author of “Disability & The Art of Kissing”
Taken from The Last Taboo courtesy of OUTCAST PRODUCTIONS

The filmmaking process was quite an endeavor for Freeman and his colleagues. After securing several team members to help him, including Anne Scotina and Andrew Christenson, Freeman and his team were on a mission to secure funding. Freeman told me that he and executive producer/co-producer Anne Scotina “raised all the money [themselves] going around to family and friends and teachers asking them.” They received one extremely generous donation from executive producer Eugene Doran, Jr., a friend of Anne’s, which “really got the ball rolling.”

Several months later, the film is finished. Freeman and his team  are submitting the film to varioustop tier film festivals.  To learn more about the film, check out the official website and like the Facebook page or head over to Alexander Freeman’s personal site or his production company website, OUTCAST PRODUCTIONS. Be sure to be on the lookout for The Last Taboo and prepare to be inspired by the amazing people in this documentary.

About Michaela

Michaela

Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.