feature image credit Leah Bank
I ran my hands over my body, an entity I’d tried to ignore for the past four bedridden days. Sick and turned on were never sensations I thought I would feel simultaneously, so when desire happened it felt wrong, ugly. I squeezed my stomach fat, inspecting it in the gloomy 7 pm light of my bedroom. It was cruel, I knew, to subject my body to this scrutiny, but in that moment I felt it deserved cruelty. My body wasn’t me, it was some creature I’d been saddled with, and now this creature wanted to fuck.
I’d been diagnosed with Costochondritis two weeks earlier, and it floored me. My ribs had become inflamed, and although the condition was described as benign, the pain is likened to a heart attack. Time is the only cure, so doctors recommend bed rest. I’d taken the doctors advice seriously, and was now on the fourth season of the hit lesbian drama series, The L Word. As I watched Shane cast a smoldering gaze at Carmen, my hands traveled down to my thighs, feeling their soft weight and the grit of crumbs that had settled between my sheets.
I surveyed the halo of tissues and snack wrappers around my bed and imagined what my girlfriend was doing. By now she was probably preparing dinner and drinking a beer. In 20 minutes she would check the time, shuffle dishes and pans into the sink, and race out the door to go to a concert. She’d offered to stay over that night, but I’d encouraged her to go to the show. The idea of pulling her into this sickbed felt perverse.
I rolled over, a parenthesis curved around the blue light of my computer. Carmen was forgiving Shane for her most recent transgression. The camera focused on the black swoops of eyeliner that framed Carmen’s dewy eyes. Never again, I promise, Shane whimpered into Carmen’s bare collarbone. A swell of breath emanated from the muffled speakers of my computer. Then my cell phone lit up. It was my girlfriend.
Hey babe. How ya feelin?
To respond truthfully would be to invite pity, so I typed:
Shane just cheated on Carmen, I’m heartbroken
I turned the phone to selfie mode, contorted my grainy face into an exaggerated expression of despair, and pressed send.
I glanced at my reflection in the computer, a ghost superimposed upon two figures coiled in embrace. Shane and Carmen were full on fucking now. My chest tightened, and it hurt. I faced my phone camera again, and panned down to my exposed shoulders, the edge of my breasts.
Want me to get more adorable?
I leaned over to adjust a lamp, feeling the electricity of pain course through my arm and into my chest. I propped my body up on the pillow and took a few test pictures with my makeup-smudged eyes out of the frame. I pivoted my hips and draped my legs over each other. Under the dramatic, washed out glow of the lamp, I took pictures of my belly, my triangle of pubic hair. Although it was excruciating, I got on my hands and knees and snapped a picture featuring my arched back and my ass bobbing in the background. I fell back, aching, and texted the picture to my girlfriend. When I looked back at the screen, Carmen was sighing contentedly in bed, Shane kissing the nape of her neck. The state of my illness hadn’t changed but I felt that I had, in some way, thwarted it.
What does it mean to sext while sick? What does it mean to sext while queer and sick?
Why did the desire to reach out to my partner while in my sickbed initially feel so unsexy? To answer these questions, I consider the site of these intersections: the bed.
Beds are complex places. We retreat to them because they offer comfort and respite from pain. Sickbeds are solitary in nature. There are visitors to the sickbed, sure, but the afflicted ultimately recuperates, or does not, alone. Beds are also where go we when we are exuberant, filled with passion and desire for intimacy. For the desiring and disabled body, this resting ground is often charged with associations of stigma and erasure. It’s also historically been a place of violence.
The US has a track record of stigmatizing and marginalizing people with both mental and physical disabilities. The forced sterilizations of disabled people was legalized throughout the 1930s and 40s, and the government also restricted the rights of disabled people to marry. In a world that values able-bodied heterosexuality at the expense of non-normative bodies, the queer sick person is at an intersection of stigma.
When I reflect on this reality it is no surprise that that my longing feels silly, misplaced, and less worthy. How could an incapacitated person feel let alone be sexy, I catch myself thinking. Now, when I have those thoughts, I take out my camera. In an image-based culture, the ability to create and disseminate images of the doubly disenfranchised body is an act of radical affirmation. To be ill is to be stripped of control. To create a static image of the debilitated body in a state of ecstasy is to self determine. It renders that body capable.
The next day, my girlfriend will walk with me to the park near my apartment. She will carry the picnic blanket and we will rest in the grass, hold each other, and look at clouds. When she kisses my neck that night, I will try not to think of my body as a foreign creature with strange and unorthodox desires. These are small and important steps.