‘Sexxxy Beasts and Wheelchairs’ at SQIFF


Deaf and Disabled filmmakers and artists take control of porn narratives at this year’s Scottish Queer International Film Festival, as Paul F Cockburn learns.

full-length portrait photo of Alison Smith

Alison Smith at SQIFF 2017. Credit Tiu Makkonen

This October the Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) returns to Glasgow for its fifth year, bringing together work by a wide range of LGBTQI+ filmmakers.

Among the festival’s highlights is ‘Sexxxy Beasts and Wheelchairs’ (4 October), a late-night selection of short queer porn films made by and about Deaf and Disabled people. The event will include work by DIY queer filmmaker and activist Loree Erickson, and self-described ‘bad ass, fat ass, Jew, dyke amputee,’ Nomy Lamm.

The intention is to encourage Deaf and Disabled performers to take control of their own narratives, according to curator Alison Smith, who put the event together.

“The inspiration came following last year’s SQIFF screening of RICK about a Deaf Adult actor working in the adult industry, as part of our ‘Deaf Perspectives’ strand. Afterwards a discussion with a Deaf friend, artist Jamie Rae, about how Deaf LGBTQI+ people were represented on screen – particularly in a sexual context, and the cliches of how ‘Deaf people are always good in bed’ – led us to ask were there any authentic films, particularly sign language films, available? Also, more importantly, what would it take to get Deaf queer people through the door of the cinema – seeing ourselves on screen? SQIFF doesn’t shy away from presenting work that can be considered uncomfortable to some audiences, and these screenings have sold out at past events.”

For Alison, who identifies as a disabled and Deaf artist, selecting the event wasn’t so much about going out to find specific work, but more a case of “I’ll recognise it when I see it”.

“Originally our aim was to explore desirability, sensuality and eroticism from a Deaf (sign language) perspective, and how we were represented – or rather UNrepresented – and also to celebrate our sameness and differences. This was broadened to find films made and featuring Disabled and Deaf artists. For us finding films to choose for SQIFF proved difficult. There weren’t sign language films available, as far as we are aware. We are working on this for SQIFF 2020.”

The queer world, most notably in its commercial aspects, is not exactly accessible, Alison points out:

“Within the LGBT community there is an emphasis on body-beauty and it is also reinforced through the lack of access to venues and events – that makes us more invisible. We are also generally unrepresented on screen at LGBTQI+ festivals and few of those events – the exception being SQIFF! – make them fully accessible, by putting accessibility and representation at the heart of their programming and delivery. Of course, our entire programme is subtitled and captioned.”

Alison faced numerous challenges reaching for the kind of films she hoped to find.

“If anything, it showed us how little work out there and, in researching, it did lead to adult websites that treat Disabled people and Deaf people as fetishes. It also led personally to me challenging my inner perceptions of what I viewed as beauty, sensuality and what we are attracted to/like. As a Disabled Deaf queer woman with multiple large operation scars across my body, my own conflicting views of how I view my own body, how others see me – it became a personal journey.”

It was the chance discovery of ‘Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection and Privacy’, by Jiz Lee, that brought Loree Erickson to Alison’s attention:

“Loree’s ‘Why I love hicks and queer crip porn’ became the turning point in our research. It’s going to be great interviewing Loree afterwards at the Q+A. Alongside this, having Luke+Jack – Scotland’s leading sex toy retailer – present ‘Accessible toys’ proves there is a real need for us to have an open and honest conversation around sexuality and our needs as Disabled and Deaf people.”

Still from Loree Erickson’s short 2006 film ‘Want’

So what does she hope audiences will get from the evening?

“A chance to see ourselves represented on screen, to evoke an open discussion on the themes raised in the films, to discuss what’s missing, what we want, how do we make that happen. I hope it will inspire other artists to make such work that appears at SQIFF and other festivals in the future.”

American singer/songwriter and political activist Nomy Lamm is one such artist, who has already worked with SQIFF in the past.

“We’ve been connected through the organisation I work with, ‘Sins Invalid’, a Disability Justice performance project and movement building organisation. I appreciate that SQIFF prioritises radical, sexy, intersectional disability culture.”

SQIFF represents a relatively rare opportunity to see her 2014 short film ‘Wall of Fire’. Does she find it difficult to get such work seen?

“My partner Lisa Ganser and I made ‘Wall of Fire’ in 2014, and we weren’t trying to get it out to a huge audience. We just wanted to make a hot movie and use my song as the soundtrack. We are happy with the audiences we have found and we are clear that it’s not for everybody. It feels good to hold our work close and share it with those who really want and need it.”

film still of two women kissing

Still from Loree Erickson’s short 2006 film ‘Want’

How important does she think it is – especially in an increasingly reactionary cultural environment – for disabled people to create, as well as control, the erotic narratives about them?

“Art that comes from our bodies and minds is more nuanced and whole and relevant than anything anyone could say about us. In this moment in time there’s no reason for people with resources to tell other people’s stories. Just empower the person whose story it is to tell their own story the way they want to.

“Any opportunity to offer authentic expressions of our wholeness is important. Sexuality is one way. Nuanced relationships and values, complicated identities, intersectional experiences of oppression, intrinsic dignity – these are other expressions of our wholeness that are important and often erased from cultural perceptions of disabled people’s realities.”

So, if we can ask, what personally turns her on?

“The goddess and the unfolding of beauty. Low steady drumbeats. Fierceness and vulnerability. Strong hands. Undulation. Rose quartz. Cinnamon.”

Scottish Queer International Film Festival: 2-6 October, various venues, Glasgow.
Tickets on a ‘pay what you can’ sliding scale of £0-£8
All venues accessible.
For more information go to www.sqiff.org