Access Intimacy: The Missing Link

abstract painting with yellow, purple, pink and red spots.There are many ways to describe intimacy.  For example, there’s physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual, political, familial or sexual intimacy.  But, as a physically disabled woman, there is another kind of intimacy I have been struggling to name and describe, what I have been calling “access intimacy.”

I have begun using the term loosely and am still realizing different aspects of it.  This is in no way a complete describing of it, instead, this is an initial naming and the beginnings of giving it shape.  I am offering it as something that has been useful for me and I hope is useful to others to describe all different kinds of access, not just in relation to disability.  I think Access, as a framework, is powerful for so many of our lives.  Here, I am speaking from my own lived experience as a physically disabled person but I know access intimacy can also happen in many different ways for mamas and parents, women of color, queer and trans folks, etc…  Anyone can experience access intimacy.

I have never had words for access intimacy before.  For years, I would feel it or crave it, but not know how to describe it. It has always been just out of reach; just beyond my grasp.  I have mistaken it for emotional or political intimacy, sexual attraction or romantic desire.  I have mistakenly assumed that it would be there based on one’s identity or experience.  I have grappled with how to describe the closeness I would feel with people who my disabled body just felt a little bit safer and at ease with. There have been relationships that carried emotional, physical and political intimacy, but sorely lacked access intimacy.  And there have been relationships where access intimacy has helped to create the conditions out of which emotional, familial and political intimacy could grow.

Access intimacy is that elusive, hard to describe feeling when someone else “gets” your access needs.  The kind of eerie comfort that your disabled self feels with someone on a purely access level.  Sometimes it can happen with complete strangers, disabled or not, or sometimes it can be built over years.  It could also be the way your body relaxes and opens up with someone when all your access needs are being met.  It is not dependent on someone having a political understanding of disability, ableism or access.  Some of the people I have experienced the deepest access intimacy with (especially able bodied people) have had no education or exposure to a political understanding of disability.

Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives.  Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations.  Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access.  I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.  It doesn’t mean that our access looks the same, or that we even know what each other’s access needs are.  It has taken the form of long talks into the night upon our first meeting; knowing glances shared across a room or in a group of able bodied people; or the feeling of instant familiarity to be able to ask for help or support.

In my life, access intimacy is something that has been hard won, organic or at times even felt magical.  It has taken me by surprise, showing up with people that I never would have expected to have that kind of “access connection” with.  It has been exciting and relieving, like a long slow exhale.  I don’t know where it comes from or how it happens.  It has felt like an unspoken, instinctual language between different people, like an entirely unique way of being able to communicate and connect.  Similar to meeting someone you just “click with,” access intimacy has felt like a distinct form of attraction, desire and energy on to itself.

Access intimacy is something I am coming to understand that I need in my life; something that I cannot (and don’t want to) live without.  I need it to literally be my whole self because access is such an intimate part of my life as a queer physically disabled woman of color adoptee.  Without it, relationships exist under a glass ceiling or split by thick frosted windows, with huge pieces of myself never being able to be reached. Without it, there is survival, but rarely true, whole connection.

Access intimacy is not just the action of access or “helping” someone.  We have all experienced access that has left us feeling like a burden, violated or just plain shitty.  Many of us have experienced obligatory access where there is no intimacy, just a stoic counting down of the seconds until it is over.  This is not access intimacy.  There have been numerous relationships in my life where I have loved people very deeply, but never fully felt safe with them around my access.  So many relationships where I knew I could only ask for or share so much, without getting snapped at, chided or being punished with reluctant passive aggressive access.  So many times where I was too afraid, because of the lack of access intimacy, to speak up and voice what I needed or what I couldn’t do, resulting in being isolated or getting very badly physically hurt from pushing myself too hard, in some of the worst cases.

Access intimacy is not charity, resentfulness enacted, intimidation, a humiliating trade for survival or an ego boost.  In fact, all of this threatens and kills access intimacy.  There is a good feeling after and while you are experiencing access intimacy.  It is a freeing, light, loving feeling.  It brings the people who are a part of it closer; it builds and deepens connection.  Sometimes access intimacy doesn’t even mean that everything is 100% accessible.  Sometimes it looks like both of you trying to create access as hard as you can with no avail in an ableist world.  Sometimes it is someone just sitting and holding your hand while you both stare back at an inaccessible world.

It has looked like relationships where I always feel like I can say what my access needs are, no matter what.  Or i can say that I don’t know them, and that’s ok too.  It has looked like people not expecting payment in the form of emotional currency or ownership for access.  It has looked like able bodied people listening to me and believing me.  It has looked like people investing in remembering my access needs and checking in with me if there are going to be situations that might be inaccessible or hard disability-body-wise.  It has looked like crip-made access.  It has looked like crip solidarity.

In the last half decade of my life I have been able to experience many different forms and levels of access intimacy.  Before that, I was not even in a place where I could have had access intimacy with anyone.  It has only been in the last seven years that I have come into myself as a politically disabled person enough to begin to experience or desire access intimacy, even on superficial levels.  Looking back, there have been only a handful of relationships in my life where access intimacy has existed.  And in most of them access intimacy was not instant, but built and cultivated, with me bearing the brunt of the work.

For the first time in my adult life, I am experiencing access intimacy that is not just painstakingly built over years, conversation by conversation, but is already in fertile existence, ready to grow.  For the first time in my life I am in disabled community meeting sick and disabled folks and experiencing a kind of mutual access intimacy that feels like family.  For the first time in my life, I am in relationships with able bodied queer people of color experiencing access intimacy that is beyond explanation and belief.  For the first time, this year, I am experiencing a level of access intimacy in my intimate relationships and home life that I have never experienced before.  It has been both amazing and saddening, now having something that actually cares for me.  And it, like emotional intimacy, is also a deep risk because it would be devastating to lose and requires maintenance.

Now, when I describe relationships, I include access intimacy along with my many other descriptors.  I am watching it, studying it, bearing witness to it as it grows, evolves and shifts and as I learn all the different ways that access intimacy can exist.

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38 Comments

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38 responses to “Access Intimacy: The Missing Link

  1. altairah

    Best blog article I’ve read in years. I know exactly what you’re speaking of, and I have been weighing it against other types of intimacy for years(i.e. is it more important to choose a lover with whom access intimacy is effortless, or keep one with great emotional and sexual intimacy? Or shall I live in a country with frequent spontaneous access intimacy {Switzerland}, or one with cultural and linguistic ease{US}?) It is a part of our lives unique to our social condition of disability. Thank you so much for giving breath to a new concept.

  2. Eric Bagai

    Ahhh.

  3. Amazing article, Mia, and one that bought tears to my eyes. I always love the way you pioneer new insight with your brilliant mind. I also love the way you speak for all of us with ability issues. I am learning to be brave by trying to follow your example and will never cease working on increasing my own access competency. Thank you for daring and sharing. Much love,

  4. Thank you Mia, for giving name to this. Love.

  5. Jamie Okulam

    I agree with altairah, Loretta, and, Eric. This is a wonderful article and it says exactly what I have felt for the last few years. My mobility has decreased because of a deteriorated hip that may not have a good surgical fix.
    One of the things that has amazed me is the realization that the people who are going to be empathetic with you and help you are often not the people whom you expected, might– GET IT!
    Often they are the uneducated, political and other ways–folks who were just raised to be compassionate and have good manners.
    While, people whom I thought THINK like me, ignore me or help grudgingly. Anyway, thanks for speaking OUR minds. I for one appreciate it.

  6. Ruth

    Brilliant. Thank you first for identifying something that had seemed kind of nebulous before, and naming and describing it so eloquently.

  7. Really interesting this!

  8. Your article was solid and clear, the most moving section to me was when you talked about the relationships that involved loving people very deeply, but never fully feeling safe with them around your access needs. For me access intimacy is a certain level of awareness of both self and other. This access intimacy can also in some ways be considered functional intelligence or functional awareness. Two people with different levels of functional capacities (weather physical or intellectual) can share a very powerful and intimate experience through what you call access intimacy.

    This section was also strong and in many ways you’re really speaking for so many of us, “So many relationships where I knew I could only ask for or share so much, without getting snapped at, chided or being punished with reluctant passive aggressive access. So many times where I was too afraid, because of the lack of access intimacy, to speak up and voice what I needed or what I couldn’t do, resulting in being isolated or getting very badly physically hurt from pushing myself too hard, in some of the worst cases.”

    Congratulations again, looking forward to reading more…

  9. trueconvida

    Transportation and access intimacy has been on my mind lately. Sometimes I just don’t understand how reluctant people are to understand the kinds of stress and ego-damage public transportation and inaccessibility to car ownership and usage costs. Transportation access affects access to psychological, spiritual, emotion services in such a grand way.

    I would like to explore how access and emotional intimacy differ…I’m still not clear on that and would like additional perspective.

  10. WeaselADAPT

    Absolutely and perfectly beautiful, Mia! Thank you.

    I’m going to be keeping my eye on you!!!

  11. oh yes, this applies to psych impairment access as well…that bone /blood level difference, the ease that occurs when someone just gets it/anticipates it/accomodates it sometimes without even naming it.

  12. rachel

    Wonderful. SO glad you shared this!

  13. thanks so much for this. i am in love with, and loved, by another disabled queer. we are trying to figure out how to have intimate experiences where we are both able to experience pleasure and safety. we keep trying and failing, but i have to believe there is a way for us to connect and share the love we have for one another. right now i’m really resonating with this:
    “Sometimes access intimacy doesn’t even mean that everything is 100% accessible. Sometimes it looks like both of you trying to create access as hard as you can with no avail in an ableist world. Sometimes it is someone just sitting and holding your hand while you both stare back at an inaccessible world.”
    here’s to access intimacy. a wonderful concept that can enrich all our communities.
    thanks so much.
    xo billie

  14. Max Airborne

    Thank you for naming this, and for fleshing it out and describing it so beautifully. Just last weekend a group of us, all crips and/or fatties, were discussing this phenomenon, and struggling to articulate it. Access intimacy is perhaps the biggest refuge that exists for me, and the places in my life where it doesn’t exist are so draining. It feels so freeing to have a name for it!

    With gratitude and love,

    Max

  15. To me, this resounds with many universal human issues. Our world is so disintegrated and so are our relationship. Access intimacy sounds to me like what I long for in finding a group of people that I can relate to beneath all of the bullshit and human constructs of physical and emotional barriers to being human and relating; human to human. A place to belong. A group to call home.

  16. Leah lakshmi

    I like relaxing into this kind of love.

  17. Hi Mia,
    This is very beautiful and also seems very useful toward redefining/updating the notion of “safe space” which has been floating around our communities/politics for a long time but in an unsatisfactory way … so definitely feels like a missing link.
    Thank you also for the generosity with which you offer it as a framework for those of us working with “all different kinds of access, not just in relation to disability.” Your post helped me reflect simultaneously on my role as an ally to my beloveds w/disabilities, and at the same time on my own “access intimacy” needs — and in both cases the grief that results when this kind of intimacy is absent, the exultation & relief when it is present.

  18. Oh wow … this brought tears to my eyes. I’ve never found any words for this type of access before but you’ve got it spot on.

    It’s interesting how different types of intimacy are intertwined. I don’t often find emotional intimacy with people when I don’t have access intimacy – there can be sparks of it, short bits of it, but if there isn’t access intimacy I’ll never totally trust and if there isn’t really trust there won’t be emotional intimacy. And yet it’s very much a separate thing from emotional intimacy because I recognise that phenomena you described of sometimes finding instant access intimacy with a group of similarly disabled people, where I know they totally understand and accept my access needs. And I might hate their sexism, their politics, their hobbies and their choice of food but the access intimacy can still be there.

    Wow!!! Thank you.

  19. Alice

    Thank you for writing this – it expresses so many of the nuances of ease that I haven’t been able to put into words myself. There is such a sense of peace in reading this, that kind of peace that comes from having a need met that you didn’t even realize was there. Thank you, again.

  20. NTE

    What a great explanation – I’ve never heard it defined so clearly before. The longing for this kind of intimacy in my life is something I constantly struggle with, so thank you for your wonderful post!

  21. Liz

    Wow! This perfectly expresses the kind of comfortableness I have with some people. When I don’t want to go new places by myself it’s so helpful to know a person who I have this intimacy with, who I trust not just to smooth the path but to understand the complex of things going on externally and internally, sharer of experience and validator of it, will be there. And as you say, a whole other level of relationship and connection opens up because of this.

  22. Jane Laplain

    I had no idea my whole worldview paradigm was abogonna shift today! Thank you so much for this piece, Mia. I read your words and thought instantly of all the ways I fail to share access intimacy with those closest to me, fail to provide it, and fail to receive it. Fail to even TRY to share or provide it or recognize it as a need, as so much of my life revolves around survival needs rather than intimate connection with others. You have changed something in me today. Thank you for sharing this. I will boost the signal on this article to everyone I know. Peace. Jane.

  23. Jane Laplain

    I had no idea my whole worldview paradigm was gonna shift today! Thank you so much for this piece, Mia. I read your words and thought instantly of all the ways I fail to share access intimacy with those closest to me, fail to provide it, and fail to receive it. Fail to even TRY to share or provide it or recognize it as a need, as so much of my life revolves around survival needs rather than intimate connection with others. You have changed something in me today. Thank you for sharing this. I will boost the signal on this article to everyone I know. Peace. Jane.

  24. Ms Quasimodo

    You have beautifully and eloquently expressed something I’ve thought of lately, but not put into these words. Maybe I’m thinking of something different. The fact that many people feel they have the right to violate one’s personal space by staring, to ask very personal questions about my medical history. Or they have the right to make presuppositions about me and cross personal boundaries, such as starting to talk about scoliosis or back problems to my face, while I just stay neutral and ignore them or go “uh huh.” No, I won’t be tricked into talking about myself so intimately while I do NOT have the reciprocal right to ask YOU intimate questions about your life or medical history or body – nor do I want to.

    I resent the public nature of my body that others feel they have the liberty to objectify me this way, but I can’t do it to them. Few people – probably nobody, actually – outside of my daughters think twice about how I look, they know I can’t walk far, can’t carry much weight, and have little stamina due to squashed lungs.

    But if I initiate a conversation it makes me appear “disabled,” and these people are in a position to fire me or give me bad references/evaluations for work, to declare me unfit, although I’m not, because that’s how people are (I just finished a clinical MS program).

    The only persons interested in a sexual relationship are users, abusers, and losers. So I am single and do not anticipate dealing with others in my personal life. The only places I feel safe and whole are when I am able to live by myself, hold the lease in my name, have my own income, and make my own home. But I haven’t had this in several years.

  25. Teresa Blankmeyer Burke

    Mia – thank you for naming something that I have struggled to identify myself. Brilliant piece of writing.

  26. Oh, thank you! I have been writing about this fir a little over a year now. I like calling it access intimacy, makes so much sense but there is still some little piece missing for me, more excavating to do. In case you want: http://nandameansjoy.blogspot.com/2010/12/draw-close-and-know-that-i-am-g-d.html

  27. Pingback: Access Intimacy: The Missing Link (via Leaving Evidence) | Bloody Show

  28. THIS. THIS SO VERY MUCH THIS.
    Not just on disability but on race and nationality and sexuality and just being about to be ME and not have to apologise for it…
    The ability to relax and feel like they get me.

    So rare, these people.

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  31. Reading this helped me out of a dark place today, thank you it’s brilliant JJ

  32. Reading this lifted me out of a dark place today, thank you it’s brilliant JJ

  33. Cause

    Reblogged this on In the Garden of the Cyclothymes and commented:
    Beautiful article.

  34. Pingback: On Access Intimacy, Mental Health, and Rosebud the Psych Service Goat | Mad In America

  35. Pingback: Feminists We Love: Mia Mingus - The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

  36. Reblogged this on Unfolding Lyme and commented:
    Mia Mingus, queer physically disabled woman of color adoptee, talks about Access Intimacy in this brilliant blog post. I have only had access intimacy once or twice in my life. It’s such a special experience that I can’t let it go.
    Have any of you ever experienced access intimacy? What was/is your experience with it?

    Best,
    Sofia

  37. xanwest

    Reblogged this on Kink Praxis and commented:
    This essential text is on my mind this morning as I prepare to talk about disability and kink on tonight’s panel.

  38. Pingback: Links 45 | High on Clichés

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