Review of Sins Invalid 2009 (reprinted from Edana Conteras' blog)

On October 3rd, I attended a performance of Sins Invalid at the Brava Theater. I first heard about the show in 2006 from various members of the disabled community. Everyone I discussed this performance with had praised and hailed it for a raw view of sexuality and disability, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about.The variety of performances and acceptance of myriad artistic expressions can make it hard to pinpoint a particular focus for any theatrical production; however, this variety makes Sins that much richer and doesn’t take away from the power of the performances. Multimedia, spoken word, dance and episodic plays all contributed to the richness of this dynamic evening. Antoine-DeVinci Hunter utilized the entire stage to show the audience how he moves through the world, incorporating deaf culture and experience into his modern dance performances. The introduction to Sins Invalid was a kickboxing piece performed by Mat Fraser, who is brutalized by an invisible opponent. Fraser’s taunters are a continuous loop of fighting sounds and insults focused on his ability to be perceived as a sexually attractive being due to his disability. One particularly evocative piece, involving cofounder Leroy Moore and contributor Seely Quest, dealt with the medical perception of disability and its intersection with erotic fantasies.An African American male patient in street clothes enters the scene of what appears to be a doctor’s office for his yearly exam, followed by a person dressed in a donkey suit carrying a video camera that remains focused on the patient throughout the performance. A Caucasian female doctor, dressed in a white lab coat, orders the patient to take a seat and undress, watching with increasing interest as the patient slowly removes his clothes to reveal a leather sadomasochism harness. An examination takes place with the doctor using medical tools to stimulate the patient’s erogenous zones, opening up questions of the medical community’s perception of disability as novelty.Who has control in the scene is ambiguous—that the patient is wearing a harness implies a certain level of consent and subservience, with the dialogue reaffirming this dynamic. Throughout the piece the patient is heard to respond, “Yes doctor,” with what can be perceived as lust or longing. Among other questions, the doctor asks how many sexual encounters the patient has had in the last year and whether the patient’s disability lends him advantages during sex, reframing disability as a normative and potentially preferred sexual attribute. At one point the doctor puts a horse’s bit in the patient’s mouth, referencing the common practice during slavery of forcing men to wear bridles and move loads like animals. The S&M harness that the patient wears also further illustrates the perception that he is property rather than a full person.The piece is brilliant—it comments on the audience as an animal of lust and opens the conversation to sadomasochism and questions of power and control. I would watch it again, but I understand that the performance would be difficult for some to watch. I respect this act for being a nuanced commentary on our society’s aversions to disability, race, and gender expressions outside of the accepted norm.The variety of different performances encompassed in this one evening allowed Sins Invalid to cover a broad spectrum of disability. Sins Invalid succeeded in exposing the audience to the fact that there is more to disability than just doctors and diagnoses, stressing that it is possible and vital for this community to have sexuality fully incorporated into everyday life.View the original blog