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This Groundbreaking New Documentary Takes on Love, Sex and Disability

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by Estela Lugo

It’s a few minutes before showtime and I can’t help but turn in my seat and observe the diverse crowd making their way up the theatre steps in room 502 of the School of Visual Arts, NYC. Some guests are tucking crutches under their seats, while others park electric wheelchairs into a few remaining spots up front. Much like myself and good friend, Sophie, they’ve come here tonight to see a screening of the first documentary of its kind to take on the taboo subject of romantic relationships within the disabled community. This is the first time we’re being represented on the big screen by peers speaking openly on what it’s really like to experience dating, love and sex in a disabled body.

Director and producer Ben Duffy taps directly into the human heart with “Take a Look At This Heart,” a compelling new film bound to fundamentally change the way our culture views unconditional love — disabled or not. Beautifully captured and interwoven, Duffy reveals the stories of 17 unique individuals across the U.S. while shedding light on their real-life triumphs and defeats with dating, intimacy and parenthood. This incredible and inspirational cast (including a quadriplegic rock climber, paraplegic dancer, and a one-legged skateboarder) powerfully sew the film’s common thread and universal message: we’re all seeking and worthy of our own beautiful love stories.

“Being a quadriplegic doesn’t stop me. Being paralyzed doesn’t stop me from being in a relationship or being physical, or making love if I’m with the right person,” Angela Rockwood says in the film. “Because if I’m with the right person, I don’t feel like I’m paralyzed.”

Scene after scene, story after story, the documentary lifts societal veils and forces us all to confront our own insecurities.

“I put myself in the chair online because that’s who I am. Going through profiles, a lot of them say, under 6′, swipe left… I’m like 4’3″ sitting in the chair… how am I supposed to compete with that?” Patrick Ivision delivers his witty perspective on dating apps while facetiously checking off his conquests from a “wheelchair kama sutra” chart. He continues, “One thing I think about often is having kids… that scares me. I’ve never, not one time, seen someone [like me] on screen, or in any type of media, that’s a parent.”

The film’s next scene then opens with quadriplegic Stephen Whampler kissing his wife and children goodbye before setting off to become the first man with cerebral palsy to summit Mt. Yosemite. Once again, our preconceived notions of the human body and parenthood are stripped down to expose a level of unconditional and chivalrous love we can all hope for.

Even as someone who has lived their entire life with a disability, I was surprised to notice some of my own stigmas and stereotypes surfacing throughout the film, but if there’s one thing this movie teaches us, it’s that it’s human nature to be curious about disability and to wonder, “are they able to have sex?”

Angela Rockwood and boyfriend Steven Profeta put much of our curiosity to rest as they playfully share their own intimate bedroom logistics. “I needed to learn how to use her body,” says Profeta. “Put aside all the stereotypes and rules of the world you know, because you’re entering another world now.”

The film certainly takes us into another world, one that is reality for 1 billion people living globally with some form of disability.

The final scene fades to black, credits roll and the room brightens. Sophie and I clap along with the audience until our hands sting, then check each other’s faces for running mascara. I know exactly what I need to do next and lean in to tell her, “Everyone needs to see this movie. We need to host our own screening!”

Please join the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation and BioNews Services as we present the final screening of “Take A Look At This Heart” at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC on Friday, Feb. 8th at 6 p.m. Wear red or pink in honor of Valentine’s Day!

Originally published: January 20, 2019
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