Thursday, November 11, 2010

Helen and Frida

Helen and Frida

The article Helen and Frida takes place in a theatre where Anne Finger directs. Although it is a short script, it encompasses many details that are meant to question and challenge the way we view disability and sexuality alongside able bodied people. Able bodies are simply defined as members of society who are healthy and physically strong. Thus, they can go through society without physical assistance in the form of a device or person. Through imagery and perception, Anne Finger brings two American icons to life. In her script she imagines a conversation between the two heroines. Provoking acts that are contrary to what history would allow them to do and say. Through the script, Anne gives Helen the chance to explore her sexuality, while Frida is allowed to talk about the pain that she feels as a disabled woman. Finger attempts to accomplish what the writers of history have failed to do; Finger gives the disabled women a chance to tell their own story, in their own bodies.

Fingers first main point is unraveled as she struggles with the idea of performing gender roles. As a nine year old child, stricken to a cast and bed rest, Finger could not grasp her sexuality. According to her understanding, straight women were straight because they could properly perform gender roles. Once disabled, one cannot properly be heterosexual. A disabled bodied individual is often acquainted with being asexual because of their socially inferior positions. For this same reason, Helen’s mother denied her the chance to marry Peter. In the minds of many able bodied individuals, desire towards a disabled individual is not radical. Disability lies outside of normative expectations and societies idea of perfection. Finger believes that society creates a more immobilized space for the disabled by creating spaces and ideas that enhance the lives and roles of able bodied individuals. In history Frida is known to be well sexually desired, but only at the lost of displaying her disabilities. Finger does not believe the writers of Frida’s history would’ve comfortably written about Frida’s sexual life had she been portrayed as a disabled icon. Images that explore her disability have often been marginalized and ignored.

Frida intends to reiterate the lives of two disabled women from the voice of her own disabled body. Often in media, especially film, able bodied actors play the roles of the disabled. Historically, notions and ideas of disability have been constructed and construed via able bodied individuals. In film, the eyes of the blind are not displayed, but often covered with sunglasses. Finger is not afraid to shock her audience. She writes a plot that suggests they are more than what history has alleged. She gives the two women complexity through the writing of her script. Helen is given the chance to explore sexuality and desire. Finger created something for Helen that others, including her mother denied her. For Frida, the script gives her the opportunity to speak of her disability and pain.

Finger as a child did not believe she could perform femininity and was unable to find examples of women like her on television. This lack of supportive images put Finger in isolation as it did Frida and Helen. Her isolation felt at the start of the article exemplifies the isolation that disabled bodies deal with routinely. In bringing the two together in the plot, finger provides an opportunity that disabled individuals are often denied. Helens denial of love stems from societies idea of love and how it is felt. The connection that sparks the kiss between Helen and Frida is queer. Helen cannot see and eyes are the key to ones soul. Helen cannot hear which further makes her incapable of sensing desire. Helen however can sense. Frida’s and Helens disability created a queer possibility. If Helen could feel without seeing or hearing then the rubric for sensuality is in need of redefining. Thus, the general projection of our senses as sexual enhancers is false as is so our projection of disabled bodies.


  1. Your reflection allowed me to have a better understanding of the article. It allowed me to focus on the author--and how she was also struggling with her own sexual identity and gender throughout her childhood.

    This article definitely delves into the topics of disability, gender identity, and sexuality, specifically by giving voice to two famous women.

    Helen Keller is famous for her ability to communicate and learn on account of her blindness and deafness, but her romantic relationships are completely omitted from her highly publicized life story. Movies, plays, and poems, have been written about her but a large section of her personal life have been kept under-wraps. Frida was silenced in a different way. The media never publicized Frida’s disability but heavily portrayed her sexuality--forever labeling Frida as a very sexualized being.

    The article is artistically written, in a theatrical context. Frida Kahlo is given a tumultuous and sexually positive character--similar to how she has been popularized in the media, concerning her extramarital affairs with both sexes while Helen is depicted as timid and polite.

    I also agree that Finger challenges the media’s portrayal of the disabled. A quote from page 3, “No, in this movie, the blind women have milky eyes that make the women uncomfortable. The deaf women drag metal against metal, oblivious to the jarring sound...” Finger wants to bring attention to how the media silences and inaccurately portrays and queers people that are disabled. It is so true that characters that are disabled in movies are not played by people with disabilities but by people that do not have physical disabilities. This falsifies the reality and experiences of those that are disabled, because the parts are never accurately portrayed.

    Because the media never connected Frida to her disability, Frida was depicted as a very sexualized woman, while Helen Keller was never sexualized. The media has reinforced that disabled people are not sexual beings and the media has also caused confusion of gender identity within the disabled population. Because able-bodied people are physically and mentally categorized to carry out female and male gender roles, disabled individuals do not fit perfectly into the gender role schema. Inaccurate misrepresentations of the disabled population reinforce and wrongfully categorize and confuse gender roles of the disabled.

    Finger gives voice to Frida and Helen by allowing them to discuss topics that were never publicized concerning their lives. Throughout the dialogue, most of Frida’s lines focus on her sexual relations, but also the volatile and painful relationship with her husband and famous artist, Diego. Helen’s lines focus more on a desire to find true love and to have the opportunity to be sexual. Frida’s interaction with Helen allows Helen to have an opportunity to be desired, which society denied her because of her disabilities.

    This article gives an opportunity for both of these characters to give voice to other areas of their life that the media and society largely ignored. Thank you for highlighting this is in your summary. Finger gives a creative and introspective analysis of the disabled and sexuality.

  2. So the discussion for this class helped me understand Jose Munoz's disidentification article.
    It was eerie to see that many people have that moment in front of the t.v. when they realize I am not that. It was more ironic that Margo Gomez and Anne Finger use this moment to inspire artistic pieces that allow them to articulate what they always couldn't.

    In this article and in class discussions we have discussed queering queerness and I found it interesting that Frida Khalo queered queerness by being of color and disabled as well as queer. Finger gives voice to the lens Khalo could have had in her lifetime. I also thought that it was interesting that Finger introduced the way in which Latinas and specifically Kahlo were oversexualized due to their ethnicity. It seems as though society chooses which identity they can relate to and ignore all of the others. Kinda like in Audre Lorde's piece and her inability to find a community for all of her identities.

    I do feel that the identities that develop from having a disability is often forgotten and often limits how people experience any other their other communities.

    Thank you.