‘I think they're treating me like a kid’: intellectual disability, masculinity and place in Toronto, Canada

Robert Wilton & Ann Fudge Schormans

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Wilton, R. & Fudge Schormans, A. (1). ‘I think they're treating me like a kid’: intellectual disability, masculinity and place in Toronto, Canada. Gender, Place & Culture, 27(3), 429–451. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0966369x.2019.1596882

Domesticity; (hetero)sexuality; intellectual disability; masculinity; public space

Geographers have made important contributions to scholarship on the lived experiences of masculinity, highlighting the ways in which identities emerge through embodied and emplaced performances that are shaped by intersecting dimensions of gender, sexuality, race, class and religion. While a small number of studies have considered masculinity in relation to physical disability, more work is needed to examine other experiences of disability and the ways that they intersect with gender. In this article, we draw from feminist and queer disability theory to explore the social geographies of men with intellectual disability. We draw on in-depth, participatory research in Toronto to examine how men labeled/with intellectual disabilities imagine and enact masculinity in domestic settings and public places. Our analysis highlights that men confront multiple constraints and pervasive paternalism in public and domestic settings that frustrate their efforts to craft an adult identity. Partly in response, many men aspire to a normative heterosexual masculinity as a way to militate against the disabling conditions of everyday life. This reflects the tremendous pressure the men confront to ‘fit in’ but it also forecloses opportunities to imagine and enact other forms of disabled masculinity.

Main finding
Three themes were identified during the research: the enactment and meaning of independence, how boundaries, barriers, and places shape geographies, and the types of relationships and encounters in public space. The men in group homes noted the way public space is governed and constructed by rules set by the institutions they lived in, citing a lack of autonomy. An “ideology of independence” was fostered by the men who wanted more freedom to move throughout public space. The men construct heterosexual ideals through the ways they talk about women (even flirting with female researchers), and they use public spaces as sites of heterosexual romance, away from the often overly controlling conditions of their daily lives. However, their aspirations to normative masculinity were frequently in tension with feelings of vulnerability and fear in public spaces, given past experiences of hostility and an emphasis on safety by parents and service providers.

Description of method used in the article
Participatory research was conducted in Toronto, Canada. The researchers utilized individual semi-structured interviews (with eight men and four women of varying intellectual disability labels contacted through Toronto community groups), city research journeys (where participants led researchers to places identified in individual discussions), GIS mapping, drama workshops, documentary filmmaking, and photography to conduct the study. GPS data and pictures and videos from the research journeys were used to create visual maps of participants’ routines and movements within the city. In the final stage, participants met in group workshops with the academic team and art facilitators to compare and contrast experiences.

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