November 4, 2009

Sins Invalid – Where Sexuality, Disability, and Theater Meet in SF

A review of a "Sins Invalid" performance - a theater troupe in San Francisco who focuses on the intersection between sexuality and disability.

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Since moving to San Francisco in July, I have to admit I haven’t done a lot of exploring around the city’s thriving art and theater scenes. I put the blame on graduate school, mostly. Hearing about a show called “Sins Invalid” peaked my interest as I am becoming more interested in the intersection between sexuality and disability, something we hardly cover at Kinsey Confidential. Perhaps because we don’t get a lot of reader questions related to the topic, but I digress. “Sins Invalid” is, according to their website, a performance project on disability and sexuality.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the show in early October due to illness and poor planning. However, my friend Carmen did and wrote a wonderful review of the show which you can read below. You should also most definitely explored the Sins Invalid website, as they explain their mission more in depth and learn more about upcoming events, like their November writing workshop.

Carmen’s awesome review of the show:

This past weekend, when I attended Sins Invalid for the second year running, I expected to be moved. I expected to be turned on.

But, as I should have learned last year, with this incredibly talented group of performance artists attacking the issues swirling around intersections of sexuality, disability, race, and gender identity, even my lofty expectations can be surpassed.

I was blown away.

If you’ve never heard of Sins Invalid, and you live in the Bay Area, then you are missing out on one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking, and norm-challenging performances in the San Francisco area. From their website:

Sins Invalid is a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized… we develop and present cutting-edge work where normative paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.

Last year’s stellar cast is joined by new and wonderful faces. Compelling spoken word performances are surrounded by stunning vocal numbers, kinetic sculptures, multimedia pieces, dance, and one dramatic S&M scene, all in pursuit of “[exploring] sexuality and the non-normative body.”

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, an Oakland-based Sri Lankan writer, stood barefoot on the stage of the Brava Theater Center and performed “Dirty River Girl,” giving voice to those who have invisible disabilities. “Exoskeleton,” the combined efforts of kinetic sculptor John Benson and vocal performer Aurora Levins Morales, shook the image of a wheelchair from its normal associations – best illustrated by common usage of phrases such as one being “bound” or “confined” to a wheelchair – and completely redefined it. Antoine Hunter, a choreographer, dancer, and the director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, performed a breathtaking dance to music that he couldn’t hear… and then performed the same dance again, with no music at all. With the music stripped away, the audience stepped that much closer to his experience, and the result was raw and powerful.

Sins Invalid is not for the prudish. Full frontal nudity abounds; libidos run high. An S&M scene, complete with medical equipment, is prefaced by a disclaimer and trigger warning that the scene is intense and might upset those with a history of sexual violence. Sins Invalid is certainly an experience – but one definitely worth having.

Sins Invalid may only put on this show once a year, but they work year-round on activism, as well political and performance workshops. At four years old, it’s still a young show… but it can (and will) only grow, and continue to break open old paradigms. I will be back next year, fully ready to have my expectations shattered.

Sins Invalid ran from October 2 – 4, 2009, at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco. To learn information about Sins Invalid, and to learn how you can make a donation to their cause, visit their website,

Carmen Machado is a queer and feminist writer, blogger, photographer, artist, and activist who lives in Oakland with a dog named Oliver. She blogs at

  • This is a great review. Thanks for it. I couldn't make it either, so I asked Wheelchair Dancer to post a review and she graciously agreed. You can check out her review here:…. Her blog is subtle and compassionate as well.

    Keep up the great work, Natalie.