Discrimination and disability sadly go hand in hand. It’s tough to pinpoint one instance of it, having had 24 years of experience living with cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological condition that affects muscle coordination and posture.
Admittedly, the hardest part of being a young woman with CP is dating. The non-disabled, “able-bodied” consciousness of many perpetuates wholly unrealistic standards of beauty. They see women with disabilities as undesirable, with “too much baggage” and always having to be “taken care of.” Thus, we are often overlooked.
These are all misconceptions. The women with disabilities I’ve met are some of the strongest, fiercely independent people I know.
We’re even overlooked by some medical professionals. Shocker.
In a routine check-up, sometimes we are not even asked if we are sexually active. We are so frequently seen as medical objects that we are severely dissociated from being seen as human beings who want to be wanted by a potential partner.
We want to experience the joys (and sometimes, heartaches) of dating and relationships…attraction. Chemistry. Tension. Sex.
Let’s talk about sex. Women with disabilities can have it, and they can enjoy it. Just because our bodies may move differently, doesn’t mean we don’t feel the sensations that non-disabled women do, want them, crave them.
Sex–rather, certain positions–might have to be adapted or adjusted so that we can be more comfortable, but that’s really no big deal. Others might view it as some big thing, but they shouldn’t be afraid of a little effort. Exploring with your partner is supposed to fun and pleasurable, not a chore.
Women with disabilities having sex makes some non-disabled people uncomfortable. It just does. They can deny it as much as they want to, but we all have a sense that that’s what they really think.
The proof is in the action: the brusque manner in which some non-disabled men have hesitated and asked me, “….Can you have sex?” the moment I share my disability or diagnosis with them. It’s like they automatically think “can’t walk? Can’t screw”.
This not only proves to me that their mind is definitely one-track (with a thought process that is so incorrect), but also that they believe my only value as an intelligent, strong, independent woman is totally engrained in my body and my ability to sexually please or be pleased.
It’s 2018. Can we stop viewing women only as sex objects and, here’s an idea, value their minds? We have so much more to offer than just our bodies. Why is that the first question thrown my way, anyhow?!
Even when we do offer our bodies to someone, these aforementioned misconceptions still cause others to view us as inferior. Even if we do have sex, to some it’s not good enough.
The different ways in which we move our bodies can be seen as flawed. We are not flawed. We don’t need to be taken care of, and we don’t need to be fixed, because we were never broken in the first place.
Women with disabilities can have sex, can date, and can fall in love, too. To overlook us is to say, ostensibly, that we don’t deserve to feel pleasure, to feel loved. That is perhaps the harshest kind of discrimination there is.
Instead of looking at us and thinking “not them”, you should be saying, why not them? This starts with raising the level of disability consciousness for the non-disabled individual.
Many misunderstandings people have often stem from simply not knowing enough about what it means to have a disability, and realizing what we go through and the challenges we face every day, as well as the triumphs when we overcome them.
Oftentimes when I tell non-disabled people that I have CP, I can tell – without them having to say a word – that they associate having CP with a lack of intelligence. Every person who has CP is affected differently, some more severely than others. In my case, the CP only affects my legs and walking. It didn’t affect my cognition in any way, or my perceptions, or the way that I feel and experience things.
When I walk into a room with my crutches, and thus confront other non-disabled people in the space, I’m often hit with questions like, “What’s wrong with your legs?”
Just because I am open to discussing my disability, does not mean that, as a non-disabled person, you can ask me about it any which way you please.
Firstly, because there’s nothing “wrong” with me, and secondly because that question is intrusive, accusatory, and unbelievably rude. I’m all for anyone to ask me questions, but there’s an acceptable way to do so. Asking “what’s wrong?” invokes a certain power dynamic: that is to say, “there’s something wrong with you and not with me, therefore you are less than.”
Plus, think about the way in which we as humans occupy public spaces. Lack of accessibility is everywhere. Often, when I would meet potential partners for a date or a drink, many locations were off-limits because they were not accessible, or too far from where I used to live.
The New York City subway system is just atrocious in terms of their “accessibility”; many of the subway stations I frequented did not have elevators. I avoid the subway as much as possible, which can be extremely limiting.
Any man who wanted to get to know me had to come to my neighborhood. Some were not willing to do that, effectively shutting the door on our potential and “crossing me off the list” so to speak – all because of something that was beyond my control.
It’s not my fault that it’s legitimately dangerous for me to take the subway. It’s not my fault that I need crutches to walk because they maximize my independence.
Since I walk with crutches, I take up a certain amount of space to walk. Many a time a non-disabled person will aggressively step by me to continue on their way. New York City is, after all, the place where people are in a rush to get to nowhere.
People just need to respect my radius, and respect others who also need the space, and are entitled to it, like someone who uses a wheelchair.
Even that subtle movement, that haughty brush past me, that disregard that I, too, deserve a spot on the sidewalk, is perpetuated by an ableist mindset.
Ableism is all around us. Discrimination is real. Dating can be rewarding, but it’s tough. But it shouldn’t have to be.