I'm someone that has been through the trenches of gender, sexual orientation, alternative relationship structures, and non hetro-normative sex and expression.
We're living in an age where these things are becoming more common place. I've done my fair share of advocacy work in these subjects and I've experienced both the ugly and beautiful sides of these thing in our society.
Disability though is sort of is own special creature.
Disability doesn't discriminate. It doesn't hold back just because of your race, gender, age, sexuality or anything else. Disability doesn't care who or what you are. Rich or poor. Privileged or not. It just doesn't care.
If you happen to live long enough, it'll come for you.
It'll come through the doorway of aging and disease. It'll come on the shirt tails of accident and injury. It'll come with or without prejudice.
I am a person with physical disabilities. Disabilities that I've lived with most of my life and that I didn't always have. Of all my transitions in life nothing has made me more self conscious than being someone with physical disabilities.
I know all the right things to say about it. How it doesn't define me and how anyone who buys into the myths of disability isn't worth my time and so on and so on...But none of that makes my life easier. None of that protects me from the common disappointments and let downs that come with being disabled.
Common Disability myths
Articles like this actually irritate me a little bit.
Its not that what its saying is wrong, its that articles like this ignore the reality that exists for many people with physical disabilities. Furthermore it doesn't actually provide any solutions to help people with disabilities cope with these myths themselves.
Lets talk about some of these for real. Shall we?
MYTH 1: YOU CAN'T HAVE GOOD SEX WITH SOMEONE WITH A PHYSICAL DISABILITY
First, this article is clearly aimed more towards people in wheelchairs specifically. I don't use a wheelchair on a regular basis anymore and I think this myth is trying to refer to people with lower body sensation issues either due to spinal cord injuries or any other disability or illness that might impact the sex organs, bowels, and lower extremities. This is problematic in and of itself. You don't have to be disabled in any way to experience some variation of sexual dysfunction.
But OK. Lets try to go with this. Basically what this myth is trying to say is that there are people who figure out or are told that a prospective partner has a disability and they then assume that person isn't capable of sexual activity or expression.
there's actually a couple of misconceptions that are attached to this myth. Let us look at them more closely.
Deeper reasons why someone might assume they can't have sex with a physically disabled person:
- Fear of physically hurting the other person somehow.
- Confusion or lack of education about the broader concept of human sexuality expression, sexual arousal, physical intimacy and the definition of what sex actually is and isn't.
- Fear that mutual or individual sexual needs wont be met because the disabled person can't have sex as often, or in a way that the other party understands as sex.
- Discomfort with talking about sex and intimacy.
- Fear of knowingly or unknowingly violating consent.
- Fear of being scrutinized by others for wanting to be sexual with a person with disabilities.
It always amazes me when concerned partners bring some of these issues up only to admit to me that they don't commonly worry about the same things when dealing with a typical able partner. It just floors me because really these are things that should be talked about between all partners. But fine. The fact that a person would be more vigilant with me is a guess flattering.
The most common one I get from people is this fear that they're going to physically hurt me. And I just kind of want to giggle at the idea. But I don't because it usually makes people with this concern feel bad. So I usually respond by asking them what they're specifically worried about.
A lot of people worry they'll crush me somehow. Why? I don't know. I mean sure I'm 5'3 but I would never characterize myself as being tiny. On average I weigh 140lbs. Even a heavier male of say 250lbs isn't going to crush me unless of course you were planning to sit on my face or chest and hell if that were the case I'd worry more about suffocation than you crushing by bones into mush. Could pressure on part of my body feel uncomfortable? Sure. But if it was I'd probably ask you to move. Just like you'd probably ask me to move of my elbow was grinding into your rib cage uncomfortably. I get this one mostly from men.
If its not the weight issue then they usually or referring to the potential of their penis hurting me or the method of getting access to my vagina hurting me. Yes, I said penis and vagina because we're all grown ups here capable of using proper physiological terms. This one is almost exclusively a male worry.
This concern hits a lot of key issues such as ones understanding of what sex is and what most think goes into orgasms and sexual satisfaction between men and women. Its usually someone worried I can't get into a missionary position for penis to vagina penetration.
I have had this be a deal breaker with partners.
And I guess my perspective is to acknowledge that for many people missionary sex involving penetration is the end all beat all of the sexual experience. Do I agree with that sentiment? Oh Jesus Christ no. But partners are either going to be willing to have a conversation about it or their not. Some people know there can be more than that and many are willing to explore what those other mysteries are but there are just as many who wont.
To those that don't want to broaden there horizons, I say good day to you.
One thing I'm not OK with is shaming people for having preferences. I'm not going to get up in a person's grill for not being interested in sex with me. If a person admits to me that my physical ability level or an aspect of my physiology turns them off then I'm going to accept that and send them on their way. However if a person goes out of their way to make me feel bad that I'm disabled. Or suggests that I am less of a person because of it. I will take issue with that. Intentionally belittling me is a completely different thing.
At the end of it I would hope that anyone wanting to be intimate with me is doing it first because they want to make me feel good. Very often sex is portrayed to be about our own pleasure with little regard for the pleasure we are capable of providing others.
MYTH 2: FIRST DATES WILL BE AWKWARD
Assuming I don't tell someone I'm disabled before I meet them? Yes, it could be awkward. If I agree to go on a date that has a problematic element to it that I don't mention or know about until I get there? Yes, it could be an awkward date. Can my counterpart still make mistakes even if they know? Absolutely. Is it wrong to ask me about my health or disability? Eh it depends on what you want to know and why.
Is having an awkward moment a bad thing? Absolutely not. Its an opportunity. One thing about dating a person with a disability is the realization that by comparison we experience "awkward" moments all the time. I have half a dozen experiences in a given day that feel awkward and the I usually just have to suck it up and deal with it.
Mistakes happen. We say or do the wrong things sometimes as people. But accidently offending or embarrassing someone is not the same thing as doing it on purpose. Often times a simple apology is sufficient enough to recover and if your a person that doesn't understand exactly why what you said or did was upsetting its wise to ask. Sometimes one or both parties can be a little over or under sensitive. But these things can be worked through if both parties are willing to work through them.
Some of my most awkward date experiences turned out to be beloved stories of humor and communication later. And other remain uncomfortable stories that I learned from.
MYTH 3 IF YOU DATE OR HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH A DISABLED PERSON YOU WILL BECOME A CAREGIVER
I take particular issue with this myth in in the linked article. Here's the truth. Its possible you may become a caregiver or be expected to help a disabled partner more than you might help a able partner. But here is the thing...This is still a matter of choice.
Its also not true that all disabled people just "hire out" if they need specialized care and assistance with daily living. Personal Care Assistants are a thing and many disabled people do utilize PCA services and other assistive resources to help them live normal lives. But not ALL disabled people need this, have access to such assistance, or get all of the care they need from paid people.
I would hope that if I was in a love relationship with someone that they would WANT to talk care of me if I needed them to. Just as I would hope that if they didn't want to they would tell me so. Caregiving can be a legitimate part of taking care of anyone with a illness or disability and the reality is it can even become a deeply personal and important part of the bonding and intimacy process between partners.
What so wrong with taking care of each other?
Like anything its important for individuals to know their limits here and advocate for themselves. I would never expect someone to jeopardize their own well being for the sake of mine. You are responsible for taking care of yourself first. Also consider that just because a person is disabled doesn't mean they are incapable of taking care of themselves physically or otherwise. Also bear in mind that they are also very capable of returning the favor.
I've taken care of lots of partners that were more able them me. I was there for them through personal set back, and times of grief or stress, and in sickness and in health. I've had perfectly capable partners that I felt I took care of more than they ever took care of me. I've left partners because they just needed more from me than I could give and I've had partners not want to date me for fear of having to cope with my health and needs.
It just depends. But regardless, free will is still the big point here. No one is forcing anyone to do anything they don't really want to do.
MYTH 4 FREINDS, FAMILY, AND OR SOCIETY WONT ACCEPT US
Again I feel this article fails readers here because the truth is this. It IS possible that people won't support or encourage your relationship.
How do I know?
I know because I've been on the direct receiving end of ignorant and damaging behavior by people connected to the partners I've dated. Its ugly but it can happen. Not everyone has loving and supportive families. Not everyone can handle their loved one dating someone with a disability and or visible medical problems.
Is it fair or right? Absolutely not. But it is possible and I think its dangerous to sugar coat that possibility.
If you find yourself in hostile waters its important to make it clear early and repeatedly what isn't acceptable and to realize there many not be an easier answer. I can't force people to accept who I am. All I can do is make choices about who I am willing to spend time with and waste my energy on. I have broken up with partners who failed to advocate for themselves and or me regarding our relationship.
I've had people rudely and openly question my value as a person to their loved ones. I've had people try to tell me I have no right to seek loving partners because I'm disabled. I've had people tell me I have no business wanting to get married or to have children. I've had people tell me in no uncertain words that I am not a real person.
I'm a grown up of sound mind. Nobody has the right to infringe of my humanity like that. But prejudices do exist and can happen. Disabled people are often marginalized and treated differently. But with enough patience and personal advocacy we can minimize the impact of negative people and ignorant and inappropriate behavior.
Partners will either be capable of handling such challenges or they wont and if they can't they can leave the relationship.
MYTH 5 DISABLED PEOPLE CANT LIVE NORMAL LIVES
This one depends on what you define as normal. I will never live a able bodied life. This is true. That ship has sailed. But I do and will continue to live a quality life and that's much more important. I have and can continue to have a happy life. a Fulfilling life. A liberated and complex life. Disabilities or not my life is what I make it. End of story.
People either want to be apart of my life experience or not.