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Dating, Love, & Sex with a Disability (Part 3)

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For the third and final installment of the Dating, Love, & Sex:  The Experiences of Women with Disabilities series, we will learn Erin’s, Samantha’s, and Charlotte’s views on “disabled devotees,” being asked about the disability status of their partners, and if men with disabilities have it easier when it comes to dating and finding love.  (If you have missed out on the eye-opening discussions in this series, do read Part 1 and Part 2.)

Being Asked, “Is Your Partner Also Disabled/In a Wheelchair Like You?”

Charlotte:  This question is put to me a BUNCH.  When I am not with Brad and people find out that I am married, they ask me if he is small (or in a chair), too.  I say, “Why no, why would I marry someone small like me or in a chair, then who would get the things that I cannot reach?”

It really makes people see that it is a foolish question, but I always come back with, I fell in love with Brad, not because he could walk, but because of who he was, just like he fell in love with me.  My mom was 5’9″ tall, and my dad was 16″, yes, 16 inches tall.  Tell me that anyone can fall in love!  God made us all different and unique.  Some of us wear glasses; others don’t.  We can go further – some have blue eyes, others green or brown.  Some are blonde/redheads while others have black hair.  Some are black, white, or tan.  The list of differences can go on and on, but we fall in love with what is pleasing to us.

Samantha:  Now, in terms of societal issues, questions, shock, or whatever, I will tell you that the only two comments I get from people who haven’t met Tim and/or don’t know me very well:  skepticism that I really have a boyfriend (like I might be making him up or something), and/or people asking, “Oh, is he small like you?,” or “Is he in a wheelchair, too?”

This was the conversation that Charlotte and I fell into just like a week or so ago.  She was saying how people ask her if Brad is little like her.  I don’t remember what her reply was, but it’s funny.  Now, I am not at all offended when people ask if Tim is in a chair, but I am a big believer in educating people on these issues (in as kind a manner possible), so when people do ask, I tell them that, no, he is not, and I explain to them that both parties being in a chair is not a basis for a relationship.  You can only have so many conversations about how neat it is that the wheels go round and round.  Dating another person because they’re also in a chair is like two people dating because they both happen to wear the same shoe size, or they both wear glasses, etc..

It Being Insinuated that You Are Lying About Having a Boyfriend or Significant Other:

Samantha:  The other reaction I get, which does kind of tick me off, is when people will act like just because they haven’t met Tim themselves, that I must be making him up.  As if handicapped women are so repulsive that we have to create imaginary boyfriends or something.

For example, I was in a grocery store a while back and just happened to mention to the cashier that something I was buying was for my fiancé.  The girl goes, “YOU have a fiancé???”  I said, yes.  And she goes, “No, really…?” and again, I said, yes.  Then she looks at me with a skeptical look on her face and goes, “Do you have a picture of him?”  Now, this girl was probably all of 17, so I could chalk her attitude up to the fact that most teenagers don’t yet have enough life experience to understand that most people find at least a few mates during their lifetime.  However, I have also received this kind of reaction from grown adults (mostly women) that know me, but are not close in my group of friends that they’d have had any reason to meet Tim.

There’s a lady, Tina*, whom I’ve known for years, but only casually in passing.  She is a lawyer (i.e., she is intelligent enough that she should know better).  We usually run into each other at places like the mall, and I’m NOT one of those, “honey come shopping with me so you can hold my purse” kind of gals, so naturally, Tim is never with me when I bump into her.  The last time I ran into her was at Michael’s.  I introduced her to my Aunt Karen*, who was shopping with me.  Shortly after, she asked if I was still with the same guy, and I said, yes, Tim and I are still together.  She then commented about how she’s never met him, and then she looks at my Aunt Karen and asks, “Have YOU met him?”  Karen was rather insulted by the question; I just chalked it up to ignorance.

“Disabled devotees” – The Fixation Is Real

You may be wondering what exactly I am referring to by the phrase, “disabled devotees.”  Disabled devotees is a term I use to describe an individual (usually someone who is able-bodied) who purposefully seek to have sexual and romantic relations with someone simply because they are a person with a disability.  This is basically a person who views people with disabilities as a fetishism.  This fixation is not to be confused with having a particular dating or attraction “type,” as most of us do.  The devotee has no genuine interest in getting to know the person for who he or she is; their preoccupation is solely with the disability, and how they can be that person’s “savior,” “helper,” or recount to their associates their interactions with that person.

Erin:  I have encountered one devotee in particular, but he was never perverted or anything.  We have to watch out for those types especially on social networks!

Disabled Male & Female Symbols 1

Who Has It Easier When It Comes To Dating:  Men or Women with Disabilities?  

Erin:  I honestly believe men have it easier when finding a mate to accept their disability.  I say this because not only have I observed it, but I think it is because they are seen as strong and macho.  Women sit on their laps and as nurturers, we want to take care of a man, so it comes naturally.

It’s easier for men to deal with their disability, as well.  Their smaller waists and big arms/muscles make it easier to use a wheelchair.

Charlotte:  Well, my father had the same disability as I do, and so does my son.  My father was like 33-34 years old before he met my mom and married a year later.  He had not had many dating experiences before that.  He had made the comment to my mom that he was the one who was the friend to many girls, but never had girlfriends.

My son tells me the same thing.  Now he (my son) does have a TON of females calling him all day and night, as well as texting him, but it seems that is as far as it goes.  He had a girl he really liked and for awhile she acted like she liked him too, but then popped up with a boyfriend.  It broke his heart and mine, but I had to be a strong mom and he was very strong, even though inside I knew it was pretty hard.

Why This Series Matters in Disability Advocacy:

The objective of this series was to showcase that women with disabilities are no different than their able-bodied female counterparts.  We do not view ourselves as being different; society does.  Society projects these “different” viewpoints upon us because we do not fit mainstream’s standards of beauty or what is considered “normal.”  How we live our lives is our “normal,” and deserves to be respected and valued.  From what you have read, the only experiences that set Erin, Samantha, and Charlotte apart from able-bodied women are two things:  they have had to explain to their partners about their particular disability, and what limitations there may be in the bedroom.  Other than that, their stories are similar to any group of women who would be given the opportunity to divulge the good, strange, and hilarious when it comes to dating, finding love, and sex.  The only differences that exist are the ones we construct as a society to label others as superior or inferior; normal or weird; having worth or being worthless.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this series.  I am eager to write more series that allow self-advocates to share their life experiences as people with disabilities.  If you are ready to ramp your voice, connect with me!

(* = names have been changed.)

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Wordans.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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