One of the negative attitudes toward the disabled I encounter socially is when I’m dating an able bodied man and someone assumes he’s doing it out of pity or some misguided reason. (I also hate when I’m dating a disabled man and people say we’re “cute together”. Oh please.) People with disabilities are not asexual. Nor are we “less than” in terms of a catch, if you must think of it that way. (I hate talking about these things. It reminds me of awkward high school dances.)
Both before and after I acquired my disability, I’ve dated able bodied and disabled men. I never thought of it that way – putting people in categories. I dated a guy in college who was blind so I learned about radar canes and braille and such. We loved going out to dinner and theaters. When I dated an amputee, I learned about prosthetic legs. They, like the able bodied men I dated, had their own way of doing things in life. I don’t see the difference if it happens to be about a piece of assistive equipment or a resourceful way to do something because of a disability. How is that any different from the able bodied man I dated who would only drive into New York city on one route and park in one parking lot? It was his way of doing things. Actually that was different – he was just being stubborn. But you get my point.
It’s very difficult to write about this. There are a lot of bad memories-like the times when I’ve been at a social function with an able bodied man and another woman sidles up next to my wheelchair and asks “How did you catch him?” and I smile politely until she adds “with you in a wheelchair?” Or the people who ask him – or me- intrusive questions like whether I can have sex. Then there are the able bodied boyfriend’s friends or family members who talk to me privately and suggest that I break up with him and not be “selfish so I don’t ruin his life”.
No, it’s not easy to talk or write about this kind of thing from the point of view of the person who is being seen as the deficit. Much of it is like a quick hit and run where you don’t even want to deal with the insurance company at all and prefer to take a hammer to the fender, bang it back in and pretend the accident never happened. But this behavior needs to be addressed just like other attitudes toward the disabled that continue to lurk around .
These attitudes come from a negative way of seeing the world – and disability. It says that a person with a disability is less than an able bodied person and a deficit as a partner. (When they refer to you as a “special someone”, they don’t mean it in a good way at all.) You might hold him back or, worse yet, “drag him down with you”.
Into what? Where are we going? Where is all this fear coming from and where is it all taking us? Not toward inclusion. Not toward a vision of the world where all people are treated with dignity and respect. It is up to us to work out the boundaries and issues surrounding our relationship – the give and take and the reciprocity. This is the same as it is in all relationships. For those who assume that an able bodied person will become a burdened caregiver, I can only say this shows an exquisite lack of imagination as to the myriad possibilities that can be worked out. It exaggerates the situation in a negative way.
And if I have to be the special someone to say this, I will : jokes, sarcasm, crude and rude remarks, busybody interference and other misbehaviors are not only ableist but disrespectful of my autonomy and the autonomy of the man who loves me – as a quad.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan