For someone who has always dated men, I have fallen in love with a lot of women over the years. Of course, I didn’t recognize it as love at the time. I was a practically ancient twenty-two before I was sure of my queerness, because I was laughably out of touch with my own feelings. The archetypal queer story line, the one where you know it since kindergarten and come out all at once in a supreme act of courage, never fit me.
I came out slowly, haphazardly, often forgetting whom I’d told and whom I hadn’t. There were no secret girlfriends or covert confessions. There was no formal announcement, no awkward family meeting, no mess. People were either supportive or apathetic, given I had always been with men and it didn’t feel relevant to them. And because there was no closet narrative to speak of, I never quite owned my own bisexuality. It wasn’t hard-won, it didn’t oppress me in any meaningful way, so it felt like I’d cheated, somehow. That’s probably why I hardly ever talk about it; it doesn’t feel entirely real or entirely mine.
Recently, I’ve been thinking more about why it took me so long to realize that I was attracted to women in the same way as men. Some of it was the power of repetition. I always assumed I was straight, “straight as an arrow” as I used to put it, so when I experienced intense feelings for a woman, I imagined all women felt that way about their friends. Spoiler alert, younger self: No they do not.
But the more significant reason for my deep denial is related to my disabilities. When you grow up with needs society deems “special,” it’s hard not to resent your own body. Everything you are told about yourself as a disabled person is dusted with subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages about independence. At home, at school, at work and just about everywhere, you are served the paradox: You are dependent, and you should never depend on anyone. You are not as capable as others, and you should be as capable as everyone else. You are not okay, and you must always be okay.
Early on in my journey as a visibly disabled person, I learned to minimize and ignore my needs. I was the kid who wouldn’t ask to go to the washroom because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, leading to inevitable and embarrassing consequences. I found it difficult to ask for food when I was hungry. If I got lost, I had trouble asking for directions. I made myself small, believing on some primal level that my needs were bad and wrong.
As I got older and better able to meet my basic needs independently, I learned to ask for help related to blindness, chronic pain, or mental health. I understood that interdependence was the only way I’d be a functional human being, so I mastered that uncomfortable art and gritted my teeth through the asking.
But I was more sure than ever that needing things was bad and wrong, so I sidelined my non-disability-related needs instead. I allowed myself to be bullied. I refused to share my struggles with most people, even those willing to help. When asked how I was doing, I was adamantly, aggressively okay. In that way, I made myself even smaller.
What does this have to do with queerness? If you’ll excuse some gender generalization, everything.
See, I was almost always able to convince men of my strength. If I told them I was just fine, even with ample evidence to the contrary, they usually believed me. Women, on the other hand, seemed to see right through my hard-shelled deception. Many men have cared for and nurtured me over the years, some of them perceptive enough to notice when I was trying to be a hero. But the women I kept falling for—elder siblings, motherly types, people used to looking after others—were the ones who could not, would not be fooled, maybe because they’d used all my tricks to hide their own pain. They were the ones referring me to crisis teams and buying me groceries because they knew damn well I was hungry and dangerously not-okay. They were the ones trying hard to save me from myself, doggedly asking the hard questions, at times offering help in ways that made me feel overwhelmed and resentful.
One of my crushes was so persistent I accused her of being a Mother Teresa type, which, far from deterring her as I’d hoped, seemed to embolden her. (I’m very good at making people go away when I fear they might actually get to the heart of who I am. She would not be fooled and she would not be turned away.)
All of this was hidden from me because of my afore-mentioned denial skills. It’s only in the past few weeks that I’ve realized I am not an open book with the vast majority of people in my life. Friends and relatives have complained that they can never get anything out of me. I tend to redirect conversations back to the other person if things get too serious. Part of me is still fiercely guarded, and I was the last to know about it. I tend to pull back when I sense someone is starting to understand me a little too well, and the moments in which I do overshare happen because I am so closed-up the rest of the time.
Lately, I’ve been sidelining my emotional needs less. I’ve been reminding myself that those who love me are pleased when I share my burdens and hurt when I don’t. I should not shy away from love’s vulnerable imperative. I should receive it as the counterintuitive, subversive gift that it is.
None of my needs is bad or wrong. No disabled person’s needs are bad or wrong. We should be teaching disabled kids to speak up loudly when they’re hungry, thirsty, lost, scared, or in need of a washroom. We should be encouraging disabled people to welcome, not apologize for, their very human, very normal needs. We should assure them that interdependence is positive and necessary, that they need not pay for their “special” needs by pretending to be aggressively okay. We should remind them of their legitimacy as healthy human beings with emotional and spiritual needs, and we should drown out the drumbeat of shame society forces them to march to each day. They’ll get plenty of that shaming from people who don’t love them the way we love them. Contrary to popular belief, hearing these narratives from loved ones is not less painful than hearing them from strangers, nor are these messages particularly helpful.
Listen, friend who is reading this and thinking, “I see what you’re saying, but…”
I am not telling you to abandon advocacy, independence and self-reliance. One of my greatest personal treasures is my ability to take good care of myself when I must. I am only telling you that you cannot make up for your disability by refusing to lean on the world in any other way. You can’t, and you shouldn’t. And when you meet someone who sees right through you, and wants to take care of you anyway, try letting them, because nondisabled people lean all the time. We just don’t call it “accommodation” when they do. Mostly, we call it love.
Whether you know it or not, friend, your refusal to lean as others lean is costing you. One day, you will be in great, undeniable need. One day, you will come to the end of yourself, of what you can do, and you will have to reach out. Take it from someone who knows: It’ll be a lot easier if you practice.
I have to say (again) you are such a gifted writer! You have helped me understand my blind son better. God bless you.
A very great post as your posts are always. I couldn’t help but reflect on things to do with me when reading this. I’ve been sharing a lot of posts on facebook lately about topics we never knew about or that weren’t really worried about when I was a child and how a lot of the subjects were overlooked and the cycles we are born into or we inherret and find it hard to break later on. Some of us are brought up to be people pleasers sometimes this is a good thing sometimes it’s not. You might be wondering what being a people pleaser has to do with this post but it has relevance here. I’ve started following a podcast here in Australia called the Hot mess goddess podcast and it’s hosted by a former journalist who is a word scribe and we got to talking about being a people pleaser and it was brought to my attention that this can be a trauma response. I actually couldn’t believe that being a people pleaser can be a trauma response but deep down I can think of examples and senareos where this can be true. I actually swallowed my pride a few months ago and spoke to my gp about writing me out a mental health care plan for me to see a councilor which I haven’t felt the need to do for several years because all the work on my anger issues I’d done over the years some of the anger issues I’ve largely suppressed for years are returning. I think as men we are often too proud to ask for help or admit we aren’t okay even going so far as to suppress our emotions so it’s not always a female thing. It’s ironic that pride gets a mention here because I had a chat with my boss last Thursday morning as I had said that I don’t always like to keep my fluids up too much when at work because it would make me go to the toilet something which my theory has always been that I go to the toilet before leaving my house then again on my return but this isn’t always going to work so swallowing my pride is something that will guarantee that I am staying safe at work. And I should be keeping my fluids up anyway to keep my transplant kidney healthy. As far as who I like to seek out to be a confidant, it depends on the subject matter. There are some things I look to a woman for guidance about and often time for some comfort but something else I need to acknowledge too is that I shy away from some human affection and I will allow people to hug me selectively. I’m not going into specifics because some of the stuff I’ve found out about relates to my family and when there’s skellitons in ones closet one has to be extremely careful who it’s disclosed to particularly if disclosing to a councilor when it’s somebody else’s story and not my own. Back when I was in year7 and started in year7, I opted to hang out with older female students instead of students in my own year level. I’ve previously talked about being unsettled about which age group to hang out with they’re either too old or too young with very little middle ground. The fact I have a job makes me happy not just for something else to occupy my mind but I also am in a social environment I wouldn’t otherwise be in when I’m not doing a lot at home or even when I do go out at any other time. I did make the spontaneous decision to join a singles mingles facebook group and go out for dinner with some single people. No dating site by any stretch but I took a huge step out of my comfort zone but will keep trying and see how things go. I was ready to put supports in place at the restaurant I rang to book and go there and back on my own but even though I did it off my own bat without really thinking it through and working out what supports I needed in place the fact I even took that iniciative makes me proud. I know this is very long winded and I’m sorry if it seems i’m overwhelming you with lengthy comments that seem to jump all over the place from one subject to the next but the fact is I have to start realizing that there are a lot of areas I need to step up more for myself and not being soley dependant on my parents or others to do things for me because one day my parents won’t be here any more and if I don’t start stepping up i’ll be absolutely lost and I don’t want that which brings me to the last subject on this comment before I go. I’ve always had a goal to work towards looking at dating and one of my support workers says that she hopes that in 10 years from now it’s hoped that by then I’ll have settled down with a family and learned how to do more things for myself and that if I haven’t I will be a lonely old man if things don’t change. Sinical that must be but it is the reality if i’m not careful.
Every time you write, every time we talk, I can see changes in you. And every time, you get more amazing. I also think I learn more about you from reading your posts than I ever have during one of our conversations. And that works for you, so keep on just like that. But if you decide you feel the need to overshare, that door’s as open for you now as it was then. All you need to do is walk through.
PS. who you love is really no one’s business but your own. You’re not changing my mind on that. But guy or girl, if you get hurt, I’m on the next thing moving. Don’t dare think otherwise. That you’re treated well is the only thing I care about. And that should be the only thing anyone cares about, really–we’re not you.
Thank you for sharing this. ❤