No Sex Please: We’re Disabled

When I was about fifteen or so, I was scrolling through some disability-related books, not paying much attention to most of them. I became very alert, however, when I stumbled across a book (whose title escapes me) about society’s puritanical de-sexualization of wheelchair users. The book also delved into the experiences of other physically disabled populations, exploring the myth that we are not and do not want to be sexual creatures. This was a new idea to me, or so I thought. But, as I continued to read, I realized it wasn’t new at all.

I cast my mind back to a family trip to Mexico when I was about thirteen. This is well past the age when girls generally become convinced that kissing someone would be more fun than icky, and I was experiencing a tame awakening of my own around that time. As my sister and I walked down the sidewalks, with our elaborately braided hair and colourful bathing suits, the eyes of nearly everyone slid over me completely, or opened wide in fascination as they noticed the long white cane—that conspicuous symbol of otherness. These wide-eyed stares came from all genders, and I remember several people running back the way they’d come just so they could get a better look! (My sister and I joked that people should forget about taking pictures with monkeys and take pictures with me, for a fee, naturally.) If you’ve got it … flaunt it, I guess?

Now, if I was as stunning as my sister, it may have made a difference in the way people looked at me, but I’m not convinced of that. People tend not to actually see visibly disabled people, unless they’re gawking, that is. Beyond making us feel like monkeys ourselves, it can also seriously stunt our love lives.

I’ve talked about feeling like I wasn’t a real girl, and how I’m only just discovering that I’m satisfactory the way I am. That does not mean, though, that the rest of society has caught up with me. All throughout grade school, only other blind people showed any interest in me at all, and they could only communicate with me via the internet or telephone. (Most of them were as desperately lonely as I was, so I didn’t put much stock in their judgement.) I’m sure many sighted people didn’t flirt or approach me at all because they simply weren’t interested; that’s not a big deal. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I am quite sure, however, that many boys I grew up with simply didn’t consider me based on my broken eyes, even if they did so unconsciously. There were girls, and then there was Meagan: normal enough to be friends with, but too alien to date.

Once I started talking to other disabled people about this, I discovered that they, too, were often rejected outright because of their disabilities, with people only realizing how attractive disabled people can be once they could get past their discomfort (assuming they ever did). If I put my cane out of sight and manage not to bump into walls, I don’t look blind, and I’m told that people actually look at me differently. Suddenly, I’m a human–a young woman who is potentially attractive to at least one soul out there somewhere. As soon as that cane comes out, though, I’m reduced to an asexual, undesirable creature who is off limits to everyone, romantically speaking anyway.

The worst bit is that some people apparently believe we want it this way! They believe that we wouldn’t want to become romantically involved, or that we don’t like or can’t enjoy sex. I can understand the confusion when it comes to severe cases of paralysis, though people need to do their research and be more open-minded even then, but it baffles me that someone whose body is in fine working order would still be de-sexualized. Even those whose bodies aren’t up to statistical standards of normality should not be ruled out; you’ll just have to get creative. Aside from all this, a disability should never rule someone out as a potential romantic partner right off the bat, based solely on the idea that they’re not datable. Judge them by their personalities, general physical traits, outlooks on life, and all the other attributes you’d evaluate in any able-bodied mate. Preferences are fine, but ignorance is not. We’re not children, and we’re definitely not puritans by design.

Next time you see a pretty girl in a wheelchair, go talk to her. Next time you meet an attractive blind guy, go have a chat. Next time you encounter someone with a disability who appeals to you, assume they’re a viable option until you discover otherwise. Finally, never, ever write them off as disinterested by default. How can you know until you try?

Chill Out, People: I Am Not Contagious

I take the bus, and there are several empty seats around me, conveniently placed right up front. Someone embarks via the front door, and walks quickly past me to take a seat waaaay at the back. I sit down for a lecture, noticing that most students are clumped together, while others have gone out of their way to give me a wide berth. I flop down in a seat in a study lounge, only to have the person next to me gather their belongings and sidle over to a seat across the room. Anyone seeing a pattern here? Anyone? Anyone?

I’m not even sure if people are conscious of this, but I am beginning to think they’re convinced that blindness is contagious. Unless you have an eye infection and enjoy swapping mascara with strangers,, you’re probably not a threat to anyone else’s eyes, but I’m often treated like a leper. Some people undoubtedly move away because society puts a premium on personal space. Others, however, do so because I make them uncomfortable, which I understand is a common experience for many disabled people. Mothers drag their children away from the oncoming blind lady, while students shift restlessly when I sit down near them. It’s common enough for people to leave space between each other; Canadians aren’t really used to tight quarters unless they live in Vancouver or Toronto. Even so, people’s attitude toward me seems a bit too blatantly fearful to be blamed on a desire to avoid human contact.

There are a litany of reasons to avoid sitting near someone: I wouldn’t blame you a bit for avoiding the person sniffling noisily in the corner. Nobody likes icky cold germs, but unless I have ominous substances pouring from my red nose, there is no logical reason to steer clear.

I usually just shake my head and move on—what else can I do? I’d be lying if I claimed it didn’t hurt a little, though. I’m a nice person who is reasonably friendly. At the least, I’d never encroach upon another person’s space, and I might even provide good conversation if they only gave me a try. Students are especially prone to engaging strangers on campus, but they tend to ignore me unless they think I need help. I want to say to them, “I cannot give you blindness, okay? Mine is a genetic condition, so unless you’re my secret half-brother, please relax. You’re fine.”

Social exclusion and general discomfort are the order of the day for a lot of visibly disabled people, and all one can do is bridge the gaps as best one can. Sometimes, though, my snarky side prevails, and I feel the urge to shout, “Come sit near the freak, why don’t you? I don’t bite (hard)!”

So, friends all, take a seat by me. It’s okay. You’ll leave as healthy and sighted as ever–I guarantee it.