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Don't look past my disabled body - love it

Date
Stella Young

Stella Young

Today's guest post comes from Stella Young

When I was younger, I vowed that I would never have a relationship with another disabled person. Certainly until I was about 17, I was kind of “in the closet” about disability. I knew I had one – heck, I got my first motorised wheelchair when I was 2½ – but I did my very best not to acknowledge it. I didn’t hang out with other disabled people (ew!) and I would certainly have never entertained the prospect of a relationship with one.

In fact, teenage-me thought that if I could snag myself a non-disabled boyfriend, that meant I’d made it. I’d win the battle to just be “a normal person” like everyone else. I’d blend seamlessly into the crowd and wheel off into the sunset with my perfectly-proportioned prince.

Then, something happened. I read a book about the social model of disability and I began to deconstruct my own ableist prejudices. I realised that a huge part of my reluctance to have a relationship with someone else with a disability stemmed from the fact that I was still viewing disability as my own personal deficiency. Once I realised that may of the issues in my life stem from society and the environment, everything changed. Realising that disabled people are not wrong for the world we live in, but that the world is simply not yet right for us, was enormously liberating.

So I started hanging out with some other people with disabilities and enjoyed myself immensely. There’s something deeply wonderful about the shared experience of difference in a friendship. And some of these new friends of mine were in relationships; some of them with other disabled people, and some with non-disabled folks. I no longer dismissed the idea of a relationship with another disabled person entirely, but there was still this nagging reluctance.

It is often assumed that sexuality is a concept that simply doesn’t apply to people with disabilities. I wasn’t asked by a doctor if I was sexually active until I was 27. I always had to volunteer that information. Some doctors even responded with blatant surprise. This isn’t exactly encouraging from some of the most highly educated members of our communities, is it?

A good friend of mine with mild Cerebral Palsy – very vanilla as disabilities go – was taken out of sex ed classes at school because her parents thought that the less she knew about sex, the better.

Because of all this discomfort around sexuality and disability, it’s no wonder that having a relationship at all can feel like an act of rebellion.

In many ways, it seems the path of least resistance is for us to have a relationship with someone else with a disability. Society seems to be more comfortable if we “stick with our own kind”. This attitude used to apply to interracial relationships as well, and some people are still quite uncomfortable with that. I’ve been in the same relationship for six years, but prior to this I got the same relationship advice from a lot of people.

“There's a guy at my gym in a wheelchair, you guys should go out.”

“I know this guy with Cerebral Palsy, you guys would be really cute together.”

“I bet you really like that Peter Dinklage* guy, hey?”

I really resented the idea that people seemed to want to pair me off with someone else with a disability like we were a cute little matching set.

Disability is further complicated by media portrayal. People with disabilities are set up by the media and painted as “undesirable”. We fall, sometimes quite drastically, outside the boundaries of what is considered conventionally attractive. We talk about non-disabled people who are attracted to us as either sexually deviant (as in the devotee fetish community), or we talk about them as being able to “look past” disability.

The notion of “looking past” disability to somehow see “the real person” is one I have come to find deeply offensive. I spent my teenage years thinking that I needed to find someone who could ignore my physical body and see my “attributes” - my intelligence and humour, my mad knitting skillz. I thought that the only logical way for someone to find me attractive would be for them to ignore what I look like. It didn't occur to me until years later that my body is also an attribute.

I realised that I didn’t want that kind of relationship. I didn’t want someone to ignore my body. I wanted someone who’d look directly at it and love it, wonky bits and all.

I’ve also come to realise that the wonder and acceptance I found as a 17-year-old when I started hanging out with other people with disabilities – the shared experience of difference – is one of the things that I definitely want in a relationship. In my partner (who is currently leaning over my shoulder saying “you need to make this much saucier for CityKat!”) I have found that. There’s something really wonderful about sharing your life with someone who really “gets it”. For me, that trumps my natural tendency to rebel.

And really, when you strip away all the superficiality and aesthetics, isn’t that what we all want? Just because society doesn’t expect love and sex to be a priority for people with disabilities, doesn’t mean we aren’t every bit as invested in those things as everyone else.

Of course there is no right way to have a relationship, whether you have a disability or not. But I’m pretty glad I stopped trying to go against what I felt I should aspire too, and just decided to do what I want. And what I want is far more important than what other people expect.

*Yes, I absolutely love The Dink. More than Ryan Gosling. Because he’s smoking hot, and I wouldn’t have to ask him to sit down before I planted one on his lovely stubbly face.

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Stella Young is the editor of ABC Ramp Up. Follow her on Twitter.

As well as commissioning a series of guest posts while CityKat is away, brisbanetimes.com.au is also going to select one reader entry for publication. Email your submissions through to scoop@brisbanetimes.com.au with CK GUEST BLOG in the subject line. Our editorial team will take a look and select a reader entry for publication.

75 comments

  • Stella, very nicely said.
    It’s truly sad as to how superficial some people can be, the focus on the aesthetics can be extremely pathetic.
    Confidence is accepting who you are and make the best with what you have which is why I don’t get it why some people take offence to the extremely obvious, I’m taller than average and countless times I get told “wow you’re really tall” or something similar and I have no problem with it, it’s a factual statement, yet say to someone “you’re fat” or “wow you’re are short” or “your butt is really flat and droppie” or “your gut is growing” etc etc and suddenly it a huge problem, why oh why the double standards?

    Commenter
    Victorious Painter
    Date and time
    July 13, 2012, 9:23AM
    • because you can't help but be tall.. people can help being overweight on the other hand.

      Commenter
      CC
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 11:40AM
    • The way I see it, for many people it's an unspoken assumption that being tall is a desirable trait to have in our society, so having the fact that you are tall pointed out to you is expected to be taken as a compliment. (Unless of course it is done in an obviously derogatory way eg: "Is the air too thin to breathe up there?") Whereas the other examples you mentioned are all traits regarded as "undesirable" in our society, so people will tend to take them as a put-down or as criticism. If you remark to someone that they are fat, they will immediately read into that the subtext of "You're neglecting your health and you should lose weight", so it's considered impolite to point this out to a stranger. Really, being shorter than average should be no big deal, there is a bell curve of height distribution and naturally half of all people will be on the "shorter than average" side, but my son, who had a very late puberty and therefore was shorter than his peers all through high school experienced a lot of comments about how short and childish-looking he was. When coupled with a sneer or a laugh or a mean joke or someone a lot taller than you deliberately leaning their elbow on your shoulder (which several of his peers in high school delighted in doing) it is obviously not merely a statement of fact. Unfortunately far too many people seem to derive some kind of pleasure for themselves by unnecessarily putting down others and feeling superior to them.

      Commenter
      MO4
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 11:55AM
    • @MO4, in my younger years, between about 17 and 24, at 6’3” and 65kg it was never in a positive way, I got all the funny comments and jokes dished out, never positive, earlier this year on a first meet up from a online dating site I got told straight up “you’re so tall, I don’t think I could get use to it” WTF, I had specified the correct height, even purchasing trousers is a challenge and I get the “sorry you’re a bit too tall” often, having said all of that, i’m very happy with myself and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

      Commenter
      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 12:29PM
    • I agree with you, it's total double standards, but remember there are many advantages to being tall, being short is a detriment (I'm a shorty).

      Commenter
      Bec
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 4:29PM
    • Idk which planet you’re on VP but here in my world, tall men get all the ladies. Saying ‘wow you’re tall’ is on par with saying ‘wow you’re awesome’, completely different to saying ‘wow you’re fat’ or ‘wow you’ve got a lazy eye’. The former belongs to the realm of gushing compliments, the latter conforms to snide criticisms. As a friend of mine said, ‘I wear I only get laid because I’m really tall’ (6’4”). [/tangential and irrelevant comment.]

      Commenter
      Jill
      Location
      psychedelia
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 4:42PM
    • Considering the impact and food for thought provided so eloquently by the author of today's topic I can't believe the first comment is about someone's height, and they can't tell the difference between ^you're a bit too tall^ and ^your arse is really flat and droppie^

      Commenter
      too something
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 5:36PM
    • VP, you just took a beautifully written article about one person's experience with disabilty and made it about yourself. With a spurious claim that somehow you know how Stella feels because you're tall. Please.

      May I suggest that if you reframe every conversation in real life so that whatever people say comes back to you and your feelings and experiences, you probably aren't that great to be with. Maybe that is your problem with dating, rather than your height?

      Commenter
      vj
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 7:09PM
    • @Jill
      yep, i get that, i was referring to a narrow portion of my life as my 2nd post stated.
      BTW, i have no interest in just "getting laid", that's of insignificant value to me and too easily achieved, without the depth of a fully committed relationship that is, something which i'm currently involved in therefore "getting laid" in that context is of great value.

      Commenter
      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      July 14, 2012, 1:28PM
    • @too something
      Should I of have waited and ensure my post was not the first one? Funny.
      You seemed to have missed out that the first thing I wrote was a recognition of the article.
      Given your response I can only assume your arse is really flat and droppie and you took offence?

      @vj, no need getting personal, my mother is physically disabled as well as slightly mentally disabled as a result of a stroke 3.5 years ago. So yes any topic about “disable” people is very close to my heart, nevertheless, stay well.

      Commenter
      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      July 16, 2012, 10:49AM

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