I'm In A Wheelchair: 5 Ways Dating Can Be Super Dark
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My wheelchair often becomes a small elephant in the room wherever I go. That's especially the case when that room is full of the most frightening type of people to me: strangers. Their inability to process someone using a wheelchair has become so commonplace that I often fast-forward to resenting them before they've even spoken to me.
Because of that, I often find myself in angst mode, which can be a real problem when it comes to dating. Dating requires meeting new people, and I can't meet someone new without them being far more interested in the wheelchair than any aspect of my personality. Admittedly, my personality sucks, but being reduced to a set of tires, axles, and motors isn't going to endear you to me either. Dating while confined to a chair is an altogether different and more challenging experience -- though it makes me a much more efficient speed dater.
People's Reactions Have Fundamentally Changed Who I Am
It's inevitable: Upon meeting me, my date will do absolutely everything in their power not to mention or look at my wheelchair. It becomes my defining feature. After about ten minutes of stilted small talk and eye contact so intense I sometimes fear they may actually be trying to explode my head with psychic energy, the desire to know why I'm confined to such a contraption takes over. When the pretenses fall away, I'm asked to casually adapt the painful origin story of my disability into light and breezy chitchat. The person who can turn a virus that eats the protective tissues around their brain into quirky conversation deserves a large trophy.
What's worse is that I now expect this reception from every single person I come across. When I can't meet anyone new without spending the entirety of the conversation wondering when the small talk will veer to the painful memory, I start planning exit routes that ensure I run over as many feet as I can on the way out. I anticipate people's judgement before they've even spotted me rolling along at crotch-level. I visualize them asking me to relive the moment when I was lying in bed, not even sure if I would live to see my life go to shit, and I shut them out before they get the chance to prove me wrong. Humanity's prejudice has induced my own prejudice against them. It's a sick kind of poetic justice, but not the deep, introspective kind. It's more like annoying slam poetry.
All this is probably why I'm marrying the first person who could actually see past my wheelchair. That's not a joke. I'm literally about to marry that person. You have to lock down the good ones before someone else takes them.
People Think My Date Is My Carer
When people see me out with my able-bodied counterpart, they assume he's only there to wipe my ass at regular intervals, not to buy me cake and watch superhero movies with me. People don't seem to get that the person with me isn't a registered nurse I pay to spoon-feed me when I'm out to lunch. I'm trying to have sex and fall in love with that person, and I'm hoping they're willing to reciprocate.
Depicting my partner as my carer is fine when he is helping me to get on a train. It is not fine when we are simply out together wandering the streets, and anyone who has to interact with us refers to him as my carer. They don't speak to me -- they speak to my date, as if I'm miles away. Meanwhile, I sit there trying to pass my hand through someone's body in case I didn't realize I was a ghost this whole time. To them, the chair I sit in reduces me to someone not worth speaking to directly, but instead through an intermediary they assume I've been assigned. And it's automatic for a lot of people. Without a moment of hesitation, they assume I'm a vegetable.
No one ever sees a relationship when they look at us. It's an idea so deeply burned into the brains of society that no one thinks twice about it before deciding that my capacity for a relationship extends no further than requiring someone to help me do normal-people stuff, because clearly I am incapable of normal-people emotions, thoughts, or even speech. When it's pointed out to someone that I'm wearing an engagement ring for a reason, they look like someone just gave them a surprise prostate exam. Once they've dealt with the fact that wheelchair users are, in fact, human beings like everyone else on the planet, they start to become suspicious that something sinister is taking place. "But ... but how can you love WHEN YOU HAVE W-W-WHEELS?!"
Sadly that's not the worst thing people think about the people I've dated ...
People Think My Date Is A Creepy Pervert
Before my fiance and I started dating, we attended a social event for a university society, where he befriended a young woman who was struggling with severe mental health issues. After she couldn't cope in the overly crowded room and the rest of the group simply wanted to send her home in a taxi so that they could drunkenly enjoy their night out, he made the heinous mistake of daring to comfort her. The seeds of suspicion were sewn.
Months later, he and I were dating. We met up with members of said society. The reception was a little icy when they realized we were more than just friends, but nothing was said at the time. Behind our backs, however, it was perfectly obvious to them that he was taking advantage of me and my vulnerability to satisfy his own desires. I wasn't consulted on the matter, as it turned out I was a ghost, and as such, my opinion was invalid. There was no relationship between two consenting adults. To them, there was only a sexual predator and his dimwitted prey.
The rumors led to his exclusion from events, and even the people he planned to move in with the following academic year forced him out based on rumor alone. Having spoken to other disabled people, I know that when they hang out with someone able-bodied of the opposite gender, the general assumption of those around them is that the disabled person is a weak and pitiful creature falling foul of evil intent. It's difficult enough to lead a normal life as it is. It's even worse when idiots assume the non-disabled friends and lovers around me are only there to get some kind of sick thrill out of it, like I'm a character in a David Cronenberg movie. When they're not doing that ...
People Think My Date Is A Hero
If my partner is not assumed to be a criminal, then he's at the other end of the spectrum: a hero we should all aspire to be one day. Did he save the family from a burning house? Did he singlehandedly save the world from an alien invasion? Nope! He's a hero for having sex with a wheelchair girl. Let's give him the key to the city!
As we travel down the street together, some people will give him genuine looks of admiration. Their eyebrows raise a fraction, they flash a warm, condescending smile, and then they turn to their companions to discuss how sweet he is in whispers so loud they're more accurately described as breathy screams. Few ever speak to him directly. Why would they? Doing so might break the elaborate fiction they've created of a Superman walking among us, throwing lonely disabled girls a pity boning.
Short of shutting ourselves behind closed doors all day, it's inescapable. My fiance has mentioned to me more than once just how uncomfortable this makes him feel, and I can hardly blame him. He's here because he likes me, and he knows that I'm more than the wheels everyone else uses to define me. I read books. I write. I listen to music. I wear too much eyeliner. I attend wrestling shows. I like superhero movies. I'm terrible at Crash Bandicoot. I swear like a motherfucker. These are the reasons he's with me. Pity isn't one of them.
Besides, the closest he gets to heroism is when he remembers to put his underpants on before his jeans when he's drunk.
People Are Utterly Baffled (And Way Too Curious) About How I Have Sex
I've been asked whether I can feel anything. Can I orgasm? Can I satisfy my partner? Can I go for a normal length of time? Do I have to use special positions? Do I have to use contraception? Can I have sex at all? Has my vagina been sealed by a magic curse which can only be lifted by the love of a prince? I get these questions all the time. Fortunately, most people have had the decency to stop short of asking if they could watch.
You'd imagine that the worst offenders here are drunk men outside of pubs, but that couldn't be further from the truth. When I was collecting my contraceptive pill from the pharmacy, the middle-aged woman who was behind me in the queue asked me why I needed them. Out loud. In front of everyone. Truth be told, I take them for medical reasons as well as baby prevention, but that wasn't what she was driving at. So I turned around and told her it was because I got laid more often than she did. If I could sculpt her stunned expression in bronze and put it on my shelf as a little trophy, I would.
On another occasion, my male best friend, who I have never dated and never will, was spotted leaving my room at 1 a.m. after a movie marathon. The first thing one of my female flatmates said to me the next morning was, "So you can have sex, then?" Had I been less hung over, I would probably have had some witty response, but instead tried to create the kind of silence that lets people know you're quietly calling them stupid.
Sadly, this happens on a pretty consistent basis. I don't know what it is about the wheelchair, but the second someone gets comfortable enough with me to start asking personal questions (and it doesn't take long), the topic of sex comes up, and they get pretty goddamn blunt about it. I'm still confused as to why the wheelchair generates these kinds of behaviors in people, and why they take offense when I take offense to these queries. What are they expecting? For me to crack and give up all the juicy details like it's a police interrogation? No. I owe them nothing and they should expect nothing, other than a punch to the face as they're doubled over in pain after I've run over their foot in yet another perfectly executed exit.
Emma Steer, a.k.a. "Mini" (long story), has her own blog, "Diary of a Disabled Person," with new posts discussing her life released every Sunday. She also has a Facebook page accompanying the blog, sending out notifications with every new post, as well as the obligatory silly photos.
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