A noteworthy proportion of people have, at some point in their lives, broken a bone and ended up either on crutches or in a wheelchair for a few weeks. If you are one of those people, then like it or not, for a period of time you were part of an exclusive club – the Crip Club.
The odds are that you probably experienced some of the social awkwardness that hardcore sitters like myself experience. The ‘talking to the person behind you’ or even worse, being patted on the head like a dog who just sat down begging for attention.
The fact is that for those of us with long term physical disabilities, this is but a small snapshot of the challenges that we face every single day. Whilst these are fairly simple to overcome – I tend to bamboozle patronisers with special relativity – there’s one particular challenge that seems to be getting worse.
I’m not one to blame everything that goes wrong on other people, but society has a habit of stigmatising those who don’t follow social conventions, and those who may be even slightly different. If you’re homosexual, foreign, have tattoos, suffering with mental health problems, or disabled, you stand out from the crowd. As much as people may appreciate individuality, generally you get spoken about in the media for the wrong reasons. In the case of disability, one particularly prevalent area of stigmatisation tends to be the notion that disabled people can’t possibly be sexy.
There have been numerous attempts at challenging this. The most recent one came from Scope, the national charity for people with disabilities. They launched the ‘End The Awkward’ campaign. A spin off from that was launched for International Kissing Day in July, called ‘Kiss The Awkward Goodbye’.
The objective of the campaign is to the point: ‘We want to kiss awkward goodbye’ by showcasing disabled and non-disabled couples kissing. By showing this unapologetically, we can help break down awkward barriers that currently exist.
We want to kiss awkward goodbye by showcasing disabled and non-disabled couples kissing. By showing this unapologetically, we can help break down awkward barriers that currently exist.
Scope’s research shows that just 1 in 10 people have been in a relationship with a disabled person, or at least asked one of us out. I can personally vouch for this. Whenever I have expressed a romantic interest in someone, all I have ever received is a reason why it can’t happen. I’ve had a lot of excuses: “I’m single and not looking for anything” (the day after which they’ve suddenly been in a relationship), “I don’t understand enough about disability” (well why don’t they just ask), and the most honest “I don’t date disabled people”. The underlying cause of all these excuses is the viewpoint of society that being disabled is simply not sexy.
For example, you’re in a club. You see an attractive guy or girl in a wheelchair. How the hell do you dance intimately with someone in a wheelchair? Just thinking of that question alone can be enough to put you off. The answer is very simple though… you don’t need to worry about it, anything goes! Heck, you never know, you might find the fact that they probably have some quite awesome dance moves turns you on a bit. Point is, you really don’t know until you try.
Back to those excuses, eventually you get to the point where you’ve heard the words ‘no’, and ‘never’ so many times that it starts to affect you and your way of thinking, and you reach the conclusion (which under the circumstances I believe to be reasonable) that you are romantically unlovable. The thought of that hurts. Quite a lot. Now there’s a number of you will be thinking ‘Balderdash… you have to wait until you find the one’. To a certain extent I agree with you. But how the hell are you meant to find ‘the one’ (if it exists) without trying with people to whom you are attracted?
My growing frustration at this pattern of no, or words to that effect leads me to feeling compelled to plan out each stage meticulously, leaving no stone unturned. In other words, I over think things. This is where the fun begins in my head. At some point I lose sight of what I was thinking about, and become aware that I’m over thinking, which results in over thinking about over thinking. It’s a very much downward, and vicious cycle.
Even if the friendship doesn’t necessarily develop into a relationship, it’s nice to feel needed or wanted once in a while. Too often disabled people are viewed to have so many challenges in their lives, that friends are reluctant to ask for favours because they’re concerned it would be too much for them. In fact often its quite the opposite. More often than not we are so reliant on other people for help that feeling relied upon can be a hugely rewarding experience. More often than not we are so reliant on other people for help that feeling relied upon can be a hugely rewarding experience.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s time to talk about the two elephants in the room. The first one is the assexualisation of disability – it’s high time that society recognises that disabled people can and do have a sexual side to them.
The second one is something that the Students’ Union are actively campaigning on – mental health. I don’t need to repeat the statistics to you, but I am a sufferer, and despite hiding it reasonably successfully, when it rears its ugly head it’s almost like I turn from Smeagle into Gollum and the dark thoughts take hold.
In my case there is a close relationship between both of these elephants. I believe it is vital that we start having open discussions about ‘What we find sexy’ in an open manner. No more ‘game playing’, no more ‘pretending to not be interested‘. Just straight talk about friends, love, sex and emotional well-being.
Yeah, it’s an idealistic view, but it’s entirely plausible that we can change perceptions by just being more honest about these things.