Let me start by saying that my type of cerebral palsy is called spastic diplegia. The spastic part refers to spasticity, which is a reflex resistance to passive movement of the limbs and is noted by difficulty in initiating or controlling muscular movement. The di- in diplegia denotes two, in this case two limbs: both my legs.
Oftentimes in an effort to make light of situations, my mother would call me “Spastic One” just to see me laugh when I was feeling low. Many in my life wouldn’t understand this quip, would call it insulting or interpret it as me being made fun of. That was not the case at all. My mom just likes to keep things light and not so intense all the time, because what’s the fun in that? So, that’s what the title of this post is trying to do. Plus, I’m directing the joke at myself and it’s coming from a place of knowledge, empathy, personal experience and understanding.
I want to talk about dating and relationships. As most of you know, I published a piece on dating with a disability in June of last year. Everything I touched on in that piece is still true, of course. I just thought I’d write more about it.
I’m not going to lie, back when I was new to the dating scene, it wasn’t easy. Actually, it was really, really hard. I had decided to give online dating a try, which is obviously a different experience than meeting someone in person. To be frank, I stayed far away from online dating sites that did not place emphasis on what the person writes on their profile. Why? Because I wanted whoever was seeing my photo and deciding which way to “swipe” to know that I’m disabled.
Navigating cyberspace and talking to strangers about my disability was not always pleasant, though. Some guys would ask super invasive questions about living life while disabled, the most common of them being, “Can you have sex?” (If you must know, the answer is yes. Yes, I can).
It’s not enough that they even asked that, it was more often than not the FIRST question they asked. Excuse me. I am more than my body. Why is my value being placed on my sexual desirability in such a way that you feel it has to be your opening question in a conversation? Sex isn’t everything. Arguably, yes it’s important, but it isn’t everything in a relationship.
Another guy once said he “couldn’t handle” my disability. …Nobody asked you to. The only person handling my disability is me. I don’t need a caretaker. I can take care of myself. I was looking for a solid, reliable, dependable partner. Somebody to support me, challenge me, make me laugh or hold me when I’m upset. Somebody to love.
Although, to be honest I didn’t always discuss my disability in my profile. In fact, I vividly remember one person I was talking to, ages ago now, who I hadn’t told I was disabled just yet. When I did, he said, “That wasn’t on your profile. If I had known you were disabled, I wouldn’t have reached out. I wanted someone who can walk and ride bikes.”
Yes. He really did say that. Then, he went on to say something like, “I hope you can understand what I mean,” which in my opinion translates to, “Please absolve me of owning up to the fact that I’m actually an ableist asshole.” You guessed it: I wasn’t having any of it. I basically said in a not-so-nice way, that 1) I can walk, and 2) “bye, Felicia.” I suppose I don’t remember my response exactly because I was so focused on what this person said to me and how it made me feel.
The words, burden and less than came to mind. I thought, is he really saying I’m not enough because of my disability? That I’m not worth getting to know? It’s just so wrong on so many levels. Do you seriously think you’re better than me because you can ride a bicycle? I mean, I guess bikes are great and everything, but that’s not the only thing you can do on a date with a potential partner….in fact it’s definitely not the only thing! This guy essentially excluded me because of my physical abilities with his ableist superiority. Not cool, dude. Not cool.
I decided that from then on I was going to mention my disability on my dating profile. I hated that one could argue that this choice was a direct result of my interactions with that guy, but all in all I never wanted to feel so small and insignificant and insufficient ever, ever again. Then again, I wonder if I allowed the guy to make me feel that way deep down inside, If I permitted my insecurities to rise to the surface; if I gave him, this near stranger, that power over me. It reminds me of that timeless quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Which is to say, no one can make me feel like I am not enough if I don’t allow it.
So, perhaps putting my disability on my profile was me putting up a barrier, protecting myself. I learned a lot by doing this: that I hated, hated surprising people; that by revealing my disability, I was putting it all out on the line from the start, which relieved me from the anxiety about when to reveal my disability to a stranger; and in a way, I knew that the men messaging me after (hopefully) reading my profile knew what to expect and were OK with it. If it sounds like this move evolved into a sort of “weeding out” tool, it’s because it did.
Guess what, though? It worked! I found a wonderful, loving, caring, patient man from an online dating site, and we’ve been in a relationship for two beautiful years. Mi amor, thank you for everything…. I love you.