Wheelie Dating Struggles: The Case of the Casuals

shrug

The struggle is still happening. Here’s what’s come up recently.

Casual dating is virtually impossible. And that sucks. Because I live in a world where nothing is casual–people come to help me at pre-booked times, and many aspects of personal care are discussed as though the world might fall off its tilt, even if it’s just about not having paper towels or something. A lot of what I can and cannot do revolves around the care I’m able (or unable) to access. This makes a lot of my life feel whatever the opposite of casual is–intense?

Anyway, I’ve tried to dilute intensity for both myself and others by taking a dog’s age to get to know sexual partners. My figuring is that if I know them well-ish, I can feel safe(r) and eventually explain just how disabled I truly fucking am, without watching them walk away. But therein lies the horrible truth: Nothing about vulnerability is casual. 

It’s a shitty conundrum, really, because I’m dying to have consistent casual sex, if only to say that I can. Also getting laid consistency is really…nice. So all my intensities take a back seat and I pretend to be more [able], [independent], [closer to “average” in whatever way I can fake]. I don’t tell them that I need help showering. I don’t mention that I attach to others quicker than you can say cool whip. And I definitely don’t let them know that  I can’t do a five-day work week because 3 days of work completely drains me.

I think  I’ve gotten better at communicating  that “Friends with Benefits” is an appropriate label for whatever type of relationship I’m gunning for, even though the process by which I do this seems anything but casual or friendship-y. This title allows me the freedom to fuck, without the burden of another’s judgement. In other words, I can escape your ableism, I don’t have to pretend like our lives our similar, because you won’t ask me about my day. I don’t have to watch you realize how different me and my circumstances really are–and then reject me on that basis. I don’t have to watch you take an interest in me because of my difference, and then lose that interest when you realize there’s nothing to see here. All this is curbed by never exposing myself in the first place.

Except, in my experience, sex doesn’t work like that. Not my sex anyway. I all-but have a check-list  of things I need from a sex friend– attractive, kind and the world’s best communicator, laughs at my jokes, the usual. Because to me, this person can’t just be a hot bod. They also have to be someone that can handle physical vulnerability in a partner. And if you are one of those people, well, that sucks, because I’m going to want more than casual from you. I’m going to want to be your friend and buy you things and making Christmas stockings with the names of our to-be kids on them and shit. Because you’re a fucking unicorn.

And here I am, back at square one, wondering how I can have my cake and eat it too.

Sexual Consent: What A ‘Yes’ Can Mean For PwD

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Relax, consent for PwD is just like consent for all you walkies, with a few additives. The couple extra pieces I will talk about below are equally as important, and rarely discussed. Pay attention, here comes vague references to my lived-experience.

How Consent Is Layered For PwD (And The Complexities of Our ‘Yes’):

Consent is predominately talked about by defining No. No means no, maybe later means no. Sorry, I have to finish my homework means no. But for all our no conversations, the implications of yes are left in the cold. It’s unfortunate, because when PwD say yes to sex,  we’re also saying yes to many other things simultaneously. Here’s a brief starter list of what our yeses are indirectly signing us up for:

Yes, you can see my naked (and probably differently shaped ) body.

Yes, you can watch (and pretend like you’re not watching) how I move.

Yes, you can put me on the bed.

Yes, you can see that my body reacts differently than most to penetration.

Yes, if there was a fire right now, or your boner died and you ran away, I’d be SOL, laying here naked like a bug on its back. Until the end of time.

Regardless of how much you can or cannot do physically, one thing is certain: As a PwD, you are saying yes to tangible vulnerability when consenting to sex. Not the emotional kind that Brene Brown or Elisabeth Gilbert discusses, as if they’ve just become human for the first time. Vulnerability in terms of physical safety. Vulnerability that means,” I’m relying on you to treat me with respect in these intimate moments, but if you don’t, I can’t up-and-leave.” Vulnerability that, during and after sex, means a level of physical dependence. This is important to mention because it’s a big part of our yes. In saying yes, trust in our safety is implicit.

As PwD we’re also consenting to you, our sexual partner, seeing the intimate extent of our embodied difference. This too varies with disability, but could mean anything from having a non-normative body type, to muscle spasms, pain, or differing body mechanics.  It could mean a different way of communicating. It might mean taking off a brace, removing a prosthetic, whatever. And as confused or unsure as you might feel about the level of difference in our ability, we might be just as unsure about showing ourselves to you. (We might also think we’re great and not give two shits how you’re looking at our differences—it really depends on who you’re sleeping with).

The Importance of Acknowledging Power

Fun fact: When you’re with a person with a disability, ablebodiedness=power. In fact, anything that you know about the person you’re sleeping with, is a form of social power. This is why it’s crucial that during sex, a person acknowledges their power. This might sound like a load of whack, but acknowledging power is the first step toward neutralizing it. And doing so can be a simple communication, starting with “Do you want this?” Checking-in is great too. I’d rather be asked a zillion times if I’m turned on/happy/comfortable than not at all. Consent is actually very sexy. It evens out power dynamics, and opens the lines of talk for a funner (it is too a word) time had by all.

Know that as PwD, our Nos are fat with truth, but so too are our yeses. If we want to sleep with you, it’s a risk, and if we’ve said yes, it’s one we’re willing to take. Feel free to add your thoughts on consent as it pertains to disability, if at all.

#WheelieAttachment Rd 2

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A couple of nights ago I wrote a post detailing wheelies’ need to be incessantly clingy. It was full of self-negativity and became a scapegoat for my personal attachment issues. My attachment issues still exist–very much so– but below I’ve tried to reconcile with that post by providing a more systemic approach to the attachment issues PwD face. More specifically, I’ve looked at the ways in which the vulnerability stereotype, combined with society’s tendency to blame loneliness, and wheelies themselves, have created unhealthy attachment environments for PwD. Take from it what you will.

Vulnerability Reinforced

It’s my belief that solidifying vulnerability as a part of a person’s identity contributes to a life of overcompensation and clamouring after validation from others. Media stories on disability (few as they may be) generally have 3 subcategories: Inspiration, integration and abuse. The third category portrays us as helpless, unknowing, lonely people, who simply crave connection.

Reports depicting the abuse of people with physical and/or developmental disabilities enforce the idea of disabled people as vulnerable and perpetually lonely. In this news story from October, CBC details the sexual assault of a woman with an intellectual disability, on a bus in Winnipeg. Do me a solid and count the number of times they refer to this woman as vulnerable in the video segment. Seriously, try it. Notice how the first word used to describe the woman, after mentioning her young age, isn’t intellectually disabled– it’s “vulnerability”. The word is then repeated in different tenses by different people throughout the piece, followed by an assault statistic and a quote from an “advocate of the disabled.” (hehe, can I be an advocate of the gayed, please?). If by some form of amnesia, you forget the details of this assault, you can be sure not to forget this woman’s vulnerability, in relation to her disability.

There are a slew of other articles which also focus on vulnerability, but don’t take my word for it, Google ‘disability’ and anything and you’ll see what I mean. There’s this article, describing a number of abuses in ‘care homes’ in Alberta, this stat sheet on abuse of women with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador  and this statistical myriad, exposing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

What does all of this say about vulnerability and disability? Well, for starters, that it’s a stereotype that holds truth. Some stereotypes are out in left field, used for oppressive, manipulative purposes. But the disability + vulnerability stereotype originates from a place of honesty—you can see from the statistics, that disability and vulnerability are extremely correlated.

It also demonstrates that vulnerability often overshadows the other realities of people with disabilities, like stereotypes often do. The internet is overwhelmed with disability and abuse conversations, depictions, and coverings. What it lacks is the other aspects of disability—or more accurately, the humanity, to be seconded by the disability. There’s a reason the woman in the CBC story was only described as young, vulnerable and intellectually disabled. There’s a reason vulnerable was used at least a dozen times, and was by far, the leading descriptor. The truth is that, while abuse IS rampant within the disability community, so too is our loss of humanity in the name of sensationalization and stereotyping.

Don’t misunderstand, this post is not about to minimize the horrific problem that is abuse and assault of people with disabilities, my point is not about the assaults, it is about our one-dimensional focus on this vulnerability. It’s my opinion that no matter how much truth there is to a statement regarding a certain group, that statement becomes a stereotype when it allows us to lose sight of the group’s humanity.

By way of challenge, I suggest re-framing thoughts around disability and vulnerability. I think we should do what we’ve done for other experiencers of violence and assert that they are, in fact, survivors. This not only blows stereotypes out of the water, but it illuminates the fact that we—PwD and people who have experienced violence—are people….people with strength, even.(I know right? Stop the insanity).

Blaming Loneliness

People often believe loneliness is to blame for the prevalent abuse of people with disabilities, thinking that PwD’s hunger for companionship make them more susceptible to mistreatment—but to blame loneliness is to blame a symptom, not a root cause.

Loneliness is a hated part of human existence, well-understood by everyone on this planet, and probably by intelligent life galaxies away. Here’s a list of the contributors to wheelie-specific loneliness:

  1. Currently, I’m pulling a number out of my butt that says 60% of people won’t really be close with a wheelie because, “yikes what are you?!” Anyone want to do a ‘Would you befriend a wheelie’ poll?
  2. Wheelie’s Personality. So out of the 40% that will even consider being around you in public, only 15% jive with your brand of weird.
  3. Walkie’s Personality: You only care about 10% of those 15% that like you. What number does that leave us at? This blog doesn’t do maths.
  4. Money—All the wheelies I know are broke, except for one, and he’s one of the smartest people I know. Just one of those terribly resourceful motherfuckers that everyone and their mom envies.

Anyways, majority of wheelies are broke for most, if not all of their lives. Google              poverty rates and disability. It’s hard to be social without money.

  1. Accessibility—Nobody wants to kick it with you when you can’t meet them at their friend’s apartment, or go see their friend’s band, or join the after-party that’s atop 3 flights of stairs. You remind them that the world is unfair, that they are not into you enough to carry you around. You make them feel like shit.

The above list is incomplete, but you get the idea (Other contributors: Limited/no access to education, no access to supportive housing, struggles adjusting to social norms, after x number of years of being excluded). The problem is so much bigger than lonely wheelie who just wanted a friend. It’s systemic. And yet, PwD are still blamed for out lack of ability to find ‘normal,’ consistent, securely-attached friendship. Just the other week, The Telegraph published an article promoting, (among other things), that disabled people have help making relationships work. The article focuses on Tibby Owens, an“advocate for the sexual lives”of people with disabilities” . Owens is in her 70s, and has released a book for the caregivers of PwD called Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives. Her belief is that disabled people ‘mess things up,’ in the realm of dating. She’s positively oozing condescension and wheelie-blaming (that’s a thing? It is now.). Read:

“A lot of what we’re doing is helping disabled people gain the sexual confidence so that when they do meet someone they like, they don’t mess it up,” Owens says. “It’s all about being positive and enjoying it and achieving some sexual fun for the first time in their lives.”

Mess it up? Sexual fun for the first time in our lives? Lady, you and I need to have a sit down. Buy me a coffee ASAP.

The insinuation here is that someone might be able to bring PwD sexual joys for the first time EVAR because we are too lonely, isolated, and socially inept to figure it out ourselves. And again, while I recognize that this is a reality for some, I see no positives in acting like disabled people are to blame for not having all the awesome sex. We’re not. Stigma is. People’s misunderstandings about how our bodies work, what our limitations mean, and what they can offer, is certainly another area where my finger points. But me, my loneliness, my tendency to “mess it up”—damnit lady, if I could solve that, I would have a husband on a ranch by now (just kidding, manure is fucking gross). Please stop blaming me, stop blaming us and our lonely, it’s unproductive. And truly, Ms. Anointed to Help Wheelies Fuck, we were doing that long before you got here.

This post is so long and garbled, who knows why I started. The bottom line is that, stereotypes hurt, and when society perpetually sees us as vulnerable victims, and people who are all about the lonely, or people who don’t know how to fuck, well fuck you. Not in the fun way. Let’s rethink these beliefs and the blame that commonly accompanies them.

Not Adding Up: Manliness and Disability

Disability and manliness are like two old lovers who’ve had a horrible falling out and can no longer bare to be in the same room together. Though they actually share a lot of the same struggles, their goals are so starkly different that they wouldn’t dare try to reconnect, nevermind look each other in the face. And out of respect for the way things are, everyone abides by this, with manliness on one side of the room and disability off crying in a hopefully-wheelchair-accessible bathroom somewhere.

It’s sad really, they could totally chum-it-up if they both acknowledged their common elephant in the room: vulnerability. Vulnerability has been by both of their sides for as long as either can remember, in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s the mutual friend who introduced them.

But anyways, I super digress. Today, I’d like to talk about the way manliness and disability don’t jive (you know, beyond the obvious “disability doesn’t play nice with anyone” stuff) , a comparative example showing the disconnect, and then a shot in the dark at how to unite the two.

Manliness: The Norm of Norms

Way back a little bit after dinosaurs, being manly was the only acceptable plight of being. This dates back to Aristotle (and probably before him), who said that women have “improper form” and are “monstrosities.” A woman named Nancy Tuana has renamed this the view “Misbegotten Men,” which clearly indicates that men were seen as the ultimate normative standard.

Add time and a population pregnant with– well– women, and this standard evolves into bland old gender stereotypes with men at the centre and women being all hysterical and such. As a society that commonly defines ourselves by our affinity for dichotomies, we see men as natural and women as unnatural. Ideas of stoicism and strength are quickly elevated and idealized.

Oops, Disability

If throwbacks to early histories tell us that manliness was the only way to go, you can only imagine the type of stuff being said about disability. More than just a deviation, disability was/still is considered an anti norm, a spectacle, often “exhibited as freaks,”(Integrating Feminist Theory, 7). Exploited for what I call points of difference from ablebodied norms, disability was the opposite of anything anyone wanted to see, outside a circus setting. It’s the furthest away from our standards of manliness and beauty as you can get, a direct reminder of human flaws, a stiff shot of non-conformity.

Vulnerability

The thing that unites disability and manliess is that they’re both unachievable essentializations; one is a desired standard and the other a fascinating performance. They exist in the realm of human categorization, of measurability, and both do an adequate job of denying human’s humanity. Moving up to present-day, I have two examples of vulnerability, one portraying men, and the other people with disabilities. Both photo collections, the first depicts ablebodied men in their gitchies, in a space where they feel comfortable, baring their unaltered bodies for the viewers. It’s poignant, and by way of exposing vulnerability, very de-sexualized (since norms tell us manliness and vulnerability cannot coincide). The second photo grouping, which shows disabled people also in their underwear, aims to bring up sexuality in the realm of disability.

It’s interesting that two photo essays with almost exactly the same requirements(near-nudity in home spaces to demonstrate realness) can have completely different narratives propelling them. Taking pictures of ablebodied men in their homes, whilst stripped-down is exposure, vulnerability, while capturing disabled people at home in their nickers is apparently sexing them up. This distinction is reinforced by the comments below each post, with the article featuring ablebodied men inciting intelligent, discussion- driven comments like:

I was intrigued with the notion of getting away from violent imagery to portray masculinity, but as I scrolled through the photos what struck me was that — with the exception of the man holding the flower — they all look melancholic. Is that the message — take away aggression from men and they look like they lost their best friend? A man without aggression can be giddy, lively, loving and funny, too.

And:

I’m off to the gym.

The article conveying disabled people “stripped” on the other hand, provoked uncomfortable reactions like:

TMI.”

“What did I just see…?”

“We really don’t need to see naked pictures of anyone,”Quite silly, being that none of the people portrayed in these photos are full-frontals, and shadows and angling are used very appropriately.

And, my personal favourite:

“Bizarre!”

Since an article often speaks through its comments, this tells me that either the readers of Daily Mail UK are their own breed of trolls, or that they have simply internalized a chunk of discomfort around disability and sexuality that they haven’t yet gotten around to shaking off. Naturally, I submitted a hefty comment on re-evaluating societal standards of acceptable sexuality, but it was moderated, and the post was then closed to commenters. There’s 3 minutes of life I’ll never get back.

Maybe commenters of the able-bodied photo essay were just more open-minded than your average Joe on Daily Mail, but even so, I think this speaks volumes about what we’re open to discussing—male concepts of vulnerability and its implications—and what wer’e not—sexuality of persons with disabilities. This is fascinating, because it seems that both articles have similar end-games, in that they want to change norms around sexuality, and yet they are received with starkly different reactions by readers.

I don’t have concrete answers for the gap we face with acceptance of vulnerability, in the contexts of manliness or disability, but I like to think reminding others of their commonalities (deviation from the norm, disapproval from the mainstream, unachievable standards of performance), we can move towards more positivity on both fronts. Because divided we fall,or whatever.

Needing Help During a Fight

When you need help in life, Life can decide who helps you, for you. This is usually alright, assuming you get along well with most other humans, especially the one who pushed you out of her vagina. But if you have a tumultuous relationship with the person helping you–or even just a one-off blow out with them, things can get more than messy. Here’s a few times when interpersonal conflicts can mess with asking for help.

Being in Conflict with a Parent

Everybody has conflict with their parents, it’s a right of passage that starts the minute you bust through the vaginal canal. In movies, teenagers with too much eye-makeup make fighting with  family seem like an art-form, with their precocious vocabulary and dramatic exits. When you’re a real-life teen with a disability however, this fighting involves a lot less grace and minimal opportunity for dramatic walk-offs.

Whatever. Ground me then. I don’t care,” Says you, with teary eyes and legs that twitch with the weight of your emotions, giving it away that you actually do care.

“Fine. This conversation is over,” says parent, who’s over dealing with your adolescent brand of Brat, and having a teenage kid.

Fine.” Remember when the last word was everything? You’d practically spit it out, and plan to leave triumphantly, only hahaha, you’re disabled–Leaving quickly just isn’t an option for you.. Don’t give yourself a heart attack trying to leave the room  quickly(while actually moving slower than a snail, because you’re mad and you forget what moving feels like). Joke’s on you.

The rough part about fighting with a parent is that your disagreements with them serve as a way to test  limits and try your hand at independence, and this is mostly true for everyone, regardless of ability. When you live with a physical disability, this assertion of limits can be elusive or non-existent, simply because you have to rely on a parent for basic things like bathing, eating and getting in/out of bed. Let’s say this quarrel happened right before bed. You may have eventually succeeded in leaving the room, but you still have to “let them” help you get undressed, or wash-up, things that many people take solace in doing independently, as part of quiet time.

This boundary-crossing is inevitable for most physically disabled people and their parents, if their parents are also their caregivers. I believe that it can make it tough to decipher how to “hold true” to your thoughts and feelings in the future. “I still need help,” starts to feel like, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong,” even if neither of those things are what you mean to convey. It’s difficult to feel like you’ve drawn a line in the sand when that line must soon be wiped away due to physical care needs.

Interpersonal Conflicts With Significant Others

Should we discuss this? THIS ONE SUCKS. Depending on the nature of the relationship (healthy/unhealthy) the conflict varies. What remains the same is that you need help. The independent factor is the reaction of your S.O. to the fight, and their decision on how they will treat your needs afterwards. Saying, “So, I’m still mad but I need help with pants.” is like punching yourself in the stomach, and yet it has to happen, provided you’re not a nudist.

Add to that said S.O. might decide their anger is more important than your being dressed or mobile, and you have another reason to never make yourself vulnerable again.

Interpersonal Conflict With Unrelated Caregivers

Some of us people with disabilities are privileged enough to have attendants, people who come into our lives and help us with personal care stuff.Many of these people are great in a thousand and five ways, but there will always be those that rub us the wrong way. This is troublesome, as the nature of the attendant’s job is personal, and this means that any disagreements often find their way into your personal life for longer than it might otherwise. If you have a falling out with a friend, you can choose to leave their life. If you have a falling out with an attendant, they’re generally in your life until someone above them (their boss) deems your reasoning “enough” to not have to see this person again. And if that happens, bare in mind that substitute assistance might not be available when to you need it. Pick your battles. Learn to play nice.

Please note that while all of these things are factors that sometimes keep PwD from asking for help, they are not meant to assign guilt or blame. I think that everyone’s experience with disability is different, but that many of us can relate on some of these matters. As always, my intent is to discuss, not exclude. Let’s talk.