Another day scrolling through social media, and it’s the same stream as always: posts about horrible rush hour traffic, pictures of cute pugs, twelve dozen memes about politics... and the story of a girl in a wheelchair who gets a date for her high school prom. How open-minded, the comments read. How inspirational! Like we should all be filled with the warm fuzzies.
While pictures of pugs definitely fill me with the warm fuzzies, stories about this girl going to prom really don’t.
For me, the problem with stories like these is that they don't focus on the girl in the wheelchair; they focus on the date. Instead of acknowledging the universal need of humans to love and be loved, in stories like these, people with disabilities aren’t depicted as loveable and deserving humans in our own right. Instead, they reward an able-bodied person for daring to love someone who uses a cane.
But it's not inspirational to date me.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have ever made a statement like that. I used to take up as little space as I could. I didn’t even really talk. Back in those days, I had diagnoses but no support. I was scared to reach out because of the stigmas I faced. Who would want me if they knew I struggled to get up in the mornings?
Go ahead and check out a few of the things people have said to me and tell me I’m overreacting:
You can't have disabilities—you're too young.
No one will want you if you can’t have children.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t mean anything. You’re not really sick.
Luckily, I've had partners who didn’t think this way, but I know plenty of people who do. I’ve received comments from family members, and comments from strangers when I'm out in public. When my disabilities were invisible conditions, these were rarer, but when I started using a cane, they got worse... and perhaps the hardest part is seeing the looks.
I want to be beautiful and feel fabulous in my body too—whether I'm using my cane or not.
If I show up in a lingerie shop without my cane, the clerks treat me like any other customer. But with my cane, they often assume I'm buying for someone else, or give me a side-eye. I become a creature, someone who would never have sex, who wouldn’t ever want to feel beautiful.
When I’m out on a date and I’m using my cane, it pisses me off that some people make it clear that they think my date is being noble for being with me. While I’m grateful for my friends and partners, as anyone is grateful for having people they love in their life, this isn't amazing—it's basic human psychology. When someone tells me how great my partners are for being with me, what it seems like they’re really saying—whether they mean it consciously or not—is that I’m not fully human in their eyes. It’s like I’m some kind of prop, and people do a "good deed" by hanging out with me.
I want to be beautiful and feel fabulous in my body too—whether I have my cane or not. I want to be able to go to a makeup store and not feel as if I’m running in there to be fixed. When I go back to that lingerie shop, I want the clerks to simply assume that I’m buying for myself. So what if my body isn’t factory-perfect, and it injures more easily than some other people’s—it’s mine, and I want to enjoy having a body in this world. Besides, just because I use a cane doesn’t mean I’m any less worthy of love… or that I’m any less fun in bed, for that matter.