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reflections on valentine's day

caelinfoley's picture

not as material-centered but an article i wrote for cripple media recently that i was proud of and thought might resonate with other disabled students!

As a disabled teenager, I do not get the luxury of chocolate-covered strawberries or dozens of roses in a fancy little vase. I do not get to be seen as desired or valuable in the larger dating scene, scaring potential partners off with my posts about disability justice and identifying proudly as a disabled woman. I’ve already discovered that my love will not reflect Gabriella and Troy, nor Romeo and Juliet, because disabled people like myself are not seen as love interests, but as comedic relief, as a friend to showcase on social media to prove your inclusivity, and as an asexual, innocent individual with no desire for love or companionship. I am reduced to my disability, not in the name of crip pride, but in ableism and ignorance. 

Hook-up culture is everywhere. Surrounded by left and right Tinder swipes, trading of Snapchat usernames, and one-night stands, it has become embedded in our ideas of love and relationships, even if it is defined by the lack of persisting love, enough to only get through the night. While I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, rejecting the idea of hookup culture in the name of finding my “soulmate”, I’ve become very aware that disabled folks are almost automatically excluded from this cultural phenomenon. Our contorting limbs and medical devices mean that most of us need accommodations to have sex with a partner, meaning it cannot be a spur-of-the-moment idea. We must plan ahead of time, trusting that our partner will ensure that necessary medical devices don’t get tangled, that we won’t be endangered by wanting to spend the night with an unfamiliar stranger. This, combined with the fact that people don’t perceive crooked backs and dislocating hips like mine attractive, creates an odd juxtaposition - it feels like everyone is obsessed with the reproductive choices I’ll make, whether or not I’ll have biological children and if I think it’s selfish to do so knowing they might inherit my disorder, while also boxing me into the idea that disabled people are (a)sexual/romantic, lucky if I find love. These ableist perceptions restrict how we love and express ourselves romantically and sexually, while also making us more susceptible to fetishization and grooming by those who target disabled folks.

Even in typical relationships, we are not granted the same freedom able-bodied people have. Of course, I must screen any potential partners to filter out the creeps, the people who refuse to identify me as disabled for the sake of my self-esteem (or their embarrassment in dating a “disabled girl”), and those determined to cure me through veganism and yoga. Yet, even a good relationship can turn sour once a flare-up begins. The limp sets in, I sleep for hours and wake up still tired, and I can’t eat without getting severely sick, exposing to my partner what my condition truly is and will be like for the next seventy years of my life. This is a crucial moment in the relationship. Will they stay and make accommodations for me? Will they be scared off by the notion that my illness is forever, and that what I have at eighteen years old will probably be worse by the time I’m a mother? In these, my fears build up that perhaps, I will never be able to hold a solid, long-term relationship, never will I experience my child’s first steps or a happy family vacation. Not because I’m a terrible partner and person, but because my disorder is one that will not go away nor will it get better over time. It is believed that it worsens from generation to generation, and as I get older, my body will continue to deteriorate whether or not I’ve settled into a long-term relationship and built my own family. 

Yet, a lot of these misconceptions do not stem from my actual disability, but from our ableist society that perpetuates exactly what I just said - disabled people aren’t able to fall in love, cannot start families, and are destined to be alone for our whole lives because of illness or perceived deformity. I cannot understand this - I fall in love with the scars that line people’s skin and the cracks their bodies make and the color of their mobility aids. And perhaps, this is because I want people to fall in love with me the same way. I want them to admire the bruises from my dislocations and the missing skin from where it was too fragile to withstand my busy days and my joints that creak and pop as I move. I want them to fall in love with my disability, because if not, they will avoid it until they no longer can. I want them to love their crippled girlfriend loudly, instead of treating my cripness as if it’s something that is a bad trait that can be overlooked, like never taking out the trash or bad morning breath. My cripness is something to be celebrated, and no longer will I settle for anything less. 

In the month of love, February, I question what constitutes love for us (disabled people) as a collective. While there is no one way to love or be loved, it is poignant that our love will be different than our able-bodied peers, even if we are in interabled relationships or relatively invisibly ill. Our society has deemed us unlovable and undesired, stripping away love from our grasps, from our wheelchairs, canes, and walkers, yet, we continue to love furiously and passionately. I hope that, as a disabled teenager navigating the world of love and relationships, I will find that my cripness can be celebrated and embraced by love, because we all deserve nothing less but to be seen and heard in all of our identities and crippledness. Our relationships may be different, especially in relationships between two disabled people, but they are just as romantic as the ones seen in movies, something I’m coming to learn. 



mayacosh's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this Caelin!!!! I love it! I really appreciate the ways you explain and take apart the difficult relationship between disabled people and the dating culture set by nondisabled society. It's an incredibly vulnerable piece and so important for everyone to understand - both nondisabled and disabled. I think a lot of disabled people feel so many of these things but it can be difficult to know that others feel and experience it too, so I am so glad you are giving voice and words to it so people know they are not alone :) Also I didn't know Cripple Media existed so I am excited to explore it!!