Read the Latest From Commentary and Controversy

The most common question that I have seen being asked when it comes to disability and sexuality is, “Why can’t people look past my disability? How will I ever find someone who will do this?”

It’s a very good question. People can be shallow, nasty, and inconsiderate at times, and we have probably all faced rejection as a result of our disability at some point in our lives. Yes, that’s right. All of us.

By the same token, people without disabilities have all experienced rejection, too. You would be really surprised how shallow people can be — or maybe you wouldn’t. But many people with disabilities struggling with acceptance come to the conclusion that their problem lies solely in their impairment, and if it were to go away then they would have no problems with love, relationships or sexuality! Yet, able-bodied people are rejected all the time — for being too tall, too skinny, too fat, having freckles, wearing glasses, being too shy, being too extroverted, being too loud, being too quiet. I once read a short story in which the narrator rejected a possible partner because he did not have enough books in his house! The first thing to remember is that there is no magical connection between being able-bodied and being popular. By extension, there’s no magical connection between having a disability and never experiencing relationships.

There are a lot of things in our way which are out of our control — this I know. I experience the joy of inaccessible buildings, pitying smiles, and the “supergimp” or “wondercrip” mentality (“Wow, I can’t believe that you are in college! You must find it so hard! That’s so amazing!”) every time I venture outside to get things done in my life. Inaccessible buildings can cut us off from socialization. So can people’s attitudes towards us, be they parents, doctors, therapists, or potential partners. All of these attitudes determine how much we are concerned with our disability. We might be overprotected, meaning that we are further cut off from social events. We might be in and out of the hospital often and under the scrutiny of doctors who highlight again and again what is wrong with us, and we might be teased in school. All of these things do happen in the lives of people with disabilities — often on a regular basis.

When wondering why people act in a certain way towards us, we often focus on these negatives while overlooking a very important aspect of the problem: Just as the attitudes of others effect usour attitudes effect other people! And, sure, we can say that our disabilities are not a problem to us, as we have just dealt with them and the problem lies in other people. But, often, we have insecurities — as do people without disabilities — and we obviously don’t want to think about those, so we don’t. But just because we aren’t thinking about them doesn’t mean that others do not know they are there.

A good friend of mine once told me to conduct an experiment. I was to go around for a week forcing myself to think about one very positive thing about myself — something I was proud of — and think hard about it, especially when around other people. Well, that week I went around and did it, and the number of people who stopped to talk to me, smile at me, share a joke with me rose so dramatically that week, I was in heaven! Then my friend told me to do the opposite — accentuate something I feel badly about — and I basically refused to keep doing it, because, you guessed it, people shrunk away from me.

I didn’t get out a loudspeaker and say, “I’m insecure about my walking! Please watch me and how bad I am at it!” I just thought about it. Too much. And it came across in the way I carried myself, how loud I spoke, and what I did. (Thinking that you’re going to fall is the most sure way to make it happen, let me tell you.) And you know what? My friend gave this little chore to three other friends of mine, and none of them had a disability. The same thing happened for them. And it taught us all something. If you are thinking about your shortcomings, people will think about them just as hard as you are. If you are thinking about what you have to offer the world, people will see that reflected in you, too. It doesn’t have to be a problem as big as your disability, either. If you’re thinking hard about the fact that you have acne, or a cold sore, or anything along those lines, it’s going to be accentuated when you deal with other people. And it can be just as much a turn-off as the wheelchair or the crutches.

Because it isn’t necessarily about the wheelchair or the crutches all the time. People know how we feel about ourselves, and if we are fixated on our shortcomings, that can be as much of a turn-off as if they are themselves. Attitude is a two-way street, and we have as much power to “turn someone off” as they have of “being turned off” by their own prejudices.

So think positively. Even if you feel insecure about your disability, which many of us do — including me, in certain situations — force yourself not to think about it. Think about the positives in your life, your skills, and your talents. And think hard about them. See if more people don’t smile at you, or start a conversation with you when they hadn’t before. People are drawn to confidence and positive attitudes like moths to a flame. And if you are not thinking about your disability, chances are that neither will they.

Return to Monthly Index