Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Never Been Missed: Looking for a First Second Date!

In life, we experience a number of very specific and character building ‘firsts’: first word, first day of school, first failure, first job, first date, etc.     Each of these ‘firsts’ are seen as a rite of passage that each of us go through.  They give us the tools and the experience we need to become the people we want to be.   It is expected that these ‘firsts’ will quickly become seconds, thirds and fourths as we navigate the world around us.    I’d like to focus in on the first date, and discuss why I feel it has been a particularly pivotal post for me as a PwD.

The first date is a trope that we have become all too familiar with.   Movies and media have highlighted that one’s first date can have two very distinct outcomes: it can go amazingly and you can meet someone with whom you connect on all the levels; you know that whole “sparks fly” thing occurs, and the fires of passion begin a-burning.     On the other hand, first dates can lead to you making up stories to run out of there with your dignity intact.  C’mon, we’ve all been there: you’re looking across the table and thinking, “I should totally be binging Netflix right now”, wondering why you left your apartment for this sorry attempt at social interaction.   

Even with the risk of romantic ruin always on the horizon, we trudge forward, slogging through bad date after slightly better-but still-pretty-bad date, knowing that eventually, 1 will lead to 2 will lead to standing in the sun in Vermont.  We just have to keep putting ourselves out there, and we will click with someone, right?

Imagine though, that the cringe-inducing first date that is chock-full of awkward silences, uncertainty and a slew of poorly placed puns, was the only kind of date that you had ever been on.   That you don’t know what it feels like to actually connect with someone, because after drinks and dinner, as you wheel out from behind the table in your wheelchair, they don’t call you.  They say all the things that they have been conditioned to say, in an attempt to spare your feelings, and for two seconds you think maybe you’ll see them again. You don’t.

Seriously, at times it can be like living in a bad Adam Sandler/Katherine Heigl date film without the happy ending.   I am not sure how many times I have explained my disability to someone, being sure to insert a pun, waiting for the look of terror to twist into, at the very least an uncomfortable smile. How many times I have had text conversations that very quickly became one-sided and eventually ended by telling me they “just couldn’t do it” or some variation of this.     

These are things that could happen to anyone, I know, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are directly correlated to disability, but I will say that when you have never had anything other than a first date, each one marked by a series of nervous queries, made either to question or quiet the disability, these thoughts start to creep in.

To paraphrase a line from any number of romantic comedies from the late 80s to mid 90s, while I have been kissed MANY TIMES (I am indeed that amaze balls), I often feel that I will never be missed.  Will anybody ever want to see me again?    

I’ll never get to experience that which comes after the first drink or dinner, and bad movie we both watched together. I’ll never get to really understand what it means to be wanted My dating history will be filled by awkward half-hugs and nothing more.   I worry that every time I go on a date, you’ll only see a part of me, and never get the chance to experience the All-Encompassing Awesomeness that is Andrew.    I think I know why, too:  Agreeing to go on a second or third date with me, means that not only will you be getting to know me, you’ll be getting to know my disability as well.   The novelty of going on one date with that disabled dude will wear off, and all you’ll be left with is my crippledness in context.   

Many well-intentioned guys can’t handle that reality, and to them I say, “That’s okay, but you don’t know who you’re missing out on.”    The scariest part of that last statement is that, if they don’t come back for more, I’ll never know who it is they’re missing out on either.

If this world is all about our ‘firsts’, I think I may just be ready for my first second date.          

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Accessing Your Ableism: The Fascinating Way in which Ableism Affects Our Perceptions of Sex and Disability.

Ableism is a tricky bugger, if I ever saw one.  Those of us in social justice/activist/advocacy/disability awareness (crip) circles use the term frequently to describe the actions of those who have blatantly ignored the experience of living a Deliciously Disabled lifestyle.   In our heads, we tend to think of it as an overt, blatant display of inappropriate behaviour towards a Person with a Disability: calling them a derogatory term, refusing to help them with something they need, ignoring them or talking down to them.    I always assumed that this was ableism—that to be an “ableist” individual meant that you were also an asshole of a special breed.     I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I am compelled to highlight why in this blog today.

The other night, I went to a book reading and signing by one of my amazing friends who works in the field of Sex and Disability, Kaleigh Trace.  She was talking about how we, whether we want to believe so or not, all harbour the capacity to access our own brand of ableism; that it was a part of each of us.  I would very quickly learn how right she was.

After the event was done, one of the participants who was heading to the subway offered me a hand in getting there (this was great, if not solely for the fact that I am directionally challenged in all the ways, but also because I thought he was quite the charmer).   We made our way out, and started making small talk about the kinds of stuff we liked to do, etc.   Then he asked me, “what I was into?”   In gay hook up terminology, this is undoubtedly an invitation to turn on the sexiness.  I asked him what he meant, just to ensure that I didn’t step over any bounds (I have a tendency to do so if a cute boy/possibility arises).  He sweetly said, he was just being polite, but he would be happy to discuss my sexual interests.   I was giddy with anticipation: What?! The guy who I think is really cute actually WANTS to explore this avenue with me?  Mind. Blown.  As we continued to chat, we were about halfway to the subway, when I mustered up some courage and asked him to hang out a bit longer (true fact: I NEVER DO THIS.  I get scared that the other person couldn’t possibly want to, and simply don’t ask).   He agreed, and we dipped into a coffee shop and chatted more.

What I found most interesting about our discussion was his curiosities and fears around sex and disability.   He told me that to learn about his sexuality, he had accessed conventional pornography (e.g. white, gay, muscular, homo-normative males), and that he had always wanted to sexualize a PwD, but didn’t know how.  Sidebar: I am sure that any of you who know me, understand the wide-eyed grin that crept over my face at that exact moment.  It was on, I had my chance and I was going to take it.  I made a few passing remarks about how sex and disability is the best thing ever, and should he want to sample it, here I am.

Throughout the evening, as we stumbled around the city, I watched him watching me.  I could see his wheels turning at the idea that this individual, a member of a group that he was taught never to eroticize, was sitting across from him provocatively putting a grape leaf in his mouth (in truth, I was shoving it in so that it didn’t fall—nothing sexy about that). I could see that he wanted to discover the deliciousness of disability, but all that he thought he knew was holding him back (that, and he had never met anyone as ballsy as I am).  Every few minutes, he seemed to relax, and then every so often the fear of the unknown crept beneath his smile.   It was so strange and beautiful all at once.  He had a plethora of curious queries, and after each one, he would smile and say, “Sorry,” as if his wonderings had opened a wound I had long since tried to close.  We talked about ableism a lot that night. 

I am a proponent of people being given the space to access their fears and discomfort around disability.  I think those are valid emotions that must be openly operationalized.  Truthfully though, I never thought I would see it happen in front of my eyes, as it was happening.   I watched this person confront his own ableism, and openly admit to me that the idea of sexuality and disability, both titillated and terrified him.  The difference here was, that it was not an overt, aggressive act designed to oppress me.  He wasn’t trying to hurt me or deny me; rather he simply wanted an understanding of something he had never been asked to truly consider before this very moment.  

What I learned from him is that ableism seen in the small gestures, the little moments, and the things that we are too afraid to access within ourselves, but that we’re dying to know the answers to.  It is there always, lying dormant beneath surface.    What I learned from him (and for this I am ever grateful) is that it takes someone with a strong voice, a cheeky smile, and an understanding of the opportunity that lives within oppression, to wake it, while simultaneously shaking up everything you thought you knew.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Doing it Deliciously Disabled Style: That Time I had Sex with Another Queer Cripple

He was my first.  I have never been more excited or more utterly terrified of anything in my whole life.   The thought of us being together made my heart race, and other parts of me stand at attention.   It started out like any other hook up; we met online, discussed our likes and dislikes.  I remember that his pictures didn’t immediately signify he was disabled…

“So, before we go any further… I should tell you, I am in a wheelchair,” he said.  I know what he was probably feeling; the potential fear of rejection the sits in the pit of your stomach, and battles with the feeling that “you might actually get some” every time this opportunity presents itself as a PwD.    Also at this moment, two very distinct happenings took place for me.   

The first was an extreme sense of relief and happiness.   Finally, I might get to spend time with someone who actually understands all of the stuff that comes along with trying to access your sexuality when living with a disability.  I could take off my Professor Disability cap with this one, and let my dark, delectable and delicious side come out to play.   I was excited by the prospect of being free in the moment – not actually having to worry if he was apprehensive or scared of all that my disability would bring into the boudoir.   I might actually be able to let my guard down, and let Apprehensive Andrew have a rest.    

At the same time, I kept running through the logistics in my head.  Sitting in my 300 lbs. chair, I worried how we would be able to help me out and how this would actually happen.    Would he be able to lift me into bed?  Would I have to call someone to help us (truthfully, the idea of having a third party in the bedroom is super hot, but not when they are not directly involved in the taste test that may be occurring)?   In that moment, I understood what all the guys who I had hooked up with must have felt on some level (isn’t it cute how I said “all the guys”, like it’s happening on the regular? Le sigh).   You see, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, each of us has a schematic of how sex, including the preamble, should look.   

Typically, my preamble would involve my able-bodied partner carrying me over the threshold, and placing me in bed, while some 80s ballad plays in the background and we fall into the fantasy of it all.    (Note: in reality, my part-time lovers try really hard to understand my disability and what I’ll need, but it usually starts with me asking if they are okay 700 million times prior to any playfulness.)   This wouldn’t be the case here.   I had never had a fantasy involving another PwD, so I had no clue how to process the possibilities.

The day finally came.  I remember that he had come up to my place, and I was so happy at that moment that I had an accessible apartment.   I remember that when he entered my space, I was unable to stop grinning, because for the first time ever, my lover was on my level – and there was something altogether comforting about that fact.    Somehow, he managed to get me out of my big chair, and we stumbled and practically fell in the bed.   His body writhed a top mine, and we negotiated the removal of clothes.   Usually, when I am with non-disabled individuals, there is an element of care that comes into this routine.  Not here.   For once, the stumbling felt natural, sexy.  It wasn’t precipitated by fear that if you touch me, you’ll break me.      It was rushed out of desire not deterrence.  Hawt sawce.

During the rendezvous, when we were finally settled, I looked across the room and saw our two wheelchairs sitting aside one another.   I kept grinning at this reality… two cripples copulating, being together in that moment.  Our bodies not broken, but bonded by the oppressions and obstacles we had faced.    We were on equal footing (phrasing? LOL), which only made our connection that much more intense.
When all was said and done, I remember saying goodbye to him at the door.  As I watched him wheel away, I was elated and excited by what had just happened.  This was so much better than anything I had ever experienced – it felt like I, in a way, had lost my virginity again.

I called him a few days later, excited to see him and see where things might lead.  In my feverish frenzy to relish in the moment, I asked him to hang out again.   He paused.  It was the pause we all know.  The one where they’re about to reveal to you something you knew deep, deep inside.   After his pause, which felt like an eternity, he said that we couldn’t see each other again because… I was “too disabled” and “too much work.”   I was absolutely floored by what I was hearing.   I couldn’t believe that someone who most likely had experienced all the same stumbles as I had was being so very ableist. What. Was. Happening?  I think I actually thought, “He isn’t allowed to say that, is he?”   It was some of the worst rejection that I have ever experienced, because it came from one of my own.

What this experience highlights for me is that the effects of ableism and the scripts that we have been indoctrinated with when it comes to sex and sexuality do not discriminate.   Anybody is susceptible to these fears and prejudices, disability notwithstanding.   

All that being said, if you are wheeled and want to have your way with me, I am ready, charged and waiting….