I Am Disabled, and I Am a Sexual Being
When I was a young woman, able-bodied and attractive, I was often stared at, coveted and pursued by men. Even when I got older and gained weight, I still attracted their interest. As soon as I became disabled and a wheelchair user, however, the attention abruptly ceased. Now admittedly, the attention I received when I was young was not always welcomed, and as I grew older, I became more skilled at deterring unwanted attention. But I didn’t necessary want it to stop altogether.
Just about everyone likes to feel attractive and desired. It feels good when someone (respectfully) hits on you, or does a double-take when you enter the room. It’s flattering and somewhat affirming to get a compliment from someone you find attractive. No one likes to feel ugly, uninteresting or invisible. But that is often how I feel, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
Upon becoming a wheelchair user, according to society I am suddenly asexual and agender. Young men don’t even see me. Men my age won’t look me in the eye. And older men smile sympathetically at me. It’s as if I’ve become unviable as a potential partner. If I am seen as a sexual object, it is as a fetish. There are hundreds of images and clips of women using their amputations in unpleasant ways, or women trapped and helpless in their wheelchairs while their partner performs various sexual acts. I have heard more stories of kinky sexual propositions than of genuine romantic connections.
Fortunately, I am happily married and don’t have to suffer the dating scene. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate being complimented or being found attractive. My husband and I still have a healthy attraction to one another, but intimacy in this body is much different than it was in my able body. This body is softer and looser. It sags in places it didn’t before. It’s not as flexible and graceful as it used to be. It doesn’t feel as sexy. Intimacy — even loving, mutually respectful intimacy, can be intimidating and uncomfortable when you don’t feel sexy. It doesn’t help that society tells us every day that we are unattractive and unviable unless we are fetishized.
Change takes time, I know. Little by little, the world is becoming more accessible. Perhaps a day will come when people with disabilities will been seen as just people. We do the exact same things able-bodied people do, we just do them a little differently. But our feelings, our emotions — those are the same, whatever body you’re in.