themighty logo

Your Wheelchair Fetish Doesn’t Empower Me

As a 25-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair, there is something about a wheelchair fetish that just doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve encountered men with this particular fetish at bars, public events, drugstores, etc. and every single time, I feel unsafe. I have been cornered and unable to get away, all while being asked extremely personal and inappropriate questions about my life and disability. Every time I encounter a man with a wheelchair fetish, I get a strong gut feeling that they want someone they can control, someone who can’t run away from them. To me, this behavior is extremely threatening and predatory.

I usually love my wheelchair because it empowers me every single day, essentially acting as my legs. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I didn’t need a wheelchair to get around, but my reality is that I can’t walk and my chair allows me to live the life I want to live. But when I’m cornered and seen as a sexual object because of my chair, I’m not empowered — I am vulnerable. I am not flattered that you are giving me attention; I am creeped out and want to be left alone!

Women with disabilities are three times more likely to be assaulted than able-bodied women, with 40% of women with physical disabilities experiencing an assault during their lifetime. Due to the stereotype of people with disabilities being considered “undesirable,” disabled victims are often not believed or taken seriously. That is terrifying to me.

As women, many of us grow up constantly being told how to stay safe. We are told to never walk alone in a dark or desolate area, and if you must, have your car keys ready in your hand before you even step outside to get to your car. We are constantly told to make sure our clothes aren’t too revealing because we wouldn’t want to give men the “wrong idea.” We are always being reminded to be aware of our surroundings while walking, and if you think you are being followed, cross the street. Lastly, we are told that if we are in immediate danger, run!

The problem is, a lot of the things women do in order to keep safe aren’t always possible for wheelchair users. As much as I wish I could say that I am able to do anything an able-bodied person can, I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a victim because I need a wheelchair. But sadly, the truth is that this world doesn’t accommodate wheelchair users as much as it should. You can’t always cross the street if you think you are being followed because most of the time, there isn’t a low curb when you need one. You cannot self-propel and maneuver a wheelchair if you have your keys in your hand. Our reality is that we cannot run away, and if pushed out of our wheelchair, we are likely to be stranded on the ground, completely vulnerable. Being cornered and hit on aggressively is scary, but the thought of someone with a wheelchair fetish following me is terrifying.

Pursuing someone solely based on the fact that they have a disability is degrading. Although our disabilities are often a large part of our identities, we are more than a diagnosis. We are people with passions and hobbies and most of us don’t want to be seen just as someone with a disability, but as the humans we are. I do not find using a wheelchair sexy and I certainly do not find being asked inappropriate questions while feeling vulnerable and unsafe sexy. So why would I ever want to be with someone who is only attracted to me because I’m a wheelchair user?

This story originally appeared on Grace and Mito.

Photo by Zachary Kyra-Derksen on Unsplash