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The Challenges I Face When Dating as a Gay Man With a Disability

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This isn’t the first article here about dating, romance, disease, mental illness, etc., and it certainly won’t be the last. But everyone has a different story, including different stories with romantic love, and so I figured I’d share mine.

I’ve actually chronicled my love life somewhat well here on The Mighty. I wrote about what it was like to have a supportive partner in the midst of mental illnesses, and some time later, I wrote about how that relationship became destructive to me and how I got out of it. I ended that relationship a year ago, and my life has taken too many turns for me to have worried about dating. But over the past couple of weeks, I figured I’d give it a shot.

But, some back story. In the last year, my movement disorder tics have evolved and worsened, my mental health has become a bit more unstable, and my physical health has, let’s just say, not always been the best. I’m not really the most ideal person to go out on a date with, at least in my mind. But I still decided to try a couple of weeks ago. Now, I have another fun factor. I’ve written another article about how I only recently come to terms with how I did have a traumatic upbringing with respect to coming to terms with my sexuality as a young gay man in a conservative hometown. That’s just another backdrop I’ll place.

A couple of weeks ago, I started talking to this guy who went to a university close to mine, and we texted for about a week before we decided to meet each other. (With the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ongoing, we followed proper public health guidelines to stay safe.) I remember very vividly, as I was in the car going to meet him, I texted him a “warning shot,” as I like to call it, that I have to give a lot of people in my life. I told him that if he saw me move my eyes weird or blink hard, it was a movement disorder I have, and to not take it like I was rolling my eyes at him. He was nice about it, but I figured I’d put out the fire before it started, avoid the awkwardness of him needing to ask in the first place.

Our first date was great, and we actually saw each other just a few days ago for our second. But in that interim, my tics decided to make my life just a little bit harder. For two years now I’ve had tardive dyskinesia, and it has exclusively been my eyes and neck, but mostly my eyes. But this past week, it decided to travel to my arms and make me flex, jerk and bend them randomly. My eye tics were visible enough, but my arms swinging around? Come on, I think I had enough to deal with.

The tics evolving is nothing new, but what they evolved into is very different. So, between our first and second date, I had to message this guy again and tell him that if he saw me move my arms or hands weird, that it was also part of my tics. Again, he was nice about it and didn’t bring it up which I appreciated, because it was pretty obvious at some points in the date. He’s a nice guy about my tics, something that isn’t as easy to find as you might think, and this is my point.

People nowadays are always saying, “LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t have to come out of the closet. Society shouldn’t just assume the default is heterosexuality. Just let people live their lives.” I agree with that. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of shoulds as reality, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stop fighting for it. But there is another fight, one I never realized until I had to start dating with my movement disorder, that I think also needs some attention.

People with disabilities, visible and invisible, have their own challenges living their lives on their own. When you try to bring other people into the equation, it starts getting messy, especially if those people are potentially toxic. And dating new people? You have no idea what you’re walking into. It could be a date with someone who is really understanding of disability, and maybe even had some first-hand experience with it. You also could be meeting someone with very draconian ideas of people with any kind of disability, who is judgmental, belittling etc.

So where does that leave people like me? LGBTQ+, in a society slowly growing more accepting of who I am and trying to turn the tide of “the closet” being a trap for people, but also a world where I need to warn dates about my tics? What is the solution to that? I already had to come out to my friends and family when I was a teenager to tell them who I really am. Now do I have to come out over and over again every time I’m on a date? If my tics evolve and get worse, do I need to post something on social media as a warning every time?

I’ll put aside my identity as a gay man aside for a second and focus on the disability aspect. The answers to those hard questions aren’t set in stone somewhere. It really depends on personal situations, and for some, unfortunately, it does mean having to tell new dates, “Hey, I have a physical disability, so I don’t want you to be put off by it.” Now, this is also a great test for them. If they say anything beyond being supportive, thanking you for telling them, stuff in that vein, then you should probably just cancel the date.

Whether it’s a movement disorder, a wheelchair, a seeing-eye dog, a hearing aid, whatever it is that outwardly communicates you have a disability, it is an unfortunate that on top of the disability itself, dating is going to include some hard and awkward conversations at first about what life is like for each of you. And for some of us, that includes disclosing a disability. Now, I want to make a special note here: I’m not saying you are required to tell people about your disability, you absolutely are not under that pressure. In my personal experience, I find being upfront about it undercuts the potentially awkward situation of them asking or acting strangely if they notice it later. But everyone has to do what is comfortable and right for them. This is where I’m going to circle back to the connection of being gay.

I first came out when I was 16. I was diagnosed with my first mental illness when I was 17. I got into my first romantic relationship when I was 18. I developed my movement disorder when I was 19. I lost my relationship of two years when I was 20. And now, at 21, I am here drawing a parallel between when I came out 5 years ago and when I have to warn dates about my blinking. It isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s close enough for a comparison. Before I could live my life the way I wanted to, I had to tell people close to me that I was gay. Before I could comfortably go on this date, I had to tell this guy that I had a movement disorder. It wouldn’t be fair to my family and friends if I concealed who I was, and it wouldn’t be fair to my date to see my tics and have no idea what’s going on.

When I have to tell someone about my disability, for whatever reason, I relive similar feelings to when I was in the closet. I have something about me that makes me different from the “normal” (which doesn’t exist, but I’ve written about that too). And when you have something unique about you, like being LGBTQ+ or having a disability, sometimes you’ll have to explain yourself to the world. It sucks, I know, it really does. But this is why I take pride in who I am in every respect, or at least I strive to. I take pride in my sexuality because it is part of who I am and gives me a certain perspective on life. My experience with mental illness and disability has been the same thing in essence: they are part of who I am, they aren’t going anywhere, so I might as well own them. I have tardive dyskinesia, which gives me tics, and as much as they suck sometimes, they have taught me much about life. And now, they’ve taught me about dating.

Getty image by Gmast3r.

Originally published: November 4, 2020
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