Op-ed: Dating With a Disability
If you think that you have a tough time meeting women, just imagine what your life would be like if you had the added challenge of a disability. Some of us already have that extra obstacle to overcome.
First, contemplate this for a moment: How many lesbians with a disability do you actually know?
Whether the disability is visible or not can also be a factor when dating. The hurdles people face are both physical (a lack of access) and social (a lack of awareness and acceptance). For the physically disabled, social options are extremely limited: first floor nightclubs, no disabled toilets, doors not wide enough and even non-admittance. For the mentally disabled the pain from public stigma may be excruciating.
A lack of self-esteem can lead to disabled people excluding themselves, but being disabled and a lesbian makes you a minority times two. The result is that the visible lesbian and gay community does not reflect the diversity of LGBT people, and leaves an entire section of the community ignored or marginalised.
Some of us have to conceal our impairments or risk rejection, whether it is from friends, family, school or even bullying in the workplace. Discrimination can come from many different sources, even within the LGBT and the disabled community, the very places you would expect to find support.
How do you deal with a public that still largely sees people with disability as lacking in sex drive? Apparently if you're a disabled woman you are assumed not to be able to — or have any desire to — have sex.
So you have a paradox, whereas able-bodied lesbians often say there is more to them than the people they have sex with, lesbian and bisexual disabled women are fighting for recognition of our sexuality.
It is a continual struggle to find a place for ourselves, to break out of social isolation, to find intimate partners and even learn to accept our sexual orientation and bodies.
In the lesbian and gay world, we are bombarded with images of young, able-bodied people, so the stigma of disability colors our lives. Add to this the sad reality of trying to date an able-bodied individual and it can feel like a very lonely existence. Some are afraid to get involved with a disabled woman, and even when a person is willing to be open-minded, testing the waters is often fraught and puts an added strain on the fledgling relationship.
Because of this, in many ways, lesbians with a disability prefer the greater equality that comes with dating someone who has personal experience of their own disability. Since both partners are in the same position, these is likely to be less of a power imbalance, certainly in relation to our disability. The sense of safety and emotional well-being that arises from this kind of union is priceless for many.
In short, as a minority within a minority, many of us feel alone because we don't seem to fit the mainstream lesbian or bisexual "ideal" — whatever that is. Lisa, a friend from Manchester, told me: "I am a person who happens to be a lesbian, who happens to have a disability, but most importantly, I am a whole person...I feel I belong to two communities but do not fit in to either."
Both groups face discrimination and prejudice, exclusion and separation from mainstream society.
Another friend Jane, 30, told me: "People don't look at you, they look through you. I want to be who I am without battling every step of the way."
So where do we go from here? While demanding equal justice, how do we learn about inclusion? How do we make the able bodied among us understand the significance of seeing our disabled sisters, rather than feeling we are being overlooked?
It won't be easy and it makes the general population feel uncomfortable, but we must get over the many different emotional and psychological fears we have when facing people with disability.
Remember, ability isn't permanent or a right. It can be taken away in an instance. Your life as you know it can be altered dramatically by a terrible accident, mental breakdown, or the even onset of diabetes.
My own disability isn't visable. I have a dark cloud that shadows me, threatening to engulf or drown me in a shadow of self doubt, at any given time. It has affected my life and past relationships so I empathise with the hardships the disabled face on a daily basis.
All people have a right to feel good about themselves. We are all valuable human beings. As we face enough barriers ourselves we should all look out for one another in our own community.
ALANNA HIGGINSON is an LGBT advocate based in the U.K.