Andrew Morrison-Gurza faces how internalized ableism has influenced his romantical endeavors.
You know that feeling when you start to like someone? It starts as a little twinge in your belly that you know is there, but you simply ignore it. Then, every time you see them, your heart beats a millisecond faster than before – no big deal, right? It’s nothing. Before you know it (or, if you’re me) you’re spastically throwing drinks in the air when they arrive in the room, you’re dressing up just to see them, and every pop song referring to anything romantical* is magically attributed to them. It is quite possibly the best worst feeling ever – no contest.
If you are a boy or girl in a chair, you will have all these feelings along with everyone else, but you might also have one extra that you can’t quite account for. Amidst all your awkward stumbling and pauses, you may also hear a tiny little voice that reminds you that you are very disabled and therefore this person (who, up until this voice was going to be your life partner) could never, ever possibly have any interest in you. The voice usually comes calling right after your attendant care person has put you to bed, and you are just about to shut your eyes.
Internalized ableism is something that has drastically affected how I have viewed my relationship potential, and I felt it necessary to talk about it so that people understand it a little better, and so that any cripples who have experienced it will not feel so alone.
I can’t even count the number of times that voice has told me that I am not allowed to feel the way I do about somebody – if even just for a brief moment. Every single time I sidle up to someone cute that I may be interested in, that voice is right next to me, keeping my feelings at bay, reminding me that I am nothing more than a “boy in a chair”. Because of that, I have been scared to enter into a relationship of any sort, because I believed that I didn’t deserve it; that whatever feelings I harboured couldn’t possibly be genuine, or heaven forbid, reciprocated.
As one of my followers (I sound like I am starting some sort of “cripple cult”, right?) stated, the internalized ableism causes a “cluster-fuck” of emotions for even the most confident cripple. You start to feel as though any time you approach them; you are a burden or a bother of epic proportions. Internalized ableism takes whatever feelings you have for someone, and then amplifies them by a million percent, as a defense mechanism against the crushing fear of being alone due to your disability, while simultaneously causing them to feel smothered.
Moreover, it can be difficult to allow yourself to feel sad or depressed about your unrequited love when you have a disability, because there is an expectation that my disability is already tragic, and I should be angry. There have been many moments where I have convinced myself that I couldn’t be upset over a guy I liked, because it would just confirm stereotypical assumptions. Truthfully, all that did was make me that much more upset.
The effects of ableism have caused myself and many other Cripples to romanticize the idea of “the one.” From the time I was 16, I told myself that, “this year, I would find the one” (I’ll readily admit that my obsession with Meg Ryan films didn’t help here). What I have come to discover as a Queer Cripple is that I no longer want “the one”. What I want so much more than that trumped up fairytale, is to be given the chance to try; I want to get horribly dumped, painfully rejected for something other than my wheelchair, and bitch about possible ex-lovers like Taylor Swift does in every single. Rather than dreaming about what might happen, I want a dose of realism with my romance.
Probably the most insidious part of ableism is that it often takes cripples out of the equation for other cripples. In my work and in life, I have made it my mission to ‘make disability accessible to everyone’. When it comes to relationships though, there has been times where, even if I liked a fellow cripple, I would fall back on the argument that it would be logistically impossible – kind of a dick move, hey? I would also convince myself that I couldn’t be with a cripple, simply because that is the only type of relationship people assume I could be in. If I could snag a “walker”, I will have hit the jackpot and proved to the world that I can be in a “real relationship”. Completely crazy, I know, but it is a very true concern for many PwD. I had a fellow cripple confide in me once that I was in fact, “too disabled” for him.
I think it is critically important that PwD be given the chance and spaces to address and access these feelings alongside potential partners, so that we understand that ableism affects each and every one of us in very different ways.
The next time you’re eyeing me in the checkout line or on Grindr and wondering, “Why won’t that cute guy in the chair say hello to me? He’s given me the eyes, he throws his cookies (literally) when I enter a room, and he cant stop smiling when I’m there. What’s up with that?” just know that I might be trying to deafen the voice in my head.
If you want to find out more about my efforts to raise awareness and my work as a Disability Awareness Consultant, and book me for speaking opportunities, please visit: www.andrewmorrisongurza.com.
Editor’s note: All language as originally used by author.
Photo courtesy of the author.
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Photo courtesy of the author