She misses romance and sex. Is her disability getting in the way?

Hello, lovely,

I hope you are well! It sure is tricky to bundle all your backstory into a few brief sentences, isn’t it? Here we go. I’m single, and not unhappy, but I miss romantic touch and sex. I’d adore having my own (or heck, multiple!) lover/s. Even a full-on Relationship, if I found the right man.

I’m disabled, with a chronic (and invisible) illness that leaves me mostly housebound and affects my mobility, stamina, etc. Going out and meeting people — which I enjoy, and make friends doing — is very difficult for me.

Dating apps have been eh. While I appreciated the ego-stroking provided by people finding me attractive on superficial criteria (especially since I’m 40 and have more fat than society deems acceptable), most of the matches have been with men I’m not actually that interested in.

This might be due to the challenges of writing a bio. I either omit even a single hint of my disability (and then am forced to have That Conversation over, and over, and over) or I mention it and watch helplessly as my bio becomes a long-form apology for… well, me. I vacillate between deciding I ought to settle for anyone who is interested in me, and defiantly declaring I will never settle for anyone who doesn’t deserve my attention. Because I am splendid, damn it!

Being in a fifteen-year-long relationship with someone who didn’t know he was asexual is Not Helping, unsurprisingly. I’ve been single since that relationship ended and oh, I miss being desired. There’s a twirly knot of fear that I won’t ever have that feeling again. I don’t know what I need from you, lovely. Perhaps a mantra I can salve over my bruised sense of self and march (with a cane) back into the dance. (Yes, I nearly said “fray”.) (Sigh.)

With warm regards,

The Valid Invalid (she/her)

Dear TVI,

As I searched creative commons, seeking an image for this post (send them some money if you have it!), I came across the strangest thing.

Most of my searches result in page after page of people. After all, we are people. We like to take photos of people.

The search for ‘disability?’

An entire page of objects. Symbols. Parking spaces. (So many parking spaces! Yes, we get better parking, ableds — try to keep body and soul together in the face of this grave injustice). Equipment. Signs.

Finally, I got down to some people. One of the first: a man in a transport wheelchair, his head in his hands.

SO many people think of disability as a concept, as a designation, as a living misery — that they can’t see the disabled people. For whatever reason, ‘disabled and dating’ turned out a bunch of ‘inspirational’ amputees competing in olympic sports. I dunno. I guess we can be people if we are superhuman. “Romance and disability,” “kissing and wheelchair,” etc. came up either blank or just really, really off-topic.

This is how the world sees us: nonsexual, alien, Not To Be Spoken of Or Seen. Invisible.

So of course we sometimes see ourselves that way. Internalized disablism is a real thing, and it sucks.

Throw in an asexual partner for 15 years whom you didn’t know was asexual (“oh, I miss being desired. There’s a twirly knot of fear that I won’t ever have that feeling again” just get me in the gut), and . . . Christ.

If one doesn’t kill your sexuality, the other one will.

So the fact that you’ve been putting yourself out there despite enormous societal and personal pressures is itself an enormous victory.

Celebrate that, sister. Seriously. You are, indeed, splendid!

I can answer your question straightforwardly: no, you do not have to settle. You are not ‘damaged goods,’ disabled or no, and you need to kick to the curb any other ideas about that. I already know a few sexAY things about you: you’re an excellent, wry, and evocative writer; you are pretty (sorry, folks, only I get to see the thumbnail); you are over 40 and therefore probably darn good in bed.

And I have practical advice for dating apps.

But first . . . you say you have a chronic condition and going out is very difficult for you, and then you mention a cane.

Just a cane.

Is there a reason you didn’t mention any other mobility equipment?

Because a chair or a scooter or even crutches or a walker with a seat on it could be a game-changer.

A lot of us with pain or fatigue issues (you said disabled with a chronic invisible condition, so I’m going to assume it’s pain, fatigue, or some other exhausting issue) could really use some goddamned physical support. If you really enjoy going out and meeting people, and a chair or scooter could help, please figure out how to get one. I’m serious. I know it makes us look more crippy, but who cares when you’re having a great time?

Being out in a wheelchair or with my crutches in social situations is a gift. Truly. It’s an Asshole Eliminator.

One look at someone and their expression when they see you can save you countless hours of texting. And people who have that vague ‘invisible but only a symbol’ vision of disability will see a real, live, obviously disabled person who is splendid and worth getting to know.

Seriously. If money is an issue and you don’t have good insurance, stalk craigslist or FB Marketplace for used scooters. Rent them at tourist places and museums. DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Did you know that cripples give each other a little nod when we see each other in public? A solidarity nod. I fucking LOVE that nod. LOVE IT. We are in this together, we are saying. Read up on disability history. There have been a lot of badass and mad sexy cripples fighting for our rights, and seeing yourself a part of that proud history takes some of the sting of public disability away. It instills disability pride, which banishes disability shame.

Now — if all of that is just crap (and even if it isn’t), here is some very practical advice when using dating apps (which you really have to do; statistics show this is where most people are meeting sex and romance partners.)

Although my aim is not men, I discovered that putting my disability front and center attracted a lot of beautiful, bright, and interesting women on apps. (Especially okcupid for whatever reason.) And it weeded out those who are dipshits about disability. (For the record, I am also over 40 and fat.)

You don’t have to mention it in your bio at all, except perhaps in the ‘things I could never live without’ section: “My super sweet cane that takes me everywhere I go,” perhaps.

Make sure your photo, after the first closeup of your face, features your cane in some way. Pose with it. Lean your chin on it pensively. Strut with it.

This is how you unapologetically bring up the subject of disability; show them. Here you are, a perfect dandy, with your cane. Here you are, leaning on it with a smoky expression. Here you are, disabled and a stone cold fox.

Then, you talk about everything else in your bio (except for that one reference to a cane, perhaps, in a very positive light). People who look at your first photo or two will see that you use a cane. They don’t need any details up front. Truly they don’t. Any more than they need to know about your childhood, happy or miserable or both, your secret fears and desires, your entire health history. They just need to see that yes, you are disabled.

Then you only go out with guys you think you’d like. That’s it. Do not settle. No no no no no.

Look at the image I finally found for this letter. This lady is fat and disabled. And she is in the arms of a man and they are watching the sun set over the water at Prince Edward Island and it is ROMANTIC AF and I’ll bet afterward they schtüpped like bunnies.

You can have that, too. You can you can you can.

So now we can’t even say hi to a service dog?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I know we aren’t supposed to touch service dogs, but we can look at them, right? What if the dog approaches us first?

I was walking toward a woman with a service dog on the sidewalk, and her dog was so incredibly cute! It was a beautiful shiny black Lab bursting with Lab cuteness, with floppy soft ears and a big doggie smile.

I love dogs. I didn’t say anything at all, but as we got closer I did look at the dog, smile, and give it a little wave. He wagged his tail.

As I passed, the dog’s tail got faster, it raised its head, and sniffed at my knuckles. I paused and turned my hand around for him, and he gave it a little kiss as he went by.

I would never have touched a service dog that hadn’t sniffed me, and I didn’t even really touch him as it was!

The woman yanked the dog closer to her and snarled at me: “Interfering with a service dog is against the law!” And kept wheeling down the street away from me.

I didn’t even make her and the dog slow down on their way.

I know I shouldn’t touch them, and I didn’t! But I feel really bad. She was just so angry! I don’t think I did anything wrong, and I don’t see why she had to be so mean about it. 

What do you think?

— I Love Dogs

 

Dear ILD,

Listen. I get it. I really do. I am also a dog lover, and human beings evolved next to dogs. Our species are inextricably linked, and when you’re a dog person it’s nearly impossible to reject a doggie overture.

Studies show that dogs in the workplace lower stress levels, and they make obnoxious teens and stoic butches alike coo and make baby talk and kissy noises. Their fur begs to be pet and their noses beg to be kissed. And dogs — especially Labs — love attention from people.

That’s where things get sticky with service animals.

My service dog loves people — especially children. And other dogs. If I allowed it, he would spend his days as a social butterfly distributing kisses and soliciting treats rather than supporting me.

And that’s the thing: service dogs have a job to do. And when they are distracted or when they are hoping for and expecting attention from others, that’s when things can get dangerous for their disabled handlers.

You say that the dog initiated with you, and that you didn’t slow them down or touch him.

But you actually initiated with the dog. Making eye contact and waving is very appealing to friendly dogs.

And if you were close enough for the dog to sniff the back of your hand? You were too close.

Service dogs need space to work. Walking close enough to one for him to sniff you, even if you hadn’t gotten his attention first, is very distracting.

Think about it: if every person (or even every tenth person) who walked past that woman and her dog waved and interacted with her dog, the dog would stop paying attention to his handler and start looking around and maybe even lunging toward people for attention, play, etc.

My dog once lunged when I was in my wheelchair, and I ended up in a heap on the sidewalk.

It’s dangerous for the dog, too — a man once made kissy noises at my dog, he looked at that damn kissy man instead of where he was going, and I rolled over his toes.

So: next time you see someone with a service dog, even if you’re on a crowded sidewalk or in a narrow hallway, avoid eye contact with the dog and give them a wide berth by either walking out toward the curb or even stepping aside for them to pass.

I think many people make the mistaken assumption that service dogs are so perfectly trained that they are basically robots; if the dog shouldn’t sniff, he shouldn’t sniff no matter what.

But dogs are dogs, and no training is perfect, and when people walk by offering attention over and over, it erodes the training the dog has gone through.

I know it hurts. Like, I mean, if you love dogs it can sometimes actually feel like a physical pain to refrain from at least even saying hi.

But don’t do it. Just don’t. It is dangerous for the handler and for the dog.

Now: you are wondering why the handler was so angry.

I confess, although my name is Gentle, that reading this letter angered me, too — even as I understood how easy it is to make a mistake like you did.

See, disabled people, like any marginalized group, deal with microaggressions every day — be it people TALKING VERY SLOWLY IN THEIR SPECIAL VOICE, grabbing our wheelchairs, asking why we ‘need those sticks,’ or stealing the parking spaces set aside for us so that we have enough room to enter and exit with our equipment.

So I am nearly certain that you were not the first person who interfered with her dog that week, and probably not even the first to interfere that day — and after a certain point, all of us just snap.

The type of behavior you describe is really, really distracting to the dog and it’s incredibly enraging to a handler, no matter how well-meaning you were. That’s why the handler got so angry. It’s as simple as that.

I know it stings to have a stranger rage at you in public, and I also know that not a lot of people get good information on how to deal with service dogs in public except for ‘don’t touch.’

But now you know for next time, and hopefully by writing in, other people now know, too.