Online dating is fascinating to me. If you know me any bit at all, you’ll know that I love my Tinder both ironically and as earnestly as can be. For a while I thought it was because it allowed my ego to be stroked. Then I thought I loved it because I could hide being a person with a disability (PWD), but over the past year I have come to really love my disability identity culture. [Sometimes I think and what would my alternate universe abled bodied self would be. Well I can tell you this, abled-bodied Jessy would suck. Abled-bodied Jessy stayed in Ohio and never had to think about the cultural and structural that consequences surrounding life, because she would be in a place of such high privilege that she would never even understand the concept of marginalization. wow, i digress.] Recently, I’ve realized my love for online dating comes not from a place hiding my identity, but one of the ability to see inside a normative abled bodied identity. Whether I like it or not, it is the closest thing I will ever be to nondisabled. Additionally, the screen barrier allows for conversation that AB’s might feel weird having in person. Asking a person on the webz if they can have sex is much less awkward online than in the produce aisle, I’m guessing?
So obviously I expect questions and usually have witty answers for them all.
Can you have sex? “Ugh if you really want, but right now i’m lying in my bed, eating a bowl of ice cream that i poured whisky over. Maybe tomorrow, after I’ve waxed and bleached every square inch of my body.”
Does it hurt? “only my dignity when I have to downward dog up a flight of stairs sans handrail.”
Are there, like, any cures? “the man in the subway told me i’m not praying hard enough. I’m inclined to believe him.”
You get the idea.
But there’s one question that I get that recently sent me into an intellectual tail spin of Judith Butler and performative identity theory (something that for some reason guys on Tinder don’t find sexy????). The question is a simple one: “how does it impact your life?” I know the type of answer they're looking for. It’s an answer that is measurable to a person of ability. “I walk/dont walk. My speech and face are normal. I have no cognitive delays.” They are not really interested in how it impacts my life, but rather if they can stand the embarrassment of being seen with me. They are then trying to figure out how much help they think I need (none, both because feminism and because I’m a grown ass adult, thanks).
However, the real answer is much more complicated. It simultaneously colors every moment of my life and actually nothing. It’s the biggest impact and the tiniest challenge. It is everything. It is nothing.
It really is nothing. I am super lucky to have been crippy since birth. I literally know nothing else. Nothing is hard because of my CP. I rarely think about how I’m going to move through the world on my own. I don’t think about making sure I always have a point of balance touching a surface. I don’t have to think about filling cups half way to avoid spillage. I don’t have to think about making sure to stretch out my hips when sitting. I just do it. It is my normal. I don’t feel hindered ever. I just get up, run around the house like crazy because I’ve hit snooze 7 times in the last hour, I take a shower, and start my day. Until I face the social living world, my life is [my] normal. If I lived in a vacuum that consisted solely of myself, I would not understand the concept of disability.
But I don’t live in a vacuum. Us humans are inherently social creatures. Because it’s not a typical way of moving through the world, it colors every single aspect of my life. To pretend that I’m not constantly navigating people’s opinions of my body would be a lie. In social situations, I must think, not only about how to pass for as normative as possible as to ensure the physical safety of others, but how I’m portraying the disability community. I wear not only by own personal struggles very visibly, but also the the public image of 47.9 million impaired people. I know, I know: it seems dramatic. However, most people rarely have personal interaction with PWDs, so I have to put on a good show. I feel responsible to be a Good Cripple, so abled bodies will go “yeah those cripple ain’t so scary.” (apparently this is a world where normative, passing humans think that people who can’t stand or run after you are fear inducing) Basically, everything that I do is in some way either aimed to subvert or support the image of people with disabilities (more on this later, I PROMISE).
Here’s where it gets tricky. My interactions with disability are mainly made up of images and stereotypes that others hold. This, at its root means that disability/ability is purely a social construct set up by expectations of a normative body to reach a certain valued “normal.” Everything else is icky. But, the coloring the construct gives my life bleeds into everything. If you think about my life as a load of laundry, my CP is the red sock. The red sock is small, seemingly insignificant amongst the big sheets and such, but somehow manages to make the entire load pink. My life is inextricably pink, so that even when my CP isn’t an issue--when the red sock is put back in the sock drawer--the laundry remains colored. Over time, you forget if your sheet set is white or pink. You buy matching pink pillow cases and begin to search for matching throw pillows, because pink is less bland than white anyway. The red sock gets tossed or finds a match and you stop blaming it for changing your life. You just become a pink sort of person and you like it.
So while yes, disability is a social construct, it becomes hard to see where my CP stops and my personal normal begins. I forget if my choices are from wanting to challenge notions of ability or if I make them because I, personally want to. At this point though, every fiber of me is pink and the sock is long gone. And I think I’m okay with it being everything in me and also, really, all but forgotten.