Reminder: Being Disabled is Sexy

Recently, I read something by a chronically ill woman, explaining how her health issues (and the associated caregiving) had taken away the passion in her marriage. Instead, she was watching her husband clearly view her body differently, consumed by the fear that she was powerless to stop it. For me, the most heartbreaking part of this story was that she seemed to understand the shift in his behaviour, as if nothing about her could be desirable anymore. My first instinct was just to say “get a new husband”, but it’s never that simple, unfortunately. See, I have spent a lifetime alongside these struggles and I’m not sure that they can ever be entirely overcome. With that said, there is nothing more empowering than feeling good about yourself when the rest of the world refuses to be inclusive about their beauty standards. Like, sometimes we need to live in order to spite the people that feel uncomfortable about such levels of confidence.

I started being kinder to myself when I came to the realisation that disabled people are conditioned to feel shit about themselves, in every aspect of their lives, but most especially relating to their intimate relationships. For example: we are surrounded by a very loud discourse that either considers us to be completely asexual or questions whether or not we’re simply being exploited whenever anyone shows even the slightest amount of interest. Of course, these are both important discussions to have, but the suggestion that they are applicable to disabled people as one homogeneous group is very deeply damaging.

When I was at university, one of my greatest joys came from writing an essay about how disabled people should have access to inclusive sex education. I had been really anxious about this at the time, since it didn’t entirely follow the guidelines we’d been given, but I was passionate enough to put any academic concerns aside. After reading it, my lecturer remarked that I had taught him something and gave me the highest grade in class, which is something that I’ll forever be proud of. I mean, the statutory curriculum makes no mention of how to support pupils with physical disabilities. When updating these guidelines, the PSHE Association acknowledged that this group has voiced feeling invisible throughout any relevant classes, without offering any solutions as to how this might be accommodated for. The sources for this information can be found here and here, though it’s clear that not much has changed, at least within the public domain. Looking back, I firmly believe that this lack of representation triggered something in my brain saying “this information does not — and will never — apply to you”. More than that, though, it also sent a subtle message to my non-disabled peers that they were never likely to date anyone with varying levels of ability. So, the cycle continues. This creates an almost morbid fascination around how we have sex — or even if we can at all. Let me say this: the answer looks different for everyone and every experience is valid, even the ones that don’t fit into your ableist and/or homophobic opinions about what really counts.

The point, I suppose, is that we don’t owe you an explanation. You are not entitled to that information. We allowed to have autonomy over our own bodies, thanks. Also, we deserve to explore our sexuality without being made to feel like it’s a scandalous event. The rest is, frankly, none of your business.

A screenshot of a Tweet by nix et alia, which reads “so i went to a sexual health clinic today in my powerchair & i swear to god. 

the woman was already trying to direct me out of the door before i opened my mouth to say i had an appointment. then she stops & goes ‘YOU have an appt HERE?’ 

yes my good binch: crips have sex too *face blowing a kiss emoji*”
I’ll just leave this here. Enjoy.

If having sex when you’re disabled is still a complex conversation, then it’s relatively easy to understand how these same points can be connected to pregnancy. As an example: a few years ago, Tanni Grey-Thompson was heavily pregnant when someone came up to her in the street and declared that the idea of her having sex was disgusting. With this, here are a few reminders: disabled people have every right to experience parenthood as others do, if that’s something they want. Disabled people’s bodies are remarkable — and you don’t get a voice in what’s appropriate to do with them. Disabled people can be (and are) wonderful parents. Go and read a book or watch a documentary, you’ll find plenty of examples.

Okay, I’m almost done ranting now, but I do have a request. In the UK, disabled people often risk losing their benefits and financial stability if they move in with a partner, which is unfair beyond all words. We deserve to experience love (every aspect of it) fully and completely, you know? The fight towards equality is far from over yet, but it would mean so much to me if you signed the petition for change here. xxx

Owen, my love, you understand me in the most beautiful way and I will never stop being grateful. Rachael, you are going to be the most incredible mother. I will forever fight in your corner.

Being Gay and Disabled (COMING OUT)

I have had some genuinely traumatic experiences with dating in the past, which is relatively public knowledge, if you have been reading this blog for a while. In reality, much of this happened because I was desperate to force myself into a traditionally heterosexual space, despite never feeling entirely comfortable. I was already struggling with the marginalisation that being disabled brings, you know? I wanted to avoid making my life more unnecessarily difficult. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible to ever be happy within a society that continues to reject my existence, so decided that my only option was to stay quiet. Therefore, I was willing to accept whatever (limited) attention that I was offered, almost as if to prove some kind of point to the universe. See? I can pretend — and maybe if I pretend for long enough, then it will start to feel natural. Spoiler alert: that never happened. Instead, I just became very mentally unwell. The idea of letting anyone down with this truth has been consuming me for years, which is something that I almost didn’t survive. For a while, this truly felt like the best approach.

Amongst my closest friends, I have been identifying as gay for over a year now. Every single person embraced me with such an incredible amount of warmth and acceptance, which I will forever be grateful for. If this doesn’t include you, please don’t take it personally. I only told my immediate family yesterday, simply because it’s so terrifying. It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone, I know. With that said, I am exactly the same person that you have always known, just deciding to live more freely and authentically. I am not asking for your approval because, frankly, I don’t need it. I am simply asking you to allow me this happiness, even if it will take some time. I don’t hate myself anymore, which I hope that people can accept with an open heart.

A poem by Wendy Travino called Revolutionary Letter, which reads “one thing I’ve learned/come to provisional conclusion about: when it comes to fighting, there are people who will help you & there are people who will not & there are people who will stand in the way. find the people who will help/ be loud: & clear so they know where you are — focus on them, be encouraged by them, encourage them, work with them, don’t worry about the people who won’t help. they will be of no help even if they are on your side. waste as little energy as possible fighting people who stand in the way, which is to say don’t talk, don’t argue, just get them out of the way of the fight you came for.  tl;dr: you don’t need or want the people who you know aren’t “with you” to be with you. really, you don’t”
A poem by Wendy Travino. Thank-you to all of the people that have helped (and continue to help) me fight to gather the strength to be here, writing this. Free.

Is there ever a right time to make announcements such as this? Truthfully, probably not. I do finally feel ready, though. See, dear reader, I have fallen in love. It is a beautifully pure kind of love, which I never truly believed that I would ever be lucky enough to experience. My partner, Owen, is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns. With regard to everything else, kindly get educated or mind your own business. They make me happier than I ever knew that it was possible to be. They are, quite simply, the best human being that I have ever met. They first came into my life when I posted on that disability group looking for friends, which is just wild to think about on every level. Not to be too gross about it or anything, but I love them so much, it feels almost spiritual. There will never be enough words, but I would like nothing more than to spend the rest of time with them. Yes, I’m declaring that now, publicly. Bold, am I right? I would go anywhere and do anything, you know? They are my home and they make all of the scary stuff worthwhile, including this. I am so unbelievably proud to be in love with them. Every day is a blessing — that’s all anyone can ever ask, isn’t it?

This is a really massive deal for me. I have been waiting for my entire life, so please don’t be a dick. Now is not the time. But equally, I will not apologise for being happy, now or ever again. Owen is absolutely everything. They are wonderful in every way and my heart is with them for always, even across distance in the middle of a global pandemic. The rest of the bullshit is irrelevant.

With special thanks to Imogen, Kesia, Megan, Sonia, Holly, Courtney, Sam, Kai, Céline, Cool Hannah, Rachael and everyone else. I hope that you know who you are. Finally, to my family: I have had a draft of this post saved on my phone for a few days now, before telling you, but I feel obligated to include a small edit here. Thank-you for loving me so unconditionally. I have played this scenario over in my head a million times, quickly becoming convinced that nothing would be okay ever again. Thank-you for the hugs, the jokes and the supportive messages. I appreciate every single one of you more than words could ever fully articulate. Again, I don’t hate myself anymore. I made it. Thank-you for making such a beautiful effort to understand and embrace everything that I am. I love you. xxx

A Love Letter to My Disability

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means that it’s time for me to be extra vulnerable on the internet again. I have always hated my disability and the way that it leads other people to perceive me. I have also spent an embarrassing amount of time crying over people that cancelled dates with me, after deciding that the prospect of future caring responsibilities was too much to handle. The damage that these experiences have inflicted is too heavy for words to properly convey. It has left me unable to trust in anything good. I’m constantly waiting for it to go wrong. Allowing myself to sit in the happiness for too long just feels dangerous and naive. I am notoriously bad at playing the field, so only have the emotional energy for one person at a time. If I have ever attempted to flirt with you in any way, please know that you are blessed and I am still shocked by the idea that you might have fancied me, however briefly.

Here’s the truth: I was about nine or ten when I burst into tears in the middle of an appointment to mould new splints for my legs, just because the man made some joke about all of the attention that I’d receive on Valentine’s Day. Every February, the words: “that’s never going to happen. Nobody’s ever going to love me because I’m disabled” sit at the forefront of my brain on an endless loop. I was heartbroken and am still trying to unlearn those negative internalisations.

With that said, this is a love letter because I’m learning to be grateful. Before my brother met his long-term girlfriend, there was more than one occasion where women would lose interest in him after finding out about his disabled sister. I really, really wish that I was joking. But this bullshit is a good thing, which is something that I have been trying to remind myself every day. Although impossibly painful for everyone, it is the purest of blessings. I don’t need that ableism in my life, anyway. I am determined to have more self-respect than that. I am worth more than someone that doesn’t see how beautifully radiant a life with me could be. I deserve to hold onto the connections that feel mutually good and healthy, which I’m trying to focus on now. Maybe there is something on the horizon, who knows? My heart is open to the possibility.

A few days ago, Lucy Dawson tweeted me back and called me beautiful. It was a passing comment and she has probably forgotten about it completely now, but it meant the entire world to me. For those that are unaware, she’s a pretty big deal within the disability community. She has been very influential in teaching me that disabled isn’t synonymous with unsexy. It is possible to feel attractive in a body that does not look the same as everyone else’s. I have even bought myself some new bras for the first time in two years, after my sense of self became so distorted that looking in the mirror was genuinely painful. These may sound like small steps, but I’m trying really hard.

a screenshot of a Tweet from Lucy Dawson that reads “good morning beautiful twitter ppl. I am sending you this GOOD MORNING TEXT because no-one sends me them and we could all do with one. SEND ME ON[E] BACK. Added smiles if you call me beautiful”. Danielle’s reply reads “good morning, beautiful lady !!!! you have a gorgeous soul & I hope that today is bright for you (red heart emoji)”. Lucy replies “GOOD MORNING BEAUTIFUL ONE (red heart emoji)”.
Do I have this screenshot saved on my phone so that I can read it before I get out of bed every morning? NATURALLY.

To the reader, if you don’t know much about this stuff, that’s okay. You can learn here and here. If you are disabled, single and feeling shit about yourself for it: know that I’m on the journey with you. You are whole. Falling in love with a disabled person will never be a burden, now or ever. My disability is not all that I am — I am a wonderful person and anyone would be LUCKY to date me. Repeat until believed.

Céline, you are the realest one. I appreciate the pep talks more than you know. Hannah, thank-you for reading this before I made it public because I was too nervous and insecure. I am beyond grateful that your friendship exists in my life. xoxo

The Shame of Being a Disabled Person

Since childhood, I have carried around a sense of shame about being disabled. Alongside that, I have also been disappointed in myself for having those feelings. It’s impossible to watch the Paralympics (with all of these disabled athletes living their best lives) and not feel like I should be doing more. It’s impossible not to feel like I should be happier and more comfortable with my apparent adversity. All of this was true, until I had a recent realisation:

The pressure to feel better is directly related to allowing others to be more comfortable — to create a space where they don’t perceive me to be living a life that is wasted. Of course, this type of attitude is one that I wish could be removed from society completely, but there is some truth to it. Sometimes, pretending otherwise can be tiring, especially when it only serves to allow people not to feel so awkward when staring at me in the street. Like, it’s apparent from my previous posts here that there are some aspects of my life that have been halted or made more difficult by disability, but happiness is not made nonexistent by such a reality. It is possible to find a weird sense of harmony between the two, which I wish could be more widely understood.

For example: in about February of this year, before the pandemic hit in earnest, I went to Starbucks with my cousin and family. We were happily gossiping about the trails and tribulations of our dating lives at the time, when a stranger approached us and handed me a leaflet. He said that he couldn’t imagine how unbearable my circumstances must be, but that he was willing to help me find “a life without wheels”, through the power of prayer. I’m a loser and hate confrontation, so I politely thanked him and headed into the nearest bathroom to cry. At the time, I had been really struggling with my body image and generally didn’t feel great about myself, so the whole thing was very bad timing. For me, perhaps the saddest part of this interaction was that I’d been having a genuinely nice day, until that moment. I had been laughing in the seconds before he spoke to me, yet he was entirely focused on highlighting the glaringly obvious negativities.

When drafting this post, I had initially wrote: to be honest, I wish that he had been right. I mean, imagine if fixing everything really was that simple. But let’s unpack that idea, in hopes of demonstrating how damaging these well-meaning gestures can be. Firstly, there is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, so taking away my wheelchair would truly be no life at all, even when I do struggle to accept my dependence on it. Secondly, isn’t it heartbreaking that one conversation can leave me feeling so broken? Especially when it probably wasn’t at all significant to the other party.

Moving forward, I will strive to live without shame. Your misplaced guilt and pity is not my problem, so I can promise that I’ll be fine without your prayers. This body is mine, for better or worse. Sometimes, that can be a beautiful thing. Please allow me to try and outweigh the bad with the good throughout 2021. Already, this blog has received more overwhelming love and support than I ever could have hoped for. It has brought a certain strength to my friendships, both old and new. Maybe — just maybe — I’ll never hide in a bathroom again. Let that be my New Year’s Resolution, okay? One blog post at a time. xxx

PS: as promised, here’s a shoutout to my brother, Jack. He wants me to remind everyone that he is, in fact, Carer of the Year. Not really, but still.

If you have a question that you have always felt weird about asking directly, hit me up on CuriousCat! Yay for anonymity. I’m all about that education and will do a post on it in January, if there’s anything. https://curiouscat.qa/Disabled_Danielle97

Why Do I Hate Myself So Much?

In the week that lockdown restrictions have been eased, I felt compelled to make sure that some of the bigger issues are not forgotten. It’s entirely possible that nobody reading this will care at all, but perhaps taking this action can prove something to myself instead: a reminder that my existence can — and does — have value, even within a society that would readily dispose of vulnerable lives in exchange for a trip to the pub with their friends. See, the title of this post asks a big question, I know. In fact, it might make some people feel uncomfortable, in the same way that such raw honesty is wildly outside of my comfort zone. However, it’s also something that I have had no choice but to confront this year, after a lifetime of preferring to pretend that these thoughts were not an issue. Due to a wide variety of medical conditions, I have been shielding since March, even during the periods where advice around this has been more lenient. Almost overnight, all of the coping mechanisms that I had put into place to compensate for how different my life felt to other people’s simply disappeared. Before, I could just about manage the dull ache that I feel in my heart over a lack of healthy romantic opportunities, if I was able to meet friends for coffee. I could just about manage my sadness over never quite feeling confident enough to accept meaningful date invitations, over fears that I would inevitably become a burden, if I could buy my mum dinner instead. I could just about manage my horribly messed up body image, if I could actively plan events to look forward to throughout the year and perform well academically. You get the idea.

So, you can imagine how difficult it was when everything fell apart simultaneously, leaving me with nothing but time to think and fall down the rabbit hole. First, I had to watch as society at large complained about missing out on the various aspects of life that have always been inaccessible to me. For example: I have never been into a nightclub, simply because I am terrified about what might happen in the event of an emergency. Besides, being invisible in a crowd full of drunk people is not my idea of fun. Speaking from experience, it’s very easy for people to forget that I exist when they feel like the responsibility of looking after me will prevent them from having a good time. Then, as life started to regain a semblance of normalcy that I couldn’t participate in, my friendships also became more distant. The negative voice from inside of my head was getting increasingly loud, so it felt as if I no longer had anything to talk about with these people, or support to offer that would have been worthwhile.

In amongst all of this, after an acrimonious couple of months, I have officially taken an extended break from my studies. At the final hurdle, the university offered me almost no support. After making a formal complaint, it has since emerged that this is largely because they don’t know how to properly help their disabled students, particularly during times of crisis. This whole experience was awful, to be honest. I’m still working through the damage that it incurred to my sense of self. Still trying to reassure myself that my existence isn’t pointless without academic validation. But this, combined with everyone’s approach to the pandemic, did allow me to realise one thing: I have been misunderstood and bullied by people throughout my entire life, really only because they have never been given the tools to accept diversity without question. It’s impossible for them to associate disabled lives with anything positive, if they have never been shown any examples. So, that’s what this blog aims to do, alongside helping any other young disabled people that this might reach. You are not alone. Maybe, I’ll even learn to heal myself along the way, too. Yes, there are parts of myself that I don’t have a good relationship with. But I’m learning that it’s because I don’t have any reason to fight against those ideas right now, on a societal level. In the meantime, I will be my own voice for change.

So, check in with your chronically ill and disabled friends right now. Stay safe. Also, please don’t be afraid to ask questions. Conversation is never a bad thing, when it comes from a place of wanting to do better. Besides, I am exhausted by feeling like such an important part of my life and identity is somehow taboo. One blog post at a time. xxx