untouchability

Several months ago, Kim Sauder made an awesome post about untouchability and related issues.

Eventually, the bullying turned to my relationship status (or more accurately my lack of one). The girls first dropped a note off at my desk which said: “Maybe if you got a boyfriend, you’d have more friends”. They later cornered me to deliver this message in person. I clearly learned that being in a romantic relationship might lead to broader social acceptance. I was, however, unable to acquire the boyfriend necessary for this entrer into social acceptance.

In elementary school, I was told I needed a boyfriend to be socially valuable. In high school, that message continued but it was also clearly accompanied with the message that no one would ever want me.

The very idea that someone might be interested in me was unthinkable and the source of much amusement for my classmates. In grade 9 one of the girls’ favourite torments would be to try and determine who I had a crush on. They used whether I blushed as evidence—I am very pale and blush easily—they got a lot of amusement out of embarrassing me in front of whatever boys happened to be present.

In high school, the boys joined in this abuse. It started with my being mock proposed to repeatedly to the uproarious laughter of the audience.

That wasn’t middle school for me exactly, but I have no problem picturing exactly what that felt like. Reading All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, it struck me how many contributors talked about not being a person, not existing, not having a soul, etc. Without having a pattern like that documented anywhere, those feelings seem melodramatic, but they’re based on picking up on cues that are absolutely real.

Note that dating autistic people is still literally a joke. It’s the whole premise of Atypical on Netflix. That’s, like, preternatural levels of cockblocking to be dealing with. It boggles the mind that so many resources would be devoted to such a thing. I get that everyone’s gotta put themselves out there to find someone, but everyone is NOT dealing with the same certainty that their clumsy romantic overtures are met disgust and laughter.

Traditional gender norms make emotional honesty impossible. You’re supposed to project certainty, confidence, being in charge of the situation, all of which are absurd expectations for someone socialized for sexual worthlessness. It’s not that people successfully performing the male gender are more confident and secure in themselves. Often they’re less, and that feeling of inadequacy motivates them to try harder. What’s punished is the emotional honesty of admitting it. You’re NOT supposed to be all emo:

I didn’t dream of being seen as a sexualized ideal. I just wanted to be loved and included. Getting this attention from one person would have been enough. I was desperate for it.

The desire to be loved and wanted is not in and of itself dangerous or unhealthy but it can be when you’ve been told over and over again that you are undesirable and that this undesirability is also what makes you a social outcast. I was also clearly told that I was so undesirable that to be seen with me would have social consequences for anyone willing to be with me. This lead to expectations that any relationship I had would likely be isolated from the rest of the world. While I heavily romanticized this scenario as a teenager and young adult, I am well aware now that this kind of dream and the level of desperation that I had for it, left me at serious risk of abusive relationships.

This is evidenced by how I behaved around and responded to boys I had crushes on. I wanted so badly to feel loved, that I would pretty much develop a crush on any boy who would initially speak to me with any degree of kindness. When I was 16 this meant I was infatuated with a boy who was initially very charming but in reality, had a deeply misogynistic streak to him.

This is absolutely how it is. Starved for anyone understanding you or being sympathetic on any level.

I want and deserve meaningful human relationships both simply social and romantic. These are not things I can buy. In order for me to be able to have them. I need people to actually interrogate why disabled people aren’t seen as options for romantic partners. I need more than the platitudes I received from a male friend at 18 when in a moment of bravery I shared my insecurities and the sentiment that no one when I fantasize about an as yet unseen and unmet lover, thinks of someone like me. I even asked him outright if he had ever thought about dating a disabled person.

He deflected by magnanimously claiming that he was open to falling in love with someone who was disabled. He would however not answer my question directly because of course, he had never actually considered it. He, however, wouldn’t directly admit as much because to do so would be to admit to an internalized bias and discrimination.

I want people to be aware not only that disabled people are sexual beings but also be aware of the widespread messages that they tell each other and disabled people about how we are undesirable. I want them to understand the harm that causes and how it sets people up for potential abuse. It goes beyond them simply not considering having a disabled partner.

I want those ideas directly and actively challenged. I want to see disabled people culturally framed as beautiful and I want this to happen without a flurry of think pieces on how progressive it is.

It’s so much more difficult trying to get over this kind of childhood when it’s so difficult to have experiences that contradict it. The whole area of sex and relationships is associated with your own crappiness, with diminished opportunity to associate it with anything else. I could improve my emotional intelligence to match Buddha himself and this would still make it harder to find someone. The effect size is large.

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