TW: This article features ableism, disability fetishism, biphobia and transphobia
I was fresh out of an almost 12-year relationship, I’d come out as queer and I was ready to fling myself headfirst into dating again. I hadn’t been on a date since the early 00’s, but how hard was this online dating thing really?
I should mention I was now also chronically ill and disabled. During those almost 12 years I’d developed a heart condition, M.E., endometriosis, and thoroughly misbehaving joints which changed my body, making it almost unrecognisable to me.
I thought the LGBTQIA community would be incredibly supportive of me dating as a disabled person – we’re known for being accepting right? We know that sting of rejection from society at large. I enthusiastically filled in very detailed profiles on OkCupid and Tinder (where I mentioned my disability in passing), started swiping and waited for my legions of matches to roll in.
There was nothing those first weeks. Zero matches. Then, DING! A message! My first message from a potential love match! She told me my profile sounded interesting, “But the disabled thing puts me off. I don’t want to be someone’s carer. How disabled are you?”
I couldn’t believe what I’d just read. We vibe, but nah, your disability puts me off. And how disabled am I? In terms of what scale, just-a-touch to heavily saturated? This person took time out of their day to make clear how disinterested in me they were because of my disability.
I cried, blocked, cried some more, ate my body weight in Dairy Milk and screamed into every pillow I owned.
What was happening? Where was my tolerant and accepting community? I knew I’d been naive, but wasn’t expecting such a barrage of blatant ableism. It did not get better from there.
I finally had another match, some nice messages were exchanged and she asked a seemingly innocuous question about the walking stick in my photo. Was it mine? I said yes, and then explained a little about my joint problems. We arranged a date. Finally, at the date stage!
When I arrived, she looked surprised and as I sat down, pointed to my stick and chirped in very clipped tones, “I didn’t think you’d actually bring it!” I did indeed bring it, because otherwise… I cannot walk! Crawling here would look a tad odd.
Throughout the date she constantly glanced at my stick; it made me feel incredibly self-conscious. She said she had fun and asked for a second date. I politely declined as I said she’d been clearly uncomfortable with my aid. She said she could get used to it. Such a romantic gesture, they should make a rom-com about it!
It’s not just the ableism on dates that makes dating while disabled hard. The physical toll means the disappointing ones are all the more depressing. After a few days of feeling low, I considered cancelling on a date. Instead, I gave myself a pep talk, got dolled up and made the long journey to Soho for a drink with a new match.
When I got there my date was transphobic before I’d even managed to sit down ungracefully in my chair. “These unisex bathrooms make me very uncomfortable. Taking away our spaces.” She was vile. I left quickly, but not before she’d spat all over my face telling me how much she distrusted bisexuals, BUT she had nothing against disabled people.
Why me? It had taken me two and a half hours to get there, and would take me days to recover from.
So, back to the messages. More weirdly invasive personal questions to answer.
“How badly do your legs not work?”
“Hey sexy, do you need help showering?”
‘I’d love to take care of you like a baby!”
“Do you even have sex?”
I had to take a break after that – I almost considered giving up altogether. Until one profile caught my eye. She was cute and seemed to have pretty similar interests. I sent a message, and after chatting decided to meet up. I assumed I’d arrange the date, like I always did, but no! She’d asked me about my access needs with zero prompting.
So off we went to an improvised horror comedy musical (Yes, that’s a thing). My access needs were met and she made me feel totally at ease. This was a first. More incredible dates followed and we fell in love, ended up living together after 6 months (partly due to covid) and have now decided to move in together properly and get married.
My community may have let me down, but it taught me a valuable lesson about sticking to my boundaries and not compromising on what I wanted from a partner. Now I have all that and more.
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