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Virtually Perfect – Disabled Queer Dating in a Remote World

I was diagnosed with Tourettes’ Syndrome when I was 10, though my disorder first manifested many years previously. Over the interceding period I was diagnosed and re-diagnosed and prognosed by anyone and everyone around me.

I was treated with antibiotics, antipsychotics, an abortive hypnotherapy programme, and even offered an exorcism (yes, really). The journey to understanding who and what I was took many turns, and that to accepting it took many more.

Now I’m 24, my friends and family say they barely notice my twitching and squeaking, or politely look away when I have a particularly explosive episode of tics (usually once or twice a day). Having had nearly 20 years to master the art of concealing the spasms, these days they only really come out in force when I’m especially relaxed, or especially stressed.

Consequently, life is an unending search for the zen-like happy medium where I can enjoy some stillness.

As you can imagine, my condition makes dating particularly challenging. Take the inherent stress of the situation, combined with the need to make a good first impression, add alcohol and you have a recipe for disaster. Alcohol – it should be noted – doesn’t make my tics go away, but it does make them much, much more pronounced.

The further complication is that I’m bisexual. Anyone who’s circulated in MLM (men loving men) spaces will know that there’s a premium placed on perfection, amplified by social media and cultivated in particular by the ‘transiently transactional’ nature of most ‘gay’ dating apps.

‘Swiping left’ has an evocative gesture in modern society. Arising from the nominal motion of rejecting a potential match on Tinder, it’s taken on an idiomatic nature to describe the whole game, one in which one can just swipe another person out of existence as easily as one would close a computer tab.

A popular psychology prevails wherein imperfection, no matter how slight, is cause enough to swipe away. The sheer mass of the profiles available to us incubates a ‘grass is greener’ mentality that leaves many people by the wayside, unable to properly shine in the 2-5 seconds we have in each person’s personal spotlight. I would be remiss to not admit that I have often been a part of this issue.

You can’t tell that I twitch in my Tinder profile. You can’t tell in the subsequent conversation, which might go on for days or weeks (or months, as it stands right now). You can’t tell when we arrange to go for a drink.

You only realise when we arrive, whereupon I spend the first 20-30 minutes either suppressing my tics or overthinking how obvious they are, at the expense of the date itself.

Several uncomfortable interactions have resulted from this which led me to state plainly in my profile that I suffer from Tourette’s Syndrome, a decision which cost me several matches that very evening and doubtless many more after.

As you can see, a constellation of circumstances come together to create a uniquely challenging environment for visibly disabled queer people. As I have very little experience in dating women, I theorise this to be equally true in the heterosexual experience, though it is rendered particularly acute in gay male spaces, my usual stomping ground.

This, of course, isn’t news to anyone with a visible condition. Life is a recurring exercise of second-guessing, constantly preoccupied with the ‘what ifs’ and the damaging thoughts of personal inadequacy. Enraptured by notions that ‘X might have wanted a second date if I was able-bodied’ or ‘Y has clearly stopped talking to me because of my condition’, we forget that the game itself changes all players, churning us up and spitting us out like a thresher.

Neither is it news to anyone who has spent time on the London MLM dating scene. It’s a high frequency game, and a hard one to play if you get off on the wrong foot.

The intersection of those two systemic deficiencies is a tough place to stand, for sure. But I stand there nevertheless, as do thousands of others. We muddle through and make accommodations to navigate the turgid seas of courtship, often with Herculean perseverance through mistreatment, ableism and prejudice. That’s commendable at the best of times, but during this crisis is even more so.

I didn’t particularly set out to make a point or a call to action with this piece. I grappled with the purpose of telling my story to inspire change, to elucidate, ideate or simply to complain about a prevailingly uncaring world.

Ultimately I settled on the fact that there’s value in the telling itself, even if the story isn’t very optimistic.

I haven’t reached a happy ending yet, but I know many in my shoes who have. So the message is this: persevere, and when we emerge from this despairing episode, commit yourself to giving all people more than 30 seconds to blow you away.

You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find under that first layer.

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