We are all unique, and we should all be proud of our uniqueness, but damn, pride is, sometimes, harder to embrace when we are constantly bombarded with negative messages about our bodies and our differences. Since the beginning of time, people with disabilities have been hidden from society, shamed, blamed, feared, loathed and even euthanized just for being different. How do we embrace who we are when we are under constant attack of negativity?
For years, my polio body was forced to parade naked in front of doctors and medical students who would view my imperfections as a case study, a file, as something that was broken. Such exposure left me shaken and insecure for a very long time. While I know not every person with a disability’s experience is the same, I also know there is a certain universality to the way our bodies are stereotyped as in needing to be fixed, or healed, or normalized.
Being subjected to having to appear as close to “normal” as possible is just another form of oppression and ablelism, and it is something those of us with disabilities have, at some point, experienced. I remember a time when my grandmother insisted that I wear a loose sweater over an elegant dress I wanted to wear to a school event because, she said, “It hides your imperfections a little better.”. She said she could not understand why I would want to subject myself to the vulnerabilities of not hiding the unruly curvature of my spine. She insisted she was being loving and helpful by being truthful with me. Her intensions might have come from love, but her way of viewing my body let me know my differences were undesirable, and therefore hiding them as much as possible would be the responsible thing to do. This was crushing to my fourteen year old spirit, of course. I remember crying tears of anger and self-hatred. I remember feeling broken, and unwanted and ashamed of my body.
Having a disability is not something to be ashamed of. It is not a crime or a violation of life’s basic rules. It is not a sin or something that needs to be forgiven, hidden, covered up or normalized in any way. One of the most liberating things I ever did as a woman with a disability was to stop caring about what others think about my body and my differences. Many aspects of myself which were once resented and feared by me, became areas of life and my body upon which I poured love and forgiveness.
For too long, we have been forced to try harder to be “normal”, to work tirelessly toward appearing less disabled. Hiding my disability as much as possible was my main focus in my youth. My focus now is simply to keep loving myself and to share the power that came from my painful experiences.
We are all creatures of love. We really are, but we have been erroneously taught to believe otherwise. While we might rationally understand that every human being deserves love, when it comes to romantic love and intimacy, people with disabilities have been socially and culturally conditioned to not expect sex and romance to be part of our life experience. Considering the many negative influences to which we are exposed, it is no surprise that most of us with disabilities at least for some period in our lives, believed such ridiculous lies.
All of us, ,regardless of ability, race, gender or sexual orientation crave and want some level of physical and emotional intimacy in the context of a romantic relationship. However, we must remember that romance even for nondisabled folks may, at times, seem unattainable, one of the key elements to attracting it to us begins with us believing we are worthy of it. One truth I have learned about self-acceptance is that no matter what our disability may be, when we profess love and pride toward our uniqueness, people will no longer see us through the lens of pity. Everything begins and ends with self-love.