Editor’s Note: Criplentine’s Day is a project by Revival Disability Magazine rooted in the belief that all kinds of love should be celebrated because love is a revolution. An accessible Valentine’s Day should be one that not only includes an able-bodied kind of love between two heteronormative lovers. As a part of the project, Revival Disability Magazine collaborates with Feminism In India to publish a series of articles on the theme. It will include a fairytale love story between a girl and her mobility aid, two queer, disabled lovers eating rainbow-coloured ice-cream and kissing each other with rainbow-coloured mouths, the love between two best friends who’ve created their own queer, disabled utopia by finding solace and belonging in each other in a new city, and more.
Posted by Anusha Misra
Ever since entering my teens, I’ve been noticing the Otherness in people’s eyes when they look at me. The Otherness when people see me at airports, grocery stories, in malls, basically in every public place. So I learned a trick: a clever, subtle trick of taking off my spectacles whenever I was in a public place so that I wouldn’t notice people staring at me or at my feet, which has also been the primary reason for my social anxiety. I have nearsightedness, so the trick works perfectly.
The Otherness extends to other social contexts, such as dating. I would look for the Otherness in my date’s eyes : because that is what I had learned to do my entire life. When I began to date (I was 18 when I joined Tinder and it’ has just been downhill ever since) I was fixated on the idea of my date accepting me for who I was. Growing up disabled and as someone with a low self-esteem, we’re taught that only a certain kind of ability is capable of being attractive, of falling in love, of getting married, of settling down. Due to such a worldview, I have doubted every single person’s affection, when it comes to the people I’ve dated, for me.
I would often feel like, a) they would fall out of love with me (because of my disability), b) they would cheat on me (again, because of my disability) or c) they are simply lying to me about their affection for me. How then, was I to fall in love and trust, in an able-bodied world, in a world where love itself is so terrifyingly inaccessible, where love in pop culture, in the movies, in the media portrays and celebrates only one kind of love, ie., a love that is the norm, a love that is so binding and rigid.
As I grew up, I began to develop a pattern in my relationships. I would date the very first person who accepted me for who I was (“despite” my disability) even though they were grossly incompatible, controlling, patronising and chauvinistic. As a result, once I stayed in an abusive relationship for a year and a half. The only reason I stayed for so long in my first ever abusive relationship was because I truly believed that no one would accept me, except for them.
No long after my first relationship ended, I limped from the frying pan to the fire into another toxic relationship where I would never believe that he truly cared about me, to make matters worse he was cheating on me which verified the before-mentioned clause B, in my mind. I thought (and still think sometimes, frankly) that he fell out of love with me due to my disability.
Inevitably, I was “settling” in almost all of my relationships. Settling for the person who accepted me and my disability – regardless of whether they were actually mean for me, of whether they were controlling, abusive or obsessive. Having dated able-bodied men all my life, I have encountered several occasions of their family members being “concerned” about them dating a woman who is disabled. As I spoke to my disabled female friends about it and they recounted similar experiences, I came to a conclusion: Able-bodied people are terrified of disability.
They are especially fearful of disabled women: We’re “The Other” in their eyes: something that they can’t (or don’t want to) wrap their heads around. My friend’s boyfriend immediately broke up with her when she started limping due to her disability. I dated someone whose mother told him that I wouldn’t be a suitable partner and that he “shouldn’t get into all this.” She then proceeded to compare me with another family member on a wheelchair even though she had never met me and didn’t know what my disability was. It took me a long time to realise that this was a big red flag. I simply did not deserve this.
Through the years, I had carefully carved out a narrative that only shows the rosy parts of my disability: I have tried to appear as “able-bodied” and as “less disabled” as possible to my able-bodied dates. I have avoided conversations around the ugly and sad bits of my disability, and of course, logistics. I have avoided the “unattractive” bits of my disability: the fact that I cry in the shower whenever I’m not able to do simple tasks due to a flair in my chronic illness, thinking that my speech might sound “too incomprehensible” at times and then doing exercises in front of a mirror so that my date understands what I am saying and finds me “attractive”, or avoiding the fact that I can’t walk barefoot, even inside my house. I have avoided setting up of clear boundaries, of saying “no” and telling them that I don’t like it when they ask me so many questions about my disability. As a result, my dates have never really known the disabled me, which is in fact, the real me. I would hide all aspects of my disabled experience from my narrative of dating, all these years.
Today however, I’m in the process of unlearning and relearning new aspects of the disabled me everyday.
Disability and loneliness is something that is so present, yet a topic that is ignored. Disabled women are not expected to participate in femininity. Infact, society advises us against it. In addition to being afraid of disability itself, the society is terrified of disabled women who know what they want: women who embrace their disabled womanhood: for instance, putting on lipstick and going outside in our favourite dress feels like a rebellion, especially because it’s exhausting to exist in a society that constantly doubts and looks down upon our existence. By society’s standards, my existence then is illegal. Because I’m disabled, sexually free, and queer.
This year, I realised something: I have never really been single and on my own. I have almost always been with someone or dated for the heck of it : because I was terrified of being alone. While society taught me that as a disabled woman, I need to always have a significant other (ideally, an able-bodied man) to take care of me, my rigorous conditioning based on an able-bodied, cis gendered, bi-phobic Sex And The City taught me that a boyfriend is good, but a husband is like winning an award. Growing up watching romantic comedies and listening to pop stars chime about able-bodied love, the media often gives out the message that once the able-bodied female finds her able-bodied soulmate (most often an able-bodied man), all of life’s problems would magically disappear.
These realisations led to many more: Modern dating in a pandemic is a scam and I want to scream when I see those Tinder advertisements of 4 joyous, heterosexual, cis-gendered couples and 1 queer couple gleaming and reminiscing of how they found each other.
Privileged disabled people often go through a second adolescence in their adulthood: going to college, finally free from parental control, free to explore our sexualities and identities. There is too much, too soon: making all the wrong dating decisions, we have this intense pressure to “catch up” with all developmental boundaries of young adulthood because, while virginity is very much a myth, we cannot help but be wrapped up in the idea of “losing my virginity” in a world that puts so much emphasis on heteronormative, penetrative sex.
Before I end, just because I wrote an article about singlehood, loneliness and sexuality doesn’t mean I’m “asking for it”. By no means, does it serve as an invitation for unsolicited comments or remarks. Neither does it mean that I need someone or I’ll die from loneliness.
Growing up in a bookstore, books taught Anusha ways of dissent and how to take the road less travelled by. She is a Psychology graduate from Lady Shriram College For Women, an author and the Editor-in-chief of Revival Disability Magazine, a magazine on disability, sexuality and Intersectional Ableism. She describes herself as an uncomfortable revolution and strongly believes that Intersectionality gives marginalised women the emotional skin to survive in the world. She writes the column Taking Up Space as a disabled woman on Feminism In India and another column about her experiences as a queer, disabled woman in a new city on the House Of Belongg.
Featured image source: Alia Sinha