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 Adarsh Chhetry
Let me start by tell you who I am. I was as young boy growing up in the north east state of Manipur in the beautiful city of Imphal. This is where I experienced my firsts of almost everything, which also includes love.
As a young boy growing up with cerebral palsy and mobility challenges, I watched lot of TV. The movies would show the kind of love stories and narratives that I would laugh at. I would tell myself that I did not believe in the romances the cinema portrayed, however, it would affect me and I would not even be aware of it, at least on the surface.
I still remember the long conversations I used to have with my elder cousin sister at night who used to tell me about her love stories and experiences. She would recollect the moments and I remember thinking how all of it had a very Bollywoodesque effect on her. My response would be to laugh about it. It was only with time that I realised how my response was determined by my belief somewhere deep down inside me that people would look at me and never consider me desirable attractive or suitable for love. But at that very point of my life as a young boy neither did I have the understanding or the words to describe anything to anyone.
Somewhere I always had fears, insecurities and questions about love. I didn’t know whom or how to ask, especially when I was constantly reminded how I am a special child. Being a special child meant doing special things like performing well in school and love and relationships never figured in my life on a priority basis. Today as I look back, I realise that neither I nor the people around me had the vocabulary to help me think otherwise and so my coping mechanism would be to either ignore feelings or laugh at them.
But of course, change arrived. My body started to change and it was an exciting yet confusing time for me, which further complicated my relationship with my disability.
I remember I was in high school (eleventh standard, to be precise). That was when I first saw her. Back then I didn’t understand the mixed feelings of nervousness, joy and excitement pulsating through my body. I wanted to introduce myself and get to know her too but I could not do anything that day. I was in for a pleasant surprise when she missed the following days at school and called on my mother’s phone to seek help from me catching up on classes. Turns out, our families knew each other.
Then on, we started messaging each other and in no time, texts turned into calls and we became good friends. We started spending time with each other. I knew I was sensing an unknown feeling which I couldn’t explain or understand myself. It was only after a really long time that I came to terms with how I actually might like her, because maybe, as a disabled person, my fears took over me subconsciously.
When I finally gathered my courage and told her how I felt about her, I realised she might want time to figure things out. So we carried on like always: as classmates and good friends who go to the same school and tuitions. Something changed within me though: I suddenly wanted to do try harder and do better than the other boys.
As time passed, it was sure that we were getting closer as friends, however, I realised she had not responded yet to my confession of feelings for her. Meanwhile, I kept trying harder to impress her. I think somewhere within me, I was scared to let go and move on, because I was worried that if this does not transform into a romantic relationship, then it would mean that I will never find someone and that I will die alone. I did not want to face my fear of how owing to my disability, no one would want to accept me romantically. I feared being a social outcast and by constantly comparing myself to my peers, I had put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. Back then I thought pursuing her was the right thing to do, not knowing that I was in turn making it difficult for her too.
However, she finally did turn down my proposal which left me heartbroken and hurt. I asked her if she turned me down because of my disability, despite knowing the answer would be yes. It was, she told me. The incident pushed me to curse my disability more, turning me depressed and suicidal. Later, when I had come to Delhi, I tried to get in touch with her again but soon gave up. Struggling with my depression, I found myself socially isolated from my family, friends and college.
It was around the time I graduated from university that I realised how an ableist, capitalist society is in fact, responsible for constructing able-bodied narratives of love that make everyone who do not fall within these spaces feel like outsiders who do not fit in. Around the same time, I started reflecting on how patriarchal conditioning influenced me and the society into subscribing to benchmarks of a “perfect relationship”, the expectations around which were created by capitalist notions of love, capitalist expressions and capitalist partnerships. And for this realisation, I have my university to thank. I learned and unlearned heteronormative ideas of love and even began to reflect on my privilege. It struck me how capitalism seeps into our lives in ways that we couldn’t imagine: making many a young, disabled boy like me feel worthless and low on self-esteem. I began to understand better the intersection of disability and love in a world that only subscribes to able-bodied, privileged, upper-caste, upper-class people’s patriarchal narratives of love that almost always feature perfect bodies and perfect expectations and perfect happily-ever-afters that are driven further by pop culture literature consumerism.
No, it was not easy as a disabled person to let go, understand the various facets of falling in love while dealing with a phase of depression. Opening up to people still scares me, however, I tried to be mindful of new experiences and new stories every time. Valentine’s Day is actually a reminder of these capitalist, destructive notions of love I have abhorred through the article. This is a time, when the towns and the streets are painted red with the brightest red hearts, cotton candies, flowers and chocolates, and for me, it only adds to my anxiety by triggering me. And so, as we celebrate Criplentine’s Day, I am hoping to challenge set doctrines and love myself and others in my own ways, irrespective of who they are to me, each day, every day.
Featured image source: The Mighty