Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for February, 2022 is Redefining Love. We invite submissions on the many layers of love, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is part of Cripplentine’s Day, a project by Revival Disability Magazine in collaboration with Feminism In India rooted in the belief that all kinds of love should be celebrated because love is a disabled and queer 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 publishes a series of articles on the theme. The theme of Cripplentines Day this year is on what disabled women, trans and no binary folx think about pleasure and how has it changed during the pandemic – how have they coped, in a sense with loneliness and isolation.
Posted by Nu
I look at myself in the mirror: I can see a 5’0, short haired person trying their best to put on eyeliner for the first time. I am nervously thinking about how I’m going to react when I meet my ex after four years.
I think about my identity: I identify as non-binary now, and I’m assertive and proud of myself. I have purpose now: I truly know what I want to do with my life (well, most of the time anyway). What would future Nu tell past Nu? To not settle for the bare minimum of course, because they deserve the world.
If I had to describe past Nu, she would look nothing like present Nu. She would fiercely protect her “femininity” even though she feels inadequate about it, she would feel like she doesn’t belong anywhere and she would put all her energy into that one relationship she thinks would last forever. She would dress up everyday and go meet a man whose ambiguity and unavailability further fuel her affection: what is it about unavailability that keeps us constantly in tune, starving for affection and crumbs?
I snap out of it as I go back to putting perfectly mediocre eyeliner on my eyes. I’m clearly colouring outside the designated able-bodied lines of my eye lining, not that I care. Maybe I want to “look” a certain way when I meet him. Maybe I want to “look” like I used to 3 years ago. Maybe I want to hide and mask my identity because he hasn’t met my queer self yet, and I don’t know how he will react.
I’m clad in a pair of moon illustrated jeans and my favourite rainbow coloured full sleeved shirt. What I wear has a lot to do with my queer identity. But when I put on my makeup, I make sure to keep a little bit of the past Nu there: past Nu would wear strawberry flavoured lip balm. She would carry a tiny backpack on her back. She would also put pink eyeshadow all over her eyelids, so I do.
It takes an hour to reach the location where we’re about to meet. This is someone I’ve known for over four years, and over those four years, there have been late night conversations, horny pandemic texts, video calls and watching movies online. I know him, and he knows me.
I feel surprisingly calm as the cab draws nearer to the location of our meet up. I search my tummy for butterflies: there aren’t any. Past Nu would have butterflies fluttering all over. The breakup was bad, at least on my part and I have gathered a lifetime’s worth of wisdom from friends who have had far more experience in navigating relationships ending.
Also read: ‘Giving Myself Space And Agency To Dream’: On Disability Affirmative Love
As I looked at him, little had changed: he was the same person I had met three years ago. We had both grown older, becoming more of ourselves with each passing day, but our conversations hadn’t changed. All of our conversations would end up with my stomach hurting because of my own laughter from hearing his jokes.
As I looked at him and traced the lines on his face with my eyes, I realised I no longer saw him as an ex, or a past lover. I no longer looked at him with regret or sadness. Rather, I saw him as an old friend, a friend who knew everything about me from romantic turbulence to my peculiar habits. He had been my only family in a new city once upon a time, and I remembered him fondly.
Soon, all those conversations where I had villainised him to my friends withered away, and all that was left was friendship between two people who had known each other for years. I remembered our relationship fondly, and the musky smell of his car no longer triggered memories of lost love.
I remembered this time back in college when I tripped on the stairs and was pretty traumatised about stairs from then on. That was the first time I asked for accessibility in a relationship, when I insisted on going to a restaurant with a ramp.
Dating an able-bodied man often comes with its own challenges. Power dynamics don’t only exist in age, but also in ability. In the relationship, I never truly acknowledged my physical disability, even though it was right there: very visible. I often felt shameful about it. I hardly ever discussed it, or my needs.
His able-bodiedness overshadowed my disability, not intentionally of course. He was seen as someone who took charge, and controlled the brakes of the relationship while I sat quietly in the passenger seat. Much had changed since then: I had found purpose and dug up my disability from the ground, after hiding it for years.
Also read: The Loves Of My Wildest Dreams: Valentine’s Day Plans And Beyond
I became very aware of my disability and how systems around me are not made for my disabled body. I refused to settle for the bare minimum in relationships or friendships. I put forward my needs confidently and would check out of conversations that no longer served me. That applied here too: I insisted on an accessible restaurant and correct pronoun usage. That is what I deserve, I deserve the world, even if it’s from a past lover.
I realised that my love for him had changed. It had matured and developed an identity of its own, a different one from what I felt three years ago. My love had become gentler – more relaxed like I could let him go and we’d still be friends forever, even if both of us found love again. My love for him earlier was intense and anxious, I held on to him tightly: I didn’t want to let go of him.
What is it about the pandemic and intimacy that makes us get over people we never thought we would?
Nu (They/Them) identifies as a non-binary, disabled, queer person and is a Gender Studies Masters Student at TISS, Mumbai. They are a disability justice author, community organizer and occassional bad bitch. They are the founder of Revival Disability Magazine and Collective, a community for and by disabled and queer folks in India. They firmly believe that Intersectionality gives disabled folks the emotional skin to survive in the world and that vulnerability should be celebrated. According to them, the revolution would be incomplete without disabled joy and dissent
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India