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By Natalie Mink
For the most part, the LGBT community has been welcoming of the fact that I have a disability. However, most of the people I meet—platonic or otherwise—have no experience relating to someone with cerebral palsy. I can always tell when someone is trying to ask about it, but they don’t want to seem rude. They use phrases like “I don’t mean to cause offense, but. . .” Somehow, they think it’s okay to ask inappropriate questions after starting their question that way.
Let’s say I’m on a date with a woman who has no prior experience with disabled people. My cerebral palsy is now the elephant in the room. I understand that most people aren’t well-versed in dating someone with a disability, but if I were able-bodied, I suspect they would not be nearly as interested in my sex life and “how things work.”
Being queer and disabled gives you two sides of a coin that you really can’t spend. I mentioned this in my January OutSmart article “Finding Self-Love” while recalling my mother’s response when I came out as a lesbian: “It’s hard enough being disabled. . . now you’re gay.” Believe me, this wasn’t the path I chose for myself. Dating is horrible. I’m just going to be honest: especially in this technological age, your entire dating life can be comprised of screen names and URLs. It’s hard enough to find someone with similar interests, let alone telling them that you have a disability.
But this issue goes far beyond the realm of dating. Now that I’m out of college, and out of my comfort zone, it’s been hard to meet new people in Houston. This is a difficult city for those of us who don’t drive, and it’s scary trying to be my authentic self around strangers. Some people who accept my disability have yet to accept my lesbianism. It hurts when people accept one part of you, but then totally disregard the other.
I just want to put it out there that I am not broken, and there is nothing about me that needs to be “fixed.” When I was at the gym the other day, this guy comes up to me to say he wanted to “lay his hands on me, so that I may be healed.” He probably had good intentions, but that didn’t make what he did okay. You should never assume that someone you know nothing about needs to be healed.
When I was still in college, we had an evangelical preacher on campus who liked to tell me I was going to hell because of my disability. Then he figured out I was gay, thanks to one of my shirts that said “Keep calm and kiss girls.” He actually lost his cool and started calling me out in front of people. “You’re a homosexual cripple! You must be healed of all your afflictions! God must hate you.” Regardless of what your religious views are, that’s just not cool to say to someone.
When I was still young and closeted, I worried about all of this. How are people going to see me? Will they only see my disability when they look at me? The truth is that some people do. All you can do is be as forthcoming as possible about your own struggles, and hope that you can educate people who may not have a grasp of what having a disability entails. And if they start off being hostile and making you uneasy, you can always say, “I’m not comfortable discussing this with you. There’s information about that on the Internet.” That’s the beauty of the Internet—it has everything!
I’m part of two completely different communities, and sometimes one takes more explaining than the other. They’re both part of what makes me unique. If someone seems willing to hear your story, share it with them. The world can be a scary place, but through communication and understanding, we are all united. Throughout my life, I’ve always felt that fear is the one universal emotion. We all have it—fear of the unknown, fear of seeing differences in others, and sometimes even the fear of knowledge. The way I see it, you can either live your life in fear, or decide to help those around you gain a better understanding of the world.