Having just presented ‘Meet the Devotees’ for BBC3, a documentary that explores the trials, tribulations, empowerment and exploitation that often occurs when dating with a disability, I’ve seen my fair share of fairytale endings and relationships that go up in smoke (and I’ve had them myself!). The sex and relationships game is a tough one to play as it is, and an impairment can often hinder the chances of finding a sane and sexy Mr or Mrs Right even further. Whilst this may be true in some cases, there’s a few ways in which I reckon we can inject some fun (and much needed knowledge) into the battlefield of disabled dating.
As an ‘agony aunt’ for Enhance the UK’s Love Lounge, one of the only forums of its kind to honestly answer all those nitty gritty things you wanted to ask about disability, sex and relationships, a question we often see is, when online dating, should the impairment be disclosed immediately? It might be subtly done in a profile picture, or brought up as a ‘warning message’ before the flirting even gets off the ground. Alternatively, it might not be mentioned (or seen) until you meet your date for the first time. Either way, the important point that I want to get across is that, ultimately, it is your choice.
My personal opinion is that, like most things, a ‘happy medium’ can be hit here. Whilst I wouldn’t choose to leave it till D Day to turn up to a swanky restaurant or cosy cinema with wheelchair and (Taa-Dah!) Jazz hands to boot, I also think that disclosing too early can make any impairment look like more of an obstacle than it ever needs to be. I always think of it like this: if I stumbled across a profile on a dating site of a gorgeous guy who really sparked my interest, I’d want him to be funny, smart, and say something that grabbed my attention for all the right reasons. What I wouldn’t want him to blurt out is ‘Before we begin this cat and mouse tom foolery, I’m deaf and you won’t find that sexy…will you?’ Bit of a mood killer for anyone!
Disability as a filter?
Something else that I often find myself discussing with those who write to me is whether having an impairment gives you a strange sixth sense, or a blocker for anyone that’s basically not a very nice person. My disability has caused the odd bit of heartache, but it’s also given me a power I wouldn’t trade easily; being able to weed out the guys who comment on my eyes, smile, or sense of humour from the ones who decide, very foolishly, to just check that I can actually have sex before taking the conversation any further. So, even though it’s a pain when my chair gets stuck in sand when I’m trying to be sexy on the beach, and its stubbornness has caused me to crawl into plenty of women’s (and men’s) toilets in my time, I must rejoice in the fact that actually, my wheelchair repels anyone who wouldn’t be right for me, anyway. Woo!
A wealth of knowledge – and a story or six!
This next bit is for when you’re on the date. You’ve used your filter to find a nice guy/girl with plenty of potential, spoken about your impairment and been met with nods and smiles (result!) and you’ve got a drink, talked about the weather and your favourite colours… what should you say next??! I’m a great believer that those of us with impairments have enough crazy, hilarious, awkward and tragic stories to last us a lifetime, so get using your experience and show that person how interesting, smart, funny and gorgeous you really are. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t take life too seriously and can see beauty in even the toughest times. If anyone can do that, it’s you.
Happy dating, go get ‘em, tiger.