Dating While Disabled

Dating while disabled presents a set of unique challenges, but there are plenty of ways to navigate sex, dating, and relationships to create a healthy, fun space for yourself

In this stream, matchmaker and three-time stroke survivor Claire AH talks about dating while disabled: when to disclose your disability, how and if you should educate your suitor, dealing with microaggressions, what to do when we come up against people with fetishes or ulterior motives, and how accessibility can affect us. 

For people with visible disabilities, disclosing disability is not an issue. But for those with more invisible disabilities, knowing when to talk about it can be difficult. Like most things in dating, it’s a personal decision: Some like to be upfront and include a picture or description in a dating profile, while others like to only bring it up when relevant. Being upfront, however, can be a good way to weed out those who won’t date a person with a disability for whatever reason.

If you do match with someone on an app or meet someone, they may have questions about your disability. Of course, it’s up to you to set your own boundaries about what you will and will not answer. Claire AH suggests saying something like, “Hey, these are all really great questions, let's get to know each other a little bit better and maybe we can discuss this more in person [...]” You could also decide you never want to educate people and that you only want to date people “who get it.” The same goes for dealing with people who present “benevolent ableism” or microaggressions. This can be anything from people being condescending, to people being surprised you can or want to do things, to people applying a friend’s experience to your own. You get to decide if you want to engage, if you want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, or if you want to leave that person behind entirely. 

If you do find someone you want to go on a date with, you’ll want to consider an accessible meeting space. For example, choose somewhere well lit, if you have low visibility. Choose a bar without stairs and an easy entrance bathroom if you use a mobility device. If you haven’t had luck with dating apps, you can narrow your dating search to places you know are accessible and where people are more likely to accept and understand your disability — Meetup.com can be a good tool for this, as you can connect with social-justice or volunteer-oriented groups, where people are often more likely to be educated on disability. You could also find Meetups for board game or movie nights, a theater group, etc.

When dating, Claire AH says you may want to be wary of people who want to be with you to fulfill a fetish. A person fetishizing you may be making assumptions about disability in general, and eroticizing the fact you need them to care for you. While this can be OK in healthy amounts, it can be problematic for someone to view you as helpless, and to not want to date you for other reasons. While there’s definitely a fair share of people out there with ulterior motives, there’s likely even more who just want to date you for you

While dating with a disability can certainly be a challenge, there are many ways to make it work for you. It’s important to define your boundaries, think about how you’d like to disclose and communicate your disability, and how much information you are willing to share with a potential suitor about it. Selecting spaces where more accepting people gather can be a good first step toward finding someone who is right for you.

Video transcript

Yeah, so, my name is ClaireAH, and I am a disabled matchmaker. So, I am uniquely comfortable in talking about dating and also disability. Hi, Justin, how are you? Yeah, I am a disabled sex educator, matchmaker, sex and dating and relationship coach. I have a sexuality-oriented radio show. Actually today I went to a training for a radio station on slander. So, now I know all about slander and basically, don't do slander was what I learned from that. I already knew what slander was and that you shouldn't do it. But, you know, I got to ask a lot of questions, which was very good, so I have a sexuality-oriented radio show and then I also have a dating-oriented podcast, which is actually, it's all about intersectional dating and one of those intersections is disability. So, kind of what I'm doing with this like, Dating While dot dot dot series is talking about, for me, my experiences dating at various intersections. And then I will hopefully down the line do maybe more of like an interview style thing with other people talking about their experiences dating at their own intersections, 'cause I claim certain identities, but not all of them. So, but disability is something, I am a three-time stroke survivor. Sounds like three-time Oscar winner. Three-time Emmy Award winner/stroke survivor, ClaireAH. I have never won an Emmy award but I have had three strokes so I am a cane user. I have some cognitive impairments, not too much. But a lot of physical impairments, so that is where my disability comes in. And then I talk to a lot of other people who have disabilities, and we talk about dating. I do have some clients who identify as disabled, as a matchmaker. And it's really cathartic to get to talk to them because often, I mean, well, I mean, often people don't say matchmaker period and if they do, they don't also usually think about disabled identity. Soit's a very unique experience. And it's kind, it comes up, we end up having a lot of really interesting discussions, and that's really just what I wanted to focus on here. So, we're gonna get started in a few minutes, take our time, but I do have a lot of things I wanna cover. But we don't have to cover them all. If you have questions and you want to address them specifically in this format, we can do that. Just kind of chime in, write whatever you want in the chat box. You can say hi, I always love it when people say hi. You can make comments and you can also ask questions. I would appreciate it if it was on the subject of dating and disability this evening. So, usually every other week I do a Ask Matchmaker session which is more just about dating and sexuality, and sex, and sexual identity, and relationships, and romance, and body image, and all of that. But this is really focused on disability and dating. That said, I am sure you have questions about that. I encourage you to ask them. And just for those of you just coming in, I will introduce myself again. My nem is, my nem, what? My name is ClaireAH and I am a matchmaker and I'm also a sex and relationship and dating coach. I am a storyteller, I host a radio show about sex, and a podcast about dating. I'm also a speaker, I do mostly speech speaking on disability and healthcare. Hi MechY or MechY, how are you? And I am also disabled, so that is kind of the matchmaking and the coaching side, and the podcasting, that covers the dating. And then my disability is that I am a three-time stroke survivor, so I've had three strokes in my cerebellum and medulla oblongata. Oblongata, that's hard to say. Because of a vertebral artery dissection which is a little artery up the back of your neck. And there are lots of reasons why it can happen. Sometimes, if you have certain connective tissue disorders, or vascular disorders that can happen, you have like a major injury or even something like whiplash. Sometimes people get vertebral artery dissections when they jump out a plane, but I had it, there's some people, I feel bad being scary when I tell this but it is true. Some people just have them happen. It's called a spontaneous vertebral artery dissection and there's no underlying cause. And it's nothing related to lifestyle or your health. And it's not related to a particularly traumatic event. They think I may have had it because I used to be a burlesque dancer. So I used to dance a lot but I was not dancing in a way that was particularly violent, meaning shaking my head or snapping my neck back and forth. So, who knows? I guess I just, you know, sometimes you get struck by lightening and sometimes you have vertebral artery dissection. But I had three strokes and I went through 10 days in a hospital, about six weeks in in-patient rehab which is essentially the hospital but just, there's no ER, there's none of that. So, I did ICU, and then I did a one-to-two and one-to-three ratio of one doctor or nurse to two or three patients. Then eventually I was in a more general population. And then was moved to this stroke rehabilitation floor andit was really interesting because at no point did they talk to me at all about sex which was problematic. And at no point did they talk to me about dating and the thing is they knew at the time that I was dating someone, I actually lived with my partner. We moved in together really early. So we had only been dating for like, six months. Our six-monthaversary happened in the hospital, which was fun. Yeah, so I guess we can get to what I wanna talk about today which is dating while disabled because I do a lot of work around dating, talking with people as a coach and as a matchmaker about their dating lives, not only what I can do for them as a matchmaker but also their experiences with stigma, their experiences online dating, app-based dating. Going to Meetup groups, meeting people just in bars or at social events or through friends and we'd talk about how that can be challenging. I do have some clients who identify as disabled. And it's nice to get to talk to them. I don't know, it kind of becomes this cathartic discussion where we talk about stigma and how disability colors our experiences as daters. So, I wanted to talk about a whole bunch of things today. I wanted to talk about disclosure. I wanted to talk about how apps and online dating can be really useful or difficult, depending on how we look at it. I can talk about acquiring a disability while dating. So, essentially, acquiring a disability in your adult years when you are dating, or sexually active, or whatever, versus acquiring a disability earlier in life, maybe how that impacts the way we date and the different internal and external conflicts we come up against. Being an educator to our suitors, what that's like. Dealing with microaggressions and dealing with ableism in general in dating and from people specifically. I'd also like to talk a bit about how we can investigate our own preferences as disabled daters, what to do when we come up against people who either have fetishes or people with, what I would refer to as weird agendas. So, people who are dating us and maybe there is some intention behind that aside from just it would be nice to date this person. And it's specifically linked to disability. I'd also like to talk about the pros and cons of meeting people in person versus meeting people online, on an app, through a matchmaker, stuff like that. I'd also like to talk about accessibility and how we can make dating more accessible. And a little bit about representations in media and what we can do to kind of, well, just talking general about desire and datability when it comes to disability because ultimately, a lot of people are getting new messaging from the media and if they're getting messaging that is not very disability positive, what can we do to address that or work within that system? So, let's just start right at the beginning, disclosure. By disclosure I mean when do we disclose that we're disabled? For some people, the disclosure is done for us immediately. As soon as somebody meets us or sees a photograph of us, they see certain things about us. And they may be able to see that we're disabled. A lot of people who maybe don't have visual demarcations of disability all over choose to not include their mobility devices or other things that indicate their disability in their photo. So, for example, I'm a cane user. And I like to use my cane in photos. I like to have it front and center because it's not to say it's a part of me, necessarily. But it is, it's something that is with me always. It's something, you see Claire, you see her cane. And so, I'm happy with that. For a lot of people in power wheelchairs, that is more obvious and it's harder to take photos where it does look like they're in a power wheelchair. But if for example you're in a manual wheelchair, if you took a photo from the collarbone up, you would not necessarily be able to see that they're in a wheelchair or perhaps there are photos where they're in a chair or sitting on a bed or something like that, just not in the wheelchair. And so, we get to make that decision from the visual level about our disclosure. And I talked to lots of different people. I've read lots of things about it. Even last night, Eva Sweeney who is a sex educator here on O.school does a weekly session on Wednesday nights and I kind of asked a whole bunch of questions, I felt bad. I didn't monopolize it beyond what other people were talking but anytime Eva was like, hey, are there any questions? And I was like, actually, yes. So, I asked Eva's opinion on whether, like how, basically how online dating and app-based dating encourages or discourages disclosure. And as with a lot of other people, and as I think I believe as well, Eva said kind of, you get to decide that for yourself. For Eva, the choice is to include it, to have that be visible and then of course also, to mention it in the profile, which we'll get to in a second, but everybody gets to decide when they want to disclose. So, along with the visual demarcations, so, whether or not to include mobility devices in photos, you can then write about it. If you're on Tinder for example, maybe that's a shorter bio. If you are on OkCupid or Match, you have a little more room to talk about it. Do you want to say I'm disabled. I'm a stroke survivor. I have cerebral palsy. Any of these things, you want to disclose that. Well, in a sense, yes, in a sense no. It is completely up to the individual. We'll talk a little bit later about how that plays out, but at any point we can decide to disclose or to keep that to ourselves. And the pros of disclosing are you do weed people out. And there are people who many not be okay dating somebody with a disability for whatever reason, be that because we want an active partner or because they are ablest, or because they have unchecked assumptions that they don't want to discuss. Anything like that, in a way it sucks but in another way, it can feel like a waste of time or it can even become a dangerous situation when you meet up with somebody if you haven't disclosed that you're disabled and they react poorly. That's a terrible thing to have to say but it is true. So, it's something to think about. If you have an invisible disability or a disability that is less clear, less likely to be like, interpreted by somebody who is not aware of their particular situation, this is another area where you can kind of decide. And sometimes, if you have an invisible disability that is episodic and you're not currently in a period where, episodic being you go through periods where things are, you're experiencing more or less impairment or disability as a result of your impairments. Impairment being the actual, just the physical or mental health-oriented experience and then disabling being how that impacts the way you move through the world. So, for example, if you are a concert pianist and you lose one hand, that is quite disabling. But if you never ever lose your hand then that is an impairment but it's not necessarily disabling. Anyways, sorry, I got a little, just a quickdisability lingo before I go back to what I was talking about. So, if it's episodic and you're going through a period where you're not experiencing so much disability or impairment, theoretically you can meet somebody and spend some time with them, like date them for awhile before either it's something you wanna disclose, or it's something that comes up and therefore it's important to disclose. So, for example, if you have intermittent symptoms of chronic pain from say, I don't know, spinal injury, and you have flare ups. And when you would flare up, you would use a cane or you would use a brace and you are less active. And you consider yourself disabled. That is something that might come up later on in the process, it's not necessarily something that's gonna come up if you're not experiencing the pain in the moment. So, do you disclose before? Do you disclose right as soon as you meet? Should you disclose when it becomes relevant? Your choice. All of this, I mean, I guess the, not that I want you to tune out immediately but the too long did not read of this whole discussion is, all of this is always your choice. And, I mean, some people will say that it's really important for people to represent themselves and be visible so that we can be less afraid of disability. Yeah, that's a really nice thing if you feel comfortable with it but there are all sorts of reasons why we might not feel comfortable with it. We experience internalized ableism. We experience shame. We want love, or sex, or dates, and we may sometimes feel like that's not as possible if we disclose right off the bat. I'm not here to judge people who do that or not do that, because ultimately, even from day to day, that may feel doable or less doable. So, I guess, when it comes to apps, it's maybe a little bit easier when you're talking about things that are shorter and photo based. If we're choosing to not indicate physical or visual representations of our disability, and we're choosing to not disclose. There's not a lot of space to disclose in text. So, it is what it is. And that said, often apps can be a little more surface-oriented. They can be a little more vain. And that does not always go along with our ableist society and the views that a lot of people have about disability which, that's a little bit later. Online dating does give us more space for that. And also more space for back and forth. Meaning both conversations via chat and also getting to see another person's profile and getting to see if they are, for example, disability positive. I'm thinking of like, OkCupid questions where you can see what somebody has said about disability. And that might give you an inkling about how open-minded they are about dating somebody with a disability. It might give youa representation of them that is not entirely correct. For example, sometimes people may seem really open-minded when they're being asked a question that's sort of broad and not related to anything in particular but then when they are faced with actually going on a date with somebody with a disability, that might be different. So, it can be a clue, it's not always a clue. I wanna talk a little bit about acquiring a disability while dating, so, acquiring a disability as an adult, acquiring a disability while you are already dating or already sexually active, hooking up, whatever. This is my experience, and I don't really, I can't talk directly to what it's like to date from with a disability either from birth or from a young age, and we'll talk about that a little bit although I do not consider that, it's not my lived experience so I'll just be going off what I heard from other people who do consider that their lived experience. For me, it has been challenging to integrate disability into my identity and I think a really big part of what has made that feel easier for me is the fact that I am already fat identified and I am already really into body positivity and I've done a fair amount of work to kind of get right with that. I also identify as queer and I feel like although it's not entirely true, the queer community that I align myself with, and the queer communities of people I've dated has always been more open-ended about gender, moving away from femininity needing to be one thing. So, femininity and femme identity, and being disabled are not necessarily at odds, you can be a feminine person, or femme person, and be disabled. It's not considered somehow less attractive. And that fits with my gender identity. I have had, I mean, I've been lucky I've had a partner this whole time. And in my experiences with monogamous or hookups, it's always been with people who I knew kind of understood where I was coming from, people who were also body positive. People who were aware of disability to a certain extent, how to have other disabled partners. That's really important but I also know that that is not everyone's experience. So, I wanted to speak a little bit about what it's like adjusting more sense of self and particularly from a physical level. It's challenging. It's challenging to, even if you had no, I mean, everyone has a degree of ableism but no substantial degree of ableism in your beliefs, even if you thought disabled people should be able to have sex, and be dateable, and it's terrible that they're not represented in the media that way. There is a huge chasm between feeling that way about others and feeling that way about yourself. And it's true for anything really. I mean, one of my, the big thing that I come back to, when I do workshops around body image, and about sexuality, is how often I speak to people who see other fat folks and think, they're so sexy, they're so attractive, they're so beautiful. Why can't I feel that way about myself? And that is something that I think I've struggled with to certain degree as a disabled person. I think it is something that comes up a lot, because when we're talking about dating somebody else, when we're talking about getting back into the dating world, this isn't to say that you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. I think that's a nice idea that is not really relevant to a great deal of humanity, unfortunately. But I will say that is even harder to get into dating, get into putting yourself out there, get into engaging in something that is somewhat image-oriented when you are not feeling either confident or like yourself, and those two things are both connected and independent. So, when I'm talking about feeling confident, I'm not necessarily saying that, if you experience disability all of a sudden you're not gonna feel confident, but there is, at the very least, a certain period of time where it is harder to integrate your confidence into your experience dating, because you have to completely relearn things about yourself, things about your body, and it's hard to be confident when you don't understand your body. It's hard to, and this is about sex, but it's also about dating, if you don't know how to feel sexy when you move through the world anymore 'cause all of a sudden you're moving with a mobility device. All of a sudden you're dealing with a team. All of a sudden you're dealing with a lot of energy changes that mean you don't have time to engage in self care or primping you enjoyed before. There is a difficulty in kind of getting past that. And it takes time, and the only thing I can really say is, if you experience acquiring a disability while you are dating, it is totally fair to take some time off. First off because integrating disability into your life is challenging, all of a sudden learning how to do things differently, adjusting the way you move through the world, adjusting your day to day life, adjusting your priorities and the things we do. That's a lot of energy, and then there's also sometimes a grieving process that comes along with looking at things you were able to do that now you're no longer able to do. Things that you were able to prioritize that you're no longer able to prioritize. And it isn't necessarily walking or things like that, but for me, for example, I can't dance the way I used to. And I had to go through a period of mourning to get to a place where I felt okay with that. So I talked a bit about feeling confident, but then the other side is feeling like yourself. And that is maybe more related to what I'm talking to, or talking about right now, that not only do you want to get right with your body and feel kinda like in your element in your body, moving through the world the way that feels good to you, but then also being able to be the bubbly, vivacious, sexy person you were before. And it doesn't mean that you can't be, but it does mean that sometimes it feels like the reset button has been pressed a little and you have to actively work towards getting in touch with who you are again. And that's not always, it's not always possible to make that a priority right off the bat. But eventually to make that something that you engage with and that you work on. That's gonna get you back to a place where you will feel more confident and comfortable with dating, because not only is it nice to feel hot, is it nice to feel in your element when you date, but ultimately you're meeting people and they're getting to know who you are. And if you feel not that confident with who you are, or not that able to explain it or telegraph it, it's not gonna feel good to go on these dates and people to ask you about your life and who you are and not to be able to really connect with that. In terms of dating when you either had, you've been disabled since birth or you became disabled before puberty, before you became a sexual person or before you started dating or started thinking about dating, any combination of those things, that's not my personal experience, but in talking to friends of mine who have experienced that, you experience a lot more ableism right off the bat. You kind of come up in a world where you're not necessarily included in discussions about sexuality and discussions of dating. You are fed a lot of media messages about, I mean, you don't see people like you being romantic leads or romantic period. You don't hear a lot of stories about able-bodied folks dating disabled folks. You don't hear a lot of stories about disabled folks dating disabled folks. And sometimes it can just feel like you are left behind. I mean I don't want to go into this too deeply, because I'm exclusively talking about things that I have heard firsthand from other people, but they're not here to explain that themselves. But as I'm looking at from two different angles, either being steeped in the ableist world as a disabled person, or as being steeped in the ableist world and being able-bodied and then becoming disabled later on. They're two different complicated issues. It's not that one's easier than the other, but they are different, and I think this is not only something that you think about if you are a disabled person, but definitely something to think about if you are an able-bodied person who is interested in a disabled person or dating a disabled person, is to be aware of the fact that not only are there so many different kinds of disabilities, be that a chronic illness, be that a permanent disability or something perhaps episodic, but there are also different ways and methods of acquisition and that really does impact the way in which you relate to yourself as a disabled person and the way you think other people relate to you, I think. Also just dealing with the change all of a sudden. Changes are hard, regardless of what the change is, and I think that's, it's something that not everybody thinks of when it comes to a disability, just how difficult it can be to address this abrupt shift in your worldview to something that you know, maybe because you've experienced it yourself, as somebody who held ableist beliefs, or at the very least you know that you don't have a lot of frame of references for disabilities. So what does that mean for your experiences now? I wanted to shift a bit to talking about being an educator to your suitors. So this means if you are disclosing your disability, or showing off your mobility device or something like that on an app or an online dating profile, you will have a lot of questions, and sometimes they will be questions from people who are just curious people scrolling through Tinder who just want to ask you some questions, and sometimes they're from people who actually do want to date you. And this is where it gets a little sticky, or maybe I would say this entire topic is a little sticky. I see, hi Claire, hey Justin and streamers. Hi, Icy, just anybody, if you want to say hi, also if you have questions, feel free to jump in. 'Cause I have a lot of stuff to talk about, but I'm also just happy to field questions or to kind of discuss along with comments, just anything like that, so, but I will get back to being educator to suitors. You'll have people who are curious. You'll have people who do want to date you but maybe don't have any frame of reference for disability or dating disability. And you'll be asked a lot of questions, usually both about your specific experience with disability and like, more broad questions that may feel a little silly. And as I said, it can be a little sticky because we're looking at people who maybe should just Google it, but also people we might want to date, and thus telling them to just Google it tends to not have the most positive context and, hi, Luna, yeah, it tends to not have the most positive context to tell somebody to just Google it, so you might lose them. And I think this is a good place to set your own boundaries. So maybe your boundary is, in online dating or an app, as long as somebody asks respectfully, I am happy to field their question. And that may look like giving then a long answer or it may look like saying, that's a really good question, here's a sentence or two about what I think, and here's a great article about it. So you kind of have a reference in that case. Maybe this is, if it's somebody I actually want to date, then I will educate, otherwise I will tell them to Google it themselves. Maybe it's something where you'll say, hey, these are all really great questions, let's get to know each other a little bit better and maybe we can discuss this more in person, or we can discuss this more down the line. You get to decide when you want to field these things and how. And this also might come to just be related to how you're feeling on an energy level and also how much crap you've had a deal with in just your day to day life that day. If you've had a day where you feel replenished and you actually feel pretty good and like you totally have the ability to engage with this, it's a really good time to send a response. If you had a crappy day or if you're just like, I do not have the energy to have this discussion right now, it's gonna feel demoralizing or you just want wanna hang out and watch YouTube videos with your dogs and cats and you don't want to have, you don't want to hold somebody's hand and explain to them that, yes, you can have sex. Or yes, you can date somebody in a wheelchair and it's totally okay, or whatever. And in that case, you can either just not respond to the message, and we've all read the things where some Tinder person all of a sudden is saying, yeah, I don't want to, it's been 45 minutes and you haven't responded, I don't want to talk to you anymore or something significantly meaner than that, which we all know that happens. But yeah, take your time and decide when you want to engage. If you do want to just say, hey, I read your message, and that's a really good question. I've had a crappy day, or I've got to go do something, or I'm gonna think about this and come back to it, but you just indicate you read it but now is not the immediate time to get an answer. And that's good enough and you can come back to it when you're feeling up to it. That said, you never have to educate people, and perhaps your boundary is, I only want to date people who get it. And you can decide how get it it is. If this means somebody who totally understands everything about disability and really knows what to say. Ooh, speakers turned up, you're having difficulty hearing me? Can you hear me now? I've been having some tech trouble, so I've got my speakers up all the way. Everything else is closed. Icy, can you still hear me, or can other people hear me? 'Cause you're very polite if you've just been sitting there watching my lips move. Anyways, I'll continue and you let me know if you can hear me. Yeah, being an educator to suitors may or not be something you want to do. You may just want to date people who completely understand disability or you may want to date people who have an understanding of social justice in general and who is capable of, kind of, not necessarily knowing absolutely everything but capable of having these conversations and being respectful. And often people don't mean to be disrespectful. They can be condescending without having that be their intent, and you get to decide whether or not you want to deal with that, because intent is not magic, but also, we never know something until we do. So it's some combination. Okay, Luna said, better sound, we couldn't hear you. I don't exactly know what happened there. I just pressed some buttons, but good, it worked. Luna says, I dated someone with Asperger's and he's very clear about his needs and self aware of areas where he needed communication support. I found that really helpful. I like that you can say that you can decide to date people who get it. Harley said, I could hear you, but had to put on my headphones in order to do so. Okay, so, I'm not sure exactly, I turned up my volume like two notches. I also just started talking louder, so hopefully some combination of that has made this video work, that's good. And as for what Luna said about dating somebody who was really self-aware and clear about his needs, that's also a good thing, and we'll talk about that a little bit later, especially when it comes to actually dating people, 'cause so far we're just kinda talking about getting to know folks. I wanted to touch on dealing with benevolent ableism. Benevolent ableism and microaggressions. So this can be anything from people being condescending, people being surprised that you can or want to do things, people saying, oh my friend did this, or, I read about this once, or, I saw a movie where blah blah blah, and then generalizing that to every experience of dating a disabled person. Those are frustrating, and I had the good fortune of having a partner who was with me for this entire experience and so neither of us knew much of what was going on. And we were able to learn it together, and that was nice, but going forward and talking to people who have, as disabled people, dated non-disabled people who didn't understand it. It's the same as any other intersection in a way, because you can choose to date people who understand it, or you can choose to date people who are open but don't necessarily have the language that is most respectful, don't have a full understanding, and want to learn and are willing to learn, but are also going to, at times, inadvertently hurt you or make you roll your eyes. This is the parting line of this whole conversation. But you get to decide. And again, from day to day, there might be times where somebody says something that is somewhat problematic but not horrendously problematic, and you're like, okay, I can deal with this. I can say, okay, I definitely understand what you're trying to say. I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt on what you're trying to say, however, that word is actually not used and to me it seems hurtful, or I see what you're trying to do here, but actually, you are offending me right now. Or that doesn't feel good to hear, that's condescending. There are other times where perhaps you just don't want to put up with that, and if you don't want to put up with that, you can say, you know what, I don't want to have this conversation right now, or, I respect what you're trying to say and maybe we can talk about this another day. Changing the conversation, and the conversation part of that is end for right now or end forever. All of these are your call, and I'm never gonna say you should give people the benefit of the doubt, because that is a very useful tool if that's what you want to do. But you might not want to. And we can talk about a little bit later what that means. Dealing with ableism more broadly and more generally means, if you are sending out a message, you are, I mean maybe you're swiping right on people and you're just not getting matches. That's frustrating. If you're sending out messages and you're not getting responses or you're getting responses saying like, sorry, I see that you're disabled and I don't want to date somebody like that. Or if you're actually gettingslurs or insults coming from people who maybe you tried to connect with or maybe you didn't even try to connect with and they're just angry people on the internet coming after you for no good reason. These are real things that happen, and they happen a lot, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to leave online dating forever, or leave that app forever, but you can. You can leave it forever, you can leave it for now. I'm gonna say it a million times. You get to decide for yourself what your boundaries are, and those can shift over time. They can shift day to day. It can be something that comes back and forth. Yeah, Luna says, I totally agree. I didn't have the skills at the time, and wasn't aware of my ableism, and got exasperated feeling like the center of the date was contorted to suit his needs, whereas in reality, it was just making it more equitable and enjoyable. See that's the thing, Luna is an educator here at O.school, and is phenomenally invested in intersectionality and has lots of her own identities and has clearly learned over time more about that from this place where maybe there were feelings of frustration, and now you might be more comfortable dating somebody, an autistic person or somebody with any other disability. And yeah, that's, people do grow. So that is a case for, if you're able to, if you feel comfortable with explaining, giving the benefit of the doubt, being somewhat of an educator to somebody, along with hopefully them growing as a person, doing some of their own work, being curious, reading, paying attention, it can work out really well and you can date somebody really awesome. Thank you for sharing that, Luna. I know that's like, it can be kinda heavy to talk about times where we've had difficulties with ableism or any other thing like that. Also thank you for whoever just gave me a tip! I appreciate it! And yeah, I didn't even say that at the beginning, so excited to talk about this. But we're doing 50/50 split between the pleasure professional, myself, and O.school, and that keeps the beautiful new website up and running. We're making lots of videos, and yeah, hopefully if you're interested, you can just leave a little tip with that little dollar sign jar down in the bottom corner. Icy says to Luna, yes, thank you for sharing that experience and perspective. Looking back now, yeah, compassionate growth! I'm assuming there was a huzzah in that, 'cause I definitely felt it. And I love hearing things like that, because it does, it lends, it gives more weight to what I'm saying from both sides. Because you always get to make the choice about whether or not you want to engage with somebody who doesn't necessarily understand exactly what you're going for, but there are upsides to doing it if you want. So you can choose that for yourself. And this is actually somewhat related. I mentioned that Luna is really awesome and has lots of identities and perceives them as intersectional dating or as an intersectional dater, and I really like investigating our preferences as disabled daters, because disabled people can still be biased against other people. We can still have preferences that are rooted in prejudice or stereotypes or incomplete understandings of situations or things that we grew up learning that are not actually relevant or accurate, and one of the specific things is whether or not you would date somebody with a disability. If you are a disabled person and you are not open to dating another disabled person, why is that? Now it's not like turning on a light switch like, oh, I didn't think about this prejudice I had. It's internalized ableism, that's bad. Wow, thanks, Claire, everything's great now, I don't have that anymore. We cannot usually just completely undo these preferences. I'm putting preferences in quotation marks because a lot of people say yeah, I don't like dating these types of people or this entire group of people because, well, it's just my preference. And that's a really easy thing to say, and it's letting yourself off the hook by not thinking critically, not investigating well okay, why do I feel like that? And often it has to do with what we've been told about specific groups of people being datable, of being sexually valid, being attractive. And disabled people are certainly one of those groups. And because a lot of us experience internalized ableism and feel like, well it might be really, if we had an able-bodied person with us, well that would make us seem more desirable. That would make us seem like that ableism that comes to us isn't valid. And that ableism we feel toward ourselves isn't valid. So there's something to be said for investigating that. There are also people who are disabled and wouldn't want to date another disabled person because they maybe feel like it would be harder for them if both of them had devices, if both of them required personal care workers or professional support workers to engage with them and it might just feel like too many cooks in the kitchen or like it would be a lot of work on both ends, and there is some validity to that, but you can also absolutely make it work with the right person. And also there are tons of different disabilities, so you know, would you date somebody, would you date an autistic person? Would you date somebody who used a cane? Would you date somebody who was deaf? Would you date somebody who had CP, but a different kind of CP than you have? Or, you know there's just, there are so many different expressions of disability, so to say I wouldn't want to date a disabled person is just as shortsighted if you're a disabled person as it is if you're an able-bodied person. But also, if you are a disabled person and you don't want to date fat folks, or you don't want to date people of color, or you don't want to date any number of different kinds of people, you only want to date somebody who's over six foot, you only want to date somebody who has blonde hair and blue eyes, those are technically preferences, but they are as prejudiced as ableism in some contexts, and at the very least, in the same general neighborhood in others. And the same way we don't want people to have unchecked ableism and just kind of assume it's okay because it's their preference, we need to really think about that. And it's not to say that we need to be better than that. It's not to say that because we're disabled, because we experience ableism, we need to be extra on top of things and extra aware of how our preferences can be prejudiced, but it is important. It is important because we want that from our partners, and we want that from just the world of dating, the kind of culture we're in. And so we don't need to be the change in that we're perfect and we don't have these thoughts and feelings, but we at least have to investigate them and we need to be thorough in our thought process and we need to look at ways of reducing that and being cognizant of it when we are making these generalizations or making these assumptions. So that's what I think about that. Justin mentioned that I always working with SheVibe right now, so if you use promo code OSCHOOL you can get 10% off at SheVibe.com through the end of May, which is very exciting. SheVibe is awesome and you can get some fun sex toys or some lube or some safer sex products, whatever works for you. I'm gonna also point out, I generally speaking, for some reason, refer to the tip jar just looks like a salsa jar for me with a little dollar sign, so I'll refer to it as a salsa jar. I don't know, put tips in it and then I can use it to buy salsa, which is important to me. I also wanted to talk about fetishes and people with weird agendas. So by fetishes, I'm not necessarily just talking about devotees. Those are people that are into people with, often it's people who've had limbs removed, but it can be other things, as well. People with a wheelchair, people with crutches. People with canes, people who have slings or bandages. And that's specifically about a sort of power dynamic and a need to care for somebody. And so when I say fetishes to weird agendas, I mean people who are making assumptions about disability in general and are assuming that they can care for you and that's sort of eroticizing to them. And yeah, they may care for you, that's true, but it's not the central focus of your potential relationship. They also may see you as helpless, and that is a more problematic representation of that, in my experience and my understanding. There are lots of reasons to maybe want to date a person with a disability, like they seem like a cool person and they're not a jerk, and you are interested in getting to know them, and their disability doesn't impact that. And their disability doesn't impact that significantly one way or the other. But if you are assuming that you're going to care for them, that's erotic for you, if you're assuming that they need you and you're gonna be their hero or if you're assuming that they can't get anybody better so they'll treat you like gold. These are all really problematic assumptions. And I'm also gonna say this other thing that's gonna sound almost like the flip of that, which is, but if you want that, if you are consensually into that game as well, I guess you do you. And I say I guess, because I encourage everybody to just be thoughtful and spend a lot of time thinking critically about these things. And we can do things like try it out and see that maybe they have ulterior motives and back away slowly. Or just try it with caution, because a lot of these people also can, they can be harmless, but sometimes they could be dangerous, especially people who see you as not as capable of defending yourself. That is something that would give me quite a lot of pause, or somebody who wants to be your caregiver in an erotic way, you ultimately get to decide if that's what you want to do. Just know that that is something that people do and intent that some people have, and I mean, it's only benign if it's something you really want, otherwise it's not benign and it will color aspects of your relationship or your dating or your hookup or whatever, and that may leave you feeling bad about it. That may leave you feeling really frustrated and weirded out and that is fair. Also, Eva says hi, Eva, I don't know if you were here at the beginning, but I was talking about seeing your talk last night. So Eva does a talk, as I said, on Wednesday nights about dating and sex and disability, and it was totally awesome and wonderful, and we already only have 10 minutes left. How did that happen? I say that all the time. I think I'm just very excited to talk about this and have a lot to talk about. So I did want to talk about meeting in person, why is can be very inaccessible and also then where to meet people. So dating in person, going to the bar scene. This is another thing Eva said last night. Going to the bar scene, A, it's not for everybody, and B, a lot of bars are not accessible. And C, a lot of disabilities make it so that going outside is more of a pain and whether that's because of energy issues or, I don't know, every city has different things like this but in Toronto we have Wheel-Trans, which is like an accessible wheelchair and mobility-oriented bus service that's different than our transit but through the same organization and you kind of have to book in advance and it can just make things complicated. So if you wanted to, say, go out to a bar spontaneously for an event they have at 9:00, they might be able to book you in. You might not have fare for an accessible taxi, and yeah, there are a lot of reasons, and as I said before, you might just not be able to get in the door. They might have stairs or a weird step. They might have a door that's too narrow. They might not have accessible bathrooms. They might not have tables at your height or a bar at your height. They may be playing fast and loose with the amount of people they can have in the space, and you just don't have enough room to kinda get through. People aren't being aware of you. So those things are all frustrating. That said, sometimes, especially if you've done the online dating thing for a while, you've done apps, and you haven't really met people that you're interested in, there might be specific meetup groups, whether it's like a board game event or a theater company or a dinner party night, something like that where it is an accessible space and where maybe there are people who have, if you're looking at something that is more social-justice oriented, maybe disability-focused in particular, or from like an anti-oppressive framework, you might be in a place where you are statistically more likely to find people who are at least somewhat aware of disability or aware of being respectful and having conversations about disability that are not othering and that are not condescending and that might be helpful with having a date in the future. So those, I think, that's a good thing to think of, like Meetup.com is a good spot. Facebook groups, getting involved in political or social justice-oriented, or in volunteerism-oriented groups where you're just maybe more likely to meet people who are just a little more open-minded, understanding, and less likely to be right off the bat condescending or making unreasonable demands about education and efforts on your part. Just before we close out, I wanted to talk about how we can make dating more accessible. So specifically, I'm thinking of people who are able-bodied who either curate spaces and events or may date folks with disabilities. Think about accessibility. And accessibility can mean a lot of things. It can obviously mean the physical space, getting into the door with a power wheelchair, not having lots and lots of stairs, not having any stairs so that people with mobility devices can get in. Having them on a regular basis so that if people are having a bad pain night or a bad energy night, they're not gonna miss out on it for the next four months. Having, you know even though it's really nice to have mood lighting, having higher lighter meaning that people can do lip reading, means that people can, if they're low vision, can see a little bit better and get through the space better. Having not super loud noises so people with hearing sensitivities can be in the space and communicate their needs. Yeah, just anything like that. Having ASL interpreters if you can afford it. Having, like requesting low or no fragrance so that people with chemical sensitivities can get in and feel welcome in the space. That's really important. In terms of if you are planning a date with a disabled person, first off, know what their requirements are. And you don't need to be too precious about it. You can just ask, like hey, you know, what should I keep in mind? And it can just be things like if they're in a power wheelchair, making sure that the place is actually accessible. Call them, or look up on their website and make sure, like go to their accessibility page and see if it's okay. If it's not okay, then it's not okay. Also make sure it's open the day you go, because if you have planned this whole accessible space for a date and then it's not open, they're looking around like crap, everywhere else has stairs. So be thoughtful about that. Also be thoughtful about things like if their particular need is they would have around height of table. If they would have to fill their needs around food, around drinks, that's good to think of. But ultimately, the best way to know is just by asking. You don't need to be too self conscious about asking. Chances are, as long as you're not weird about it, as long as you don't make it seem like you're a martyr or seem like you feel really uncomfortable about it, they'll be willing to talk to you and give you the information. They want to have a good time on the date, too, and then just try to remember it for future dates. And check in periodically and make sure it's okay, but yeah, just be prepared to know when you're being, speaking for somebody else and advocating too hard for somebody else when perhaps they want to be able to advocate for themselves, but also be willing to be in that role if, for example, I'm thinking you got to a space and it's not accessible and it was supposed to be accessible. Or if you get to a space and somebody is ableist and that is frustrating and awful. Maybe if you can, ask in your moment, would you like me to address this or would you like to address this? Because that's also just giving somebody the information that you are willing to talk about these things and willing to go to bat for them, but also not taking away their power if they want to be the one to address it. So really getting to the end of the hour, I realize we talked about a fair amount of things. We didn't get into a lot of questions, but this is definitely something I will be doing again, maybe under a slightly different guise. And I really enjoyed getting to talk about this. So as Justin said, you can find me, ClaireAH.com. That's my website, I am a coach around dating and relationships and sexuality. I also have a podcast called A Date With, where I focus specifically on intersectional dating. I've already done interviews with a few people who identify as chronically ill and disabled, including, I mean, myself. I am a disabled person. But I've also done interviews with Andrew Gurza of Disability After Dark and Wendy Petties of Good Girls Do! And then also Samantha Fraser, who is chronically ill, and she is of the Playground Conference and Not Your Mother's Playground: a Book on Non-Monogamy, and also Tell Me Something Good, which is story-telling host, the story-telling night I host in Toronto every month at Glad Day Bookshop, which is totally physically accessible and also financially accessible; it is free. So that's fun, and it happens on a regular basis, so if you can't go to one, you can go to the next one. So find me, my Facebook is ClaireAH Page, because ClaireAH was taken. And then my Twitter is ClaireA and then five H's, because ClaireAH was taken, so I just basically pressed H's until I could get in, so think of it as like Claire, ah. Or Claire, uh, your choice. Luna says, thanks for so much for this stream, Claire. It's so good to have more language and strategies around dating while disabled. I really enjoy getting to talk about it, and I, think about it, if you have questions, then Tweet me, Facebook me, and we can talk about it more and I can also, if you want more content like this, I can definitely have this happen again. Let you know in advance, and you can prep some questions. Yeah, aside from that, I have a radio show called Sex City, and it's on SexCityRadio.com, and I do talk about disability a lot. I actually just spoke with Kate, spacing on her last name, that's bad. Anyways, the creator of cripple care cards and buttons where you can ask somebody for their seats on public transportation or you can flag as having visible or invisible disability. Gosh, I feel really bad that I can't remember Kate's last name at the moment. On the tip of my tongue, and it's on SexCityRadio.com, so that's good. Oh Carly, oh Carly I'm so sorry, I have less that one minute left, so I'm not going to be able to answer this, your question about lupus I'm so sorry, Carly, I'm gonna get cut off. But please, message me on Twitter, @ClaireAHHHHH, five H's, or you can find me on ClaireAH.com. I just will, I just will, I'd only have half your question I guess right now and I will not be able to answer it, but, yeah, we can talk a lot about doing a medical compilation-oriented dating discussion, yeah okay. I will think about something like that. Feel free to Tweet me or Facebook me or contact me on the website, but I am going to copy this right now so I have it. Anyways, thank you to everybody for being a part of this talk, asking questions, saying hello. I really appreciate it, so everybody have a great night.

Dating While Disabled

Date
Thu
Mar 29, 2018
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2:00 pm
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Calendar
Thursday, March 29, 2018
|
2:00 pm

Dating is tough. If you identify as outside of mainstream beauty and romance standards then you might have a unique perspective on the dating world. Tune in with Matchmaker Claire AH to ask her anything and get tips for dating while disabled.