Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celibate or Disabled?

Continually and consistently people tell me they would rather be than disabled. Then they often list a hierarchy of disabilities where x limitation would be preferred over y and z the least desirable. Personally, I find this to be worthy of eye rolling, but I resist the urge. To TABS this is a serious business, for they do not want to find themselves in a fate "worse than death." And, yes, people do say they'd rather be dead than disabled. Frequently.
Recently pondering my involuntary celibacy and seeking perspective, I realized acquiring yet another disability would be preferable to continuing in this sexless state. It dawned on me that I may have a circumstance so horrific that people would actually pick disability over it: "Would you rather be disabled and have a fulfilling sex life or be non-disabled but celibate?" Finally some common ground.
Why, though, is disability considered such a horrid fate less desirable than, say, the ending of life? Perceived limitations that disability would impose. The socially constructed image most hold of our lives is that of tragic, pitiable, and devoid of happiness. That image is perpetuated by causes that focus on the negative aspects of being disabled in order to raise money by gaining sympathy: each time Jerry Lewis describes a child's tragic struggle to walk, he adds another dark brush stroke to the picture of our lives. Every time somebody asks, "Wouldn't you like to know there is help out there should you be stricken by this terrible plight?" the concept of disability as tragedy is burned deeper into the psyche.
Ironically, all the images of disability as merely a different state of being do not have the power to alter social perceptions. A man without legs climbed a mountain? Well, he must be an exceptional person. Not even a moment of thought is given to the concept that having no legs is possibly not the end of the world. The negative images have a persistence and strength that goes beyond what can be explained rationally.
Given these strong negative impressions, it is not surprising people only consider what their lives would lack if they acquire a disability. Even I would rather die than sit in a dark closet devoid of joy and human contact. The real tragedy in all of this is that being disabled is not that dark, empty closet, but simply a different way of living. Our biggest challenge is often these self-same negative images that make up the bariers we crash into when interacting with TABs. The true tragedy is that if people feared becoming disabled a little less it would actually be easier to be disabled.
Back to my involuntary celibacy. What's a woman to do when she cannot attract romantic attention because everybody thinks she isn't sexually active and she isn't sexually active because nobody thinks of her in that way? Screaming loudly comes to mind.

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