Some women like to date effeminate men, other females are attracted to butch women, and everyone knows about tall males who gravitate toward tiny women. Preferences based on hair color, body shape, and personality type are the nuts and bolts of individual attraction and romantic partnering. Can anything based on such subjectivity involve discrimination? Do societal beliefs about disability impact the most personal of choices? Based on my personal experience, definitely.
My evidence comes in the form of the commonalities shared by all those I have known to be attracted to me throughout my lifetime. In each instance, the individual had reached maturity without acquiring all the beliefs mainstream society attempts to instill in us. Details illustrate my point best: the first two were both blind, the next string were all raised by single mothers who tended toward the unconventional, a few were raised in an atmosphere of abuse or mental illness, a couple didn't fit into accepted standards of beauty, and several had learned to reject societal beliefs as they worked through their own sexual identity issues. Male or female, each lacked the subconscious tendency to place me in the same 'don't date' category occupied by their siblings, parents, cousins, and anyone of a gender they do not find desirable.
There is no simple phrase to describe this propensity, but as they say "I know it when I see it." It isn't that these individuals missed the class about how one should view disabled people for a majority of them had other disablist attitudes when we first met. Neither did they consciously decide to see those with disabilities as potential dates. Something in the way they were socialized made their subconscious consider me in a different way.
There are a few ways this lack of acculturation manifests itself. Most people lump someone like me into the same category as small children and little old ladies -- those for whom sexual attraction is not even considered. This is not the case for those possessing the Unnamable Trait.
Such people have also avoided internalizing societal standards of beauty as their criteria to judge attraction. In this way, my scars, asymmetrical face, and odd eyes are not necessarily detractors from my other charms.
A person must also be missing another piece of socialization that relates to seeing me as a potential date or mate. Society seems to believe that I will be dependent on any future partner in a way that is both onerous and unfair. I am a black hole of neediness with no valuable contributions of my own. Anyone who would consider me in a romantic role must either not have this perception of disability or not care in the first place.
Because the application of all these standards and beliefs happens in the cobwebby back of our minds that our consciousness does not monitor, I am out of the category of datable before the individual even considers the issue. It is not a deliberate decision which makes it the most insidious and destructive kind of discrimination.
Over the years, I have been told that not dating a disabled person is a matter of personal preference which supposedly removes any blame from the equation for nobody can reasonably argue individual tastes should be this or that. To me, it is a more fundamental issue about what we are taught to like and want. the demarcation between personal preference and socially instilled standard is more an vague concept than concrete juncture, but that does not negate the existence of the distinction.
Don't find my curly hair and small frame attractive? Fine by me. Don't even consider me as a person to date? That's a problem with its routes firmly embedded in disablism.
For my emotional reaction to this reality, read Rest of the Story.
This entry was written for Blogging Against Disablism Day May 1st 2010