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Relationship and companionship don’t exist in isolation

A man sits on a wheelchair. He's wearing a blue sweatshirt and blue trousers. A child in a bright pink sweater leans against his wheelchair

It was very interesting to read Sexless in the City (For No Fault of Mine) by Malini Chib and the part where she says that most people think of persons with disabilities as sexless individuals for whom aspiring to have a fulfilling sexual relationship is not just an awkward position to be in, it should also be deemed as taboo, really hit home.

I’m writing this not to disagree with her, it’s just that some points came up to my mind and I felt like expressing them. I have cerebral palsy with more than 75% physical disability of not just all my limbs, but also my back and abdomen. I have had my share of heartbreaks and exultations in search for intimacy and sex, and now I have arrived at an age where I can look back and share with those who might be interested in knowing, a few things I have learned and understood along the way.

I personally know a person whom I’m not going to name because I couldn’t contact him at the time of writing this, who thinks his life has been a total waste simply because he has never had a relationship and has never experienced sex. His physical disability constrains him to such an extent that he hasn’t even had the luxury of sitting alone with a book, a magazine or a PC to even look at the naked body of another woman. ‘I’m more than 50, and can you believe, I have never seen even a naked breast in my entire life?’ recently he rued when I met him. When I offered to show him a topless woman on my tablet he immediately refused.

More than showing him a topless woman I wanted to tell him that there was no big deal seeing a naked breast but I realised I was not the right person to tell him that as he is aware I have had multiple relationships and I had a love marriage with a non-disabled woman. It was heartbreaking. And he is someone who, if not thriving and physical, has a decent social life and he gets to interact with people on a daily basis. Through what must people who are staying at home with no communication with the outside world, be going, embroiled in the web of loneliness and the lack of physical as well as intellectual intimacy?

The problem with the entire theory of people with disabilities not getting to develop intimate relationships that may later on lead to sexual encounters is based on the premise that persons with disabilities are seeking relationships with non-disabled persons. Malini writes:

‘Would a non-disabled man care for such a woman? Would he agree to the role-reversal that comes with having relationship with such a woman? Would he be willing to go the extra mile, keep his apprehensions alive and have sex with a body that is far from being ‘normal’? Is it fair to even expect him to?’

The problem here is we are focusing on something that is simply a part of the entire package of having a relationship, not the whole package. Companionship doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex although I’m not saying that it shouldn’t happen, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Sex of course happens between two loving, consenting individuals, but it also happens between people who simply want to satisfy their sexual urges and if you want to get your sexual urge satisfied, there are many paths you can take provided those paths are safe and don’t cause you harm, physically or psychologically. It is perfectly alright to have companionship with one person and sex with another (all the involved parties need to arrive at a consensus).

Almost every person with disabilities, give or take a few, given a choice, wants to have a relationship with a non-disabled person. That is often the ultimate fantasy. There are practical as well as psychological and egotistical reasons behind this. I have gone through the same phase myself. When you want to have a romantic relationship with a non-disabled person you want to prove it to the world that irrespective of your disability, somebody deems you desirable, and if not desirable, then at least he or she doesn’t find it awkward to be seen publicly, romantically, with you. You want to show off. Within your disabled community you become an object of envy and admiration. Financial success doesn’t matter. What you achieve in other fields doesn’t matter. But have a non-disabled person as your romantic partner – boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband – and there you are, almost a super being. Having a disabled companion on the other hand, doubles the quotient of the pity that you receive from the world around you.

The ones I listed above are mostly psychological and egotistical reasons behind seeking a non-disabled companion. Practical reason is that there is already one person with a disability in a family and already people have been feeling wretched about it, and suddenly you want to bring in another person. The situation gets exacerbated if you cannot live independently and you depend on your family. It is not fair to expect them to take care of you as well as take care of the person whom you have chosen as your companion. I’m not saying this shouldn’t happen, but this condition shouldn’t be imposed on your family members. As more and more persons with disabilities become self-reliant I hope this attitude changes and persons with disabilities come together to form families.

Another thing that persons with disabilities often ignore is that rejection and heartbreak is a part of every relationship, whether you’re disabled or non-disabled. Hundreds of persons who have got nothing to do with any sort of disability commit suicide all over the world because they have either been rejected or ditched. So rejection and heartbreak is not something unique to just people who have disabilities.

Persons with disabilities don’t take many chances and even when we do, we are discouraged quite early in the game. Agreed, the odds are deeply against us and the inaccessible environment creates a different set of woes but seeking a relationship, if you are really hell-bent upon seeking one, is a game of numbers. The more chances you take, the better are your prospects of finding a person who would be ready to live with you as a companion, whether sex is involved, is another matter.

What should you do to improve your prospects?

First. Be social. I know it is easier said than done but invariably staying in your room and fantasising about another person landing in your room with you, isn’t going to turn your dream into reality. Again, travel is difficult and most of the places are inaccessible, but I know many persons with disabilities who don’t go out simply because they are lazy. If they make an effort, they can go out and meet people, but for them the effort is too much. They want someone to just land on their lap. No, it is not something you can order from Flipkart or Amazon. You have to go out. You have to stick your neck out. You have to be ready to get hurt. You have to be ready to face rejection, and sometimes even humiliation. Yes, compared to a non-disabled person, you will be rejected more, you may also hurt more and the level of humiliation may also be excruciating, but then who says love is easier to come? As you keep on bumping into people, one day you will bump into the one who is just right for you and for whom you are just the right one. Believe me, it happens.

Second. Don’t expect people to understand your needs and be open minded about that. Every relationship depends on give-and-take. Nobody is going to have sex with you in his or her right mind as social work or as religious duty (unless you have some Tantric power like many of our babas and sadhvis). You have to bring something to the table. May it be a special talent to make the other person happy. May it be money and social security. May it be political or social influence. May it be any weirdness that only you have and that person craves for. What I mean to say is, don’t just expect people to agree to have a relationship with you just because they should. The world doesn’t work that way. If people would agree to have romantic relationships with a disabled person just as social duty or religious commitment, we would have had many such couples by now because there is no dearth of people engaged in social and religious work in the world.

Third. The most important thing for you is to somehow live an independent life. It is very difficult to get someone romantically attracted to you if you’re dependent upon your family members for money and other things. My wife told me it would have been difficult for her to consider me as her husband had I depended on my parents for money and care. Another girlfriend of mine (much before my wife) told me that she saw me as a mate only if I could be with her in America where she was heading.

I know this is difficult but it will be a lot easier to bump into a prospective partner if you are capable of taking care of yourself, especially financially. Never neglect your career, whether you work on your own or you have a job. Make as much money as you can. You can overcome most of your disability if you have money – I have seen it with my own eyes. Lack of money can be one of the biggest disabilities.

Fourth. Don’t rule out other persons with disabilities. I know a few couples who are both disabled and they are quite happy living together. I don’t know whether they have fulfilling sex lives or not (I have never asked and they have never told) but they have that contended, blissful look, that you get only in those people who are extremely happy with their lives. If living together is not possible for you, you can have part-time relationships. You can also have relationships with multiple partners for that matter. Many persons with disabilities will be ready to have a relationship with your just for sex (just make sure one of you doesn’t get pregnant by mistake) and there is nothing wrong in that. Another thing, sexual intercourse is not the only way of enjoying sex – keep that in mind.

Fifth. And last. Just enjoy your life the way it is without getting bogged down about getting into a relationship. I know it is very difficult to do especially when everybody around you is getting hooked or having a relationship, and bragging about it to rub salt on your wounds, but really, it’s not everything. It is very difficult to get something when you are always obsessing about it because then you cannot focus on other things that can actually contribute towards you getting what you obsess about. If you’re constantly depressed about being alone, you will neglect other aspects of your life that can be equally enriching. If you constantly feel people are neglecting you or rejecting you or judging you because of your disability you will unknowingly broadcast such vibes to everybody. A negative attitude rubs off on everybody, and so does a positive attitude.

Remember that relationships don’t exist in isolation. They are a combination of many factors. It matters how you look – don’t be shabby just because you have a disability; groom yourself properly. The amount of money you have matters. Your social position matters. How whimsical you are matters. How influential you are matters. What attitude you wear on yourself matters. How much wisdom and knowledge you possess matters. Being at the right place at the right time and saying the right thing matters. Last but not the least, considering yourself lovable, desirable, and dependable matters.

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