Have you ever wondered about the sex life of the disabled or about their love life and romantic encounters? Would you agree to date or marry a disabled person? Maybe, a hesitant and guilty no. Don’t you think it is ridiculous that people with disabilities are regarded as asexual beings, without any need for love, sex or romantic relations?
Recently, I got to become a part of a Sexuality & Disability workshop held by Nidhi Goyal, a disability rights activist and co-author of sexualityanddisability.org. She conducted the workshop for the sight-impaired, hearing impaired and speech impaired girls in their teens and 20’s from rural backgrounds, and spoke to the girls about self-esteem, love, sex and relationships.
A great way to start the workshop was asking the disabled girls about their dreams or with a fun item song! Their aspirations are big, funny and sometimes so simple, it was a bittersweet feeling. Some wanted to excel in life by earning money, some by becoming a cricketer, singer, scientist, beautician; some wanted to travel the world, while some simple wanted to marry. Isn’t it a little ironical that while the non-disabled girls run from marriage talks and debate the right age for a substantial career, “marriage” for the disabled was a dream?
The high-spirited girls were a total riot when they sang their favorite item songs on the top of their voice and were having fun. Then the item song dissection started, when each line and word was discussed, leading to the talk of objectification of women and the idea of beauty. When the blind girls were asked about their idea of beauty, their replies were on the lines of the stereotype advertised content or whatever the boys liked. Maybe the myth of beauty and the wave of feminism was yet to reach them. It took a while to convince them how to not give into the beauty industry’s “idea of perfect beauty”, and that’s when a girl spoke up – “I’ve tried Fair & Lovely but it didn’t help!”
When we started talking about relationships, it was a huge eye-opener for me. While some girls rigidly believed that they wanted to marry someone with a disability, preferably the same or maybe different disability; some said we would prefer “normal” people because it would make their lives easier. Normal? Does that make the disabled “abnormal”? Even in our daily lives, we are not mindful of the words we use, and regarding disability, it is ingrained in us that their infirmities somehow make them lesser than us in some way and we need to pity and sympathize with them. Even before we think about the idea of dating, we need to break down these barriers in people’s minds. The correct word is “non-disabled” or “sighted” for the non-blind, or as the International Disabled Community refers to as TABS – “temporarily able-bodied people”. A newer perspective to the non-blind is brought by the word “sight-dependent.” It’s just how you look at this whole thing. It hit me that when it came to relationships or marriage, a disabled did not trust a non-disabled person because they thought somebody with the same disability as theirs would understand them better. What does it say about us, the non-disabled? That we have become so intolerant of human imperfections that we cannot be trusted. Shame. Why are disabled people suggested to marry somebody from the slum or not expected to think about love, relationships and sex? This is not to imply that someone from a slum is somehow worth less, but it’s telling of mind-sets when people place the disabled alongside the economically marginalized.
Our society and attitude is such, the disabled are not encouraged to become independent, but they are always at the mercy of others and they wallow in self-pity. When they were told that having a relationship is not a taboo, the girls pointed out how the society labels it as chakkar & lafda, and that the whole idea of love seems to be abused and wrong. It led to the discussion of “society rules” and they were posed with a very important question in front of them: are these thoughts & decisions yours or imposed? That had them thinking and realizing how they never gave the set rules a thought themselves or to change it.
Some disabled girls prefer a “sighted” partner to make their future easier and safer. A life partner should not be chosen on their ability/disability but also love, respect, understanding etc. Fates & sacrifices should not be a part of the whole marriage idea and nobody should keep the “beggars cannot be choosers” attitude in their mind. “Our doctors’ care, watchmen show way, drivers get us to different places, they all care – should we marry them because they care?”
In tandem, in times like these when wrong things are glorified, it is surely NOT “an act of kindness” that a sighted person marries a blind girl to support her & care for her.
Love, sex and romantic relationships are for everyone, whether or not there is a disability. It’s really high time people started accepting that. When it comes to romantic relationships, PwDs feel discriminated and it demeans them, makes them feel unwanted, incapable and has a great impact on their psyche and confidence as a person. And although I appreciate and am grateful for the movie, it took a “Margarita With a Straw” to be sensitive towards an issue like this, and even then, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to it is ridiculous, because then, how are you in any way, different from the deaf and the blind? A new app, Inclov – a crowd-funded matchmaking app focused on helping Indian PwDs (person with disabilities) find love has been launched so that the disabled have equal chances of finding love, just like the sites Jeevan Sathi, Ability Matrimony, Deaf-rishtey.com and Viklang Shaadi present an opportunity for PwDs to meet others who understand their label, or people willing to look past it. The work has just begun.
I must be honest and admit that in the process of learning more about sexuality and disability, I had to confront my own prejudices, some I didn’t even know I had. Preconceived notions are hard to change but we can always learn to look at life in a different way, one we possibly never knew existed.