“Would you ever date someone who is disabled?”
I was 15 minutes into a podcast interview when the question came up. I should have known. I was being interviewed about being gay and disabled after all, something I’m contractually obligated to talk about 587,000 times a year, it seems. I was a pro at this; I should have been armed and at the ready.
Nevertheless, the question hit me like a ton of bricks. Fortunately, I’d worked in PR long enough to know how to handle the question.
“Of course, yes!” I answered without a beat, “I suppose the opportunity simply has never presented itself.”
Which, technically, was true. All my boyfriends up to that point had been physically able-bodied. Hell, I had never talked to another disabled guy on Grindr, let alone seen another disabled fellow in a bar. So, of course I would date someone who is disabled… So why hadn’t I?
Up until that interview, the question of dating someone like me never crossed my mind. I just always assumed I would date someone who wasn’t disabled. Any alternative scenario never seemed like it would ever become a reality. I was enough of a burden, I would tell myself. Why date someone else who was disabled? As a teenager, I grew up thinking nobody would ever want me. I didn’t see myself as desirable, as sexy, as someone worthy of dating, all because of how my legs moved. I would spend hours wishing I was different. I thought there was something wrong with me, and eventually, believed it… so much so that it became ingrained in me. It never dawned on me how and why this way of thinking was extremely problematic.
Which seems odd looking back. In nearly every column I write, I tell people what not to say to people who are disabled, why you should not completely shut us out from your dating pool, and why you should f*ck us. And yet, here I was, a complete and utter hypocrite. How could I preach about dating disabled folks, when my own way of thinking completely contradicted that?
That podcast interview was in October 2017. It’s been two years since, and I still think about it often. I like to think I’ve evolved, and that my internalized ableism (a Google search defines that as “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people,” how exciting!) has magically been absolved, or that I have had a total come-to-Jesus moment. But the truth is, I haven’t. I still struggle, and have yet to find a spell powerful enough to rid me of my own ableism (anyone else feel like watching Harry Potter?). There are still moments where I am transported to my younger years, questioning how I was ever able to find someone who actually wanted to be with me.
It would be easy to blame it all on my upbringing, on society. But the fact is, I am a product of my own society, so I’m also part of the problem. But I am trying. I think simply being aware of my own ableism has helped me, and I take comfort in knowing other disabled folks are struggling with the same thing. I’ve realized that overcoming ableism doesn’t happen overnight and unfortunately there is no right way to do it. It takes conscious effort (and thought) to fight. It’s something I work at on the daily. God knows, I would love this to be like an after school special, but I’ve realized I need help to move past it. Help by talking. Help by asking questions, both within myself and to others. Help to know why I think the things I’ve thought for so long. It’s a constant battle, but a crucial one.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we could all use some help in confronting and ultimately tearing down our own damaging thoughts and beliefs that have become instilled in us. All it takes is a single brick. Or if you’re like me, a metaphorical ton of them.
Josh Galassi is very gay and very disabled, if you haven’t noticed. Sometimes, he writes about both those things, and sometimes, he doesn’t. He lives in Seattle with his boyfriend and their dogs Eudora and Carmen Sandiego, who, it turns out, was on Craigslist the entire time (where they bought her). You can find him on Facebook and Twitter, or at a nearby coffee shop obsessing over cold brew.