Ableism is a relatively new term that is used for one of the oldest forms of discrimination. What Ableism refers to is an “able bodied” person’s treatment towards someone that is labeled as disabled. I say labeled as disabled, because disability as a word derives from the assumption that someone can’t do something, and from my experience the people who society claim to be disabled seem to be more capable than most “able bodied” individuals.
Dating as an Amputee is a relatively new term for me, and represents the hardest part of my journey so far. As weird as that may sound to a lot of people, that figuring out the dating aspect of things as being harder than the physical challenges of not having a leg, it quite literally has been the part that has eluded me thus far. I didn’t always consider it to be the hardest, or most elusive however the longer the lack of progress continues, the more difficult it seems to be able to get out of this rut.
So how does Ableism affect me while figuring out the dating scene as an Amputee? As an advocate for amputees, and inclusion in society the one thing I have consistently done is never cover over my prosthetic leg. I always have a pant leg up, or wear pants that expose everything. I know that I am inviting stares – mostly from adults, and questions – mostly from children, but the reason behind doing that is to try to normalize having a prosthetic leg. I know it can only impact so many people, however breaking down barriers is very important if there is any hope of addressing ableism. So having my prosthesis exposed like that directly affects my interactions while meeting new people. So as far as dating goes, anyone that I meet is well aware instantly about my physical situation it either is something that is eliminated as an issue or is a focal point.
With out getting inside my head and going over all the various scenarios that I have created – I can’t help but think how different my interactions would be if my prosthesis were always covered by a pant leg. Sure at the moment I use crutches to walk but that can be something as simple as a sprained ankle, and wouldn’t necessarily deter someone from interacting with me. Walking with crutches unfortunately still invites questions, but because of the severity of why I use them, I am still dealing with a certain amount of shock when I answer, and ultimately leads to the same result – which is the other person having to decide if they are interested in a person with 1 leg. However there will be a point that I no longer require aides to walk, and I will have the choice of weather to expose my prosthesis or have it covered. The part I will have to figure out when I get there, is not just showing the person, but explaining why I didn’t reveal it sooner. I am not sure how to handle that, or again, if I am over thinking the situations and should just go with the flow. The problem I am having with just doing what I feel comfortable doing, and going with the flow, is that it has led me to the position that I am in now where I am questioning everything that I am doing.
What about people I already know, who have already accepted me as I am. My friends, associates, people who have read my story, seen me on TV or heard me on the radio. These are all people who have a bit of a better idea of who I am, and why I present myself the way I do. Ideally for me, the idea of dating someone I already know is significantly better than finding a new person. Its not that I wouldn’t trust meeting someone new, but the comfort level would take time to develop. The idea of exposing my residual limb in an intimate setting causes a bit of anxiety. I have a lot of questions – and so the person who I do eventually meet has got to be someone I am comfortable enough to talk about everything first. Do I wear my prosthetic or not? Is it a safety thing having a metal leg there? If I take my leg off, I always have to make sure I have a stump sock. There are components to the whole process that I have to experiment with in order to be comfortable with – and until that happens, I am always going to wonder how to go about it all. I think that because of this anxiety, not only is it affecting Who I talk to, but my confidence in talking to anyone has been affected. Socially I have lost my ability to interact with people outside of talking about my physical state which then limits all my conversations. So ideally already being comfortable with someone would make the process more comfortable.
While I definitely have to take responsibility for my situation, ableism directly impacts dating as an amputee. Most people will be polite and not reveal their inner thoughts, which is appreciated. I know that thoughts include “thats just weird” or “I don’t think I could get past that” regardless of who I am as a person. It doesn’t matter anything that I have done, overcame or continue to excel at. It doesn’t matter how positive I am, how much I “own it” or how I don’t limit my activities. Time and time again, I will be passed up on for someone who has a less apparent disability, because lets be totally honest here – as we get older and are more aware as a society, disabilities are more common than not. Someone suffering from mental illness like depression, chronic anxiety, bi-polar or other conditions that can affect someone’s ability to be social is more likely to be accepted by someone than a person with a prosthetic leg or who is in a wheelchair. To me that seems ridiculous, the person in a wheelchair probably is more positive about life in general, they are most likely more humble, polite, respectful and accepting. While there may be adjustments as far as the physical nature of the relationship, the intellectual side, emotional side and even creativeness within a relationship would be enhanced. Its not a challenge to figure out how to do things, its an opportunity to learn new things – to not be stuck in the same monotonous day to day activities that a majority of people are willing to accept.
So Yes, I am accepting my responsibility and that I know that things are different now, and I know that people look at me differently, but I also am hoping that the more people are aware of ableism, the more people will not allow differences between individuals physical state to dictate weather a relationship is sustainable and will flourish. The one point of view that I can accept is that I can look at my prosthetic as a filter. It will filter out the people who aren’t willing to accept it, and I will ultimately deal with less heartbreak as a result. The idea of meeting someone and having to revel my prosthesis later and that person not accepting after developing feelings is one of my biggest concerns in this whole new world. So as I continue to carefully navigate and calculate each and everything I do, I know that eventually I will meet someone who is not only willing be excited about the idea of the possibilities of being with me. I know I have a lot to offer in a relationship, I know that remaining true to my core values, chivalry is not dead attitude, and continuing to be a role model for my kids will attract someone who values all the same things – but the process getting there is something that like I said, has eluded me thus far.