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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Everyday Ableism #1

“There's nothing more debilitating about a disability than the way people treat you over it.”
Solange Nicole

I met my first love when I was eighteen. I met him the same way many millennials meet each other, online. I had a boyfriend at the time - yes, what a scarlet woman of me - and they hated each other. Naturally I was on the side of my then boyfriend. I hated... uhm - lets call him B for the sake of anonymity - I hated B too. Not only because my then boyfriend hated him but I also thought he was a condescending ass. Yes, I do realise this sounds like the beginning of a cliched romance novel but sometimes life is just that, cliched.

Let's fast forward through the 'will they, won't they' and get to the part where one late night we told each other over MSN that we liked each other. (How retro, right?) I'll perhaps leave the full story for another post, right now it's not important. The thing was B lived in England and for those of you that may be reading this blog for the first time, I live in Northern Ireland. I wasn't new to long distance relationships. My previous boyfriend had also lived in England and had visited me a couple of times during our romance. The problem with mine and B's relationship wasn't the distance it was the fact he was hopefully starting university to become a veterinarian in just under a year. So it was agreed that we'd be together until he went to university and then we'd break up. Yes, I am aware this still sounds like the plot to a novel.

I was well aware how important university and his career was to him. His love of animals and ambition were two of the reasons I fell in love with him. I never would have jeopardised that. However, not everybody had confidence in my ability to be a decent person.

The nature of our relationship and my disability meant that realistically B had to visit me rather than I visit him. He still lived with his parents and he was pretty close to them anyway so even though he was slightly embarrassed by the fact he'd formed a relationship with someone he'd met online - something he'd never done before - he still told them about me. He sort of had to or they'd be a little worried about the fact he'd disappeared for a while. Despite the fact neither of his parents had ever met me it didn't stop them making assumptions about the type of person I was. He was their only son and as such his mother was particularly protective. Are you keeping a count of all the cliches? Anyway, mother's hating their only son's girlfriends isn't anything new. I mean I hadn't encountered it before but I'd seen it on television and in films. (Monster-in-Law, anybody?) What was new for me was the assumptions and accusations his mother made in relation to my disability and how vocal she was about it. Especially as she was a counsellor. Someone who deals with vulnerable people. Someone who should have known you can't tar all people with the same brush or judge a book by it's cover. This woman had heard a few details about me, never met or even spoke to me and her mind was made up. I wasn't good enough for her son. Not because I was a bad person but because I was disabled.

She asked more than once if he was with me because he felt sorry for me. 

If he felt too guilty to leave me.

If I had guilt tripped him into being with me in the first place. 

She said I was a vulnerable person. Physically and emotionally.

And as such he may be putting me at risk or be taking advantage of me. 

She said being with me would mean giving up his chosen career. 

And that if we were to stay together that he'd become nothing more than a carer. 

She told him that if we had sex my parents might accuse him of rape. 

Or that my vulnerable state meant I could regret it and accuse him myself. 

She expressed concern that I would guilt trip him out of going to university. 

After he'd had trouble in his teens and got himself back on track she was worried that being me was a sign he was going of the rails again. 

I'd like to remind you I had never spoken a single word to this woman. And while I was by no means a perfect girlfriend, nor did I always handle are impending break up with as much strength as I wish I had, all her assumptions and accusations of my character couldn't have been further from the truth. They were based on ignorance.

What hurt more was that in at least one respect he agreed. He believed that he couldn't be with me and be a vet. That the work load would just be too much while juggling a girlfriend with my disability. That's the very reason we agreed that breaking up before he went to university would be for the best. I mean, we also knew university wasn't the best time to maintain a long distance relationship or a relationship at all but I knew it went deeper than that because we had talked about it.

You might just think I got unlucky. That she was just a particularly nasty person or that if it hadn't have been my disability it would have been something else but I'm not the only person that has been through this. I'm not the only one that has been deemed not good enough because of my disability. I have friends that have similar stories.

I'm happy to say not all the stories I've heard have ended the way my story does. We didn't end up together, obviously. We didn't show his mum she was wrong. I never got the chance to win her over. I think about that a lot. I wonder if it would have even been possible. Would she still feel the same way now? Did he end up with someone she felt deserved him? Will I encounter this again in the future and how will I handle it then? And mostly, how do we stop it from happening? How do we quash this ignorance and stop people looking at us as less than, damaged goods or a burden? Especially when they don't have the decency to meet us first. I hope in some small way my blog lends itself to that, that in I can use it as a tool to change perceptions of disability and some day no one will have to go through what I went through. My disability doesn't make me unworthy, on the contrary it has made me a pretty spectacular person - if I do say so myself - and anybody would be lucky to have me as part of their family.


  1. Thanks for sharing your personal story. The type of ableism beliefs you've faced are never usually uncovered or exposed. Disability needs to stop being a taboo subject especially when concerning sex & relationships.

    The mother you (or many other disabled people) faced would have looked for any excuse to stop her son having a gf. People stupidly believe that being disabled exempts you from needing respect, having hurt feelings or finding love.

    However, having these good&bad experiences has made you who you are in June 2016.

    As an asian person I've faced cultural ableism from my grandma, uncles, aunts, Dad & most of the culture (sorry to say). I will write a blog on that.

    I remember MSN, I have had a few online gf's but never an actual one, tbh your story is what scares me but what's there to lose.

  2. Thankyou for sharing this personal post. That woman was so horrible! How rude and nasty her attitude was, shocking that she was a consellor :( I hate that there's people out there that can be so full of judgement. You are an amazing person and you are absolutely spot on, anyone would be lucky to have you as part of their family! :) x


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