"You could get a girlfriend, you just need to be more confident..."
...Is a sentence I hear all the time. And it's such a load of horseshit. Women want me about as much as they want a particularly severe case of haemorrhoids and all the confidence in the world can't change that.
On the couple of occasions in life when someone that I don't find attractive has told me they fancy me (I'm 32 this month and it has really has only happened a couple of times) I've been flattered. My ego has been known to break into a little happy dance. But whenever I tell someone that I think they're hot their standard response is to never speak to me again. I really am that repellent to others. It's not being unconfident when people really do think you're repulsive.
But also I'm not lacking in self-esteem; I would totally go out with me. I think I'm smart, funny, reasonably charismatic, interesting, I always smell nice and I enjoy my own company. If anything I'm over-confident to the point of being delusional because it's clear that other people do not view those characteristics in me.
I spent most of my adult life trying to look at the world through "people are innately not disablist bastards" tinted glasses. I wanted to believe that the only reasons people were so repulsed by me were because I'm fat, ugly and annoying. Then I read the results of the 2008 Observer Sex Survey in which 70% of respondents said they'd never shag someone with a "physical disability". And that's only the people disablist enough to admit it to the man from Mori with a clipboard. You can be sure that, actually, many more people would never do one of us but they're too ashamed to admit it because they know that being prejudiced isn't cool.
Accepting that most people would never go out with me because they're disablist was, in a weird way, an exercise in self-acceptance. It made me take off those tinted glasses and accept that the reason I'm perpetually single and haven't had sex for [mumblemumble] years probably isn't because I'm fat, ugly, and annoying (even though I am) but it's because they're discriminatory arseholes.
Of course there are many, many, disabled people in healthy relationships. They managed to find people from that 30% who aren't so prejudiced. With there being so few decent people around I presume that 30% can pick and choose from whoever they want because they're good people. Which does then kinda come back round to the "I'm fat, ugly and annoying" thing. If they've got the pick of the crop then they've got absolutely no reason to choose me.
With gay/bisexual women being a small sector of the population, and only 30% of them being willing to date me on grounds of my impairment there's only going to be a couple of thousand women in the country who would be willing to go out with me. Then you have to take away those that are in relationships, those that wouldn't go out with me because I talk too much, those that might be willing to see past my impairment but wouldn't date a fatty, those who might be willing to give me a chance but geography would make a relationship impossible, etc and there's basically about 12 women left in the country that might be willing to go out with me. And what are the chances that our paths will ever cross or that they'll actually fancy me?
You might think "but surely lesbians would be less disablist than straight people. After all, they understand and experience prejudice too?" Last year a friend cajoled me into trying online dating. It was not a successful experiment. So many women say in their profile "no crazies" and one even said "no strange limps". Disablism is just as ubiquitous among gay people as it is among the rest of the population. And then of course there's all the other reasons women wouldn't want to be with me; they're only interested in skinny women, they have a minimum height requirement (though in my case that's also disablism, my impairment is a form of dwarfism), etc. The experiment lasted a month. I gave up.
Because I've been single for so long people now see me as asexual. Yes there's the general cultural myth that disabled people don't do it, but the perception of me personally goes over and above that. People who know better than to be mythtaken (for example disabled people or people who are currently/have previously dated a disabled person) see me as asexual too. People no longer introduce me to their single lesbian friends because they just perceive me as someone that's alone in perpetuity.
Another area where I think disability/disablism is an issue is around "who is gonna wanna go out with someone who's ill all the fucking time?" You plan a lovely romantic evening out and at the last minute I'm too ill to go. I promise I'm going to cook you an amazing dinner and you get home from work to find me curled up in bed clutching the morphine and gibbering incoherently because I'm in so much pain. You get a cold and know you're going to pass it on to me and that it'll render me useless for 3 weeks because my immune system is so knackered. The only possible perk to dating me is that you know when I say "not tonight love, I've got a headache" that I'm really telling the truth.
If I'd been in a relationship with someone when I got sick I think it'd be a different story, I don't think they'd have dumped me for being ill. But when someone's out looking for their perfect partner is "chronically ill" really going to woo them?
Of course, being too ill to go out a lot of the time and being too poor to go out all the time (because my weekly income on benefits is £67 a week short of the amount recommended by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a minimum standard of living.) does mean that my chances of crossing paths with those aforementioned 12 women who might be willing to give me a go is even slimmer.
Another thing that makes me unattractive is that I'm not good at being what I'm supposed to be. There's partly the fact that women are supposed to be quiet and nice and lovely, and I'm loud and sarcastic and rude. But the main issue is the disablist notions of what a disabled person is supposed to be. Disabled people are supposed to be seen and not heard. We're supposed to be all smiles and not tell people who patronise us to "fuck off". We're supposed to be grateful for scraps of access and not complain when we're treated unfairly. We're basically supposed to look and act like we've just rolled out of a Children In Need appeal.
I do make myself heard. All the time. I'm extremely loud and outspoken. I will swear at people who belittle me. I will complain about bad access or poor treatment. I'm rude and sarcastic and misanthropic. Even as a child I was never cute enough for CiN. Instead of getting picked for "make a wish" type trips to Disneyworld, I got banned from school holidays.
Last year I was at an academic conference and one of the speakers was talking about academic theories of cuteness. It was so interesting. One of the things she pointed out was that things that are considered cute are often rendered impaired and she gave the example of Hello Kitty not having a mouth. Hello Kitty is considered cute in part because she can't talk back. I talk back constantly and in a society that says disabled people should only be tolerated if they're adorable I'm a pariah.
As if all this wasn't enough to guarantee me a life of chronic singledom, I'm socio-economically unappealing thanks to the government's benefits bullshit which means that the only women I could ever live with are someone who is also on benefits or someone who's rich enough to "keep" me. And as anyone who's ever met me can confirm; I'm independent almost to the point of self-destructiveness. Me being a "kept" woman would almost certainly result in bloodshed.
At the moment if I were to move in with a partner who had a job I'd lose my Housing Benefit and my Income Support leaving me with my Incapacity Benefit for any contributions to running of the household and anything I wanted for myself (like my addiction to Lush). I'd also still have my DLA to cover the extra costs of being disabled. Losing Income Support would mean I'd lose my free prescriptions, my free NHS dentistry and my subsidised glasses. So I'd be a moderate financial burden on my other half.
But under the plans for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) I'd only get to keep the non-means tested bit (the equivalent bit to Incapacity Benefit) for the first year of us living together. Then my only income would be my DLA, which is already accounted for because disability is expensive. I would be a total financial burden on my partner. "If we move in together you'll have to financially support me completely," isn't going to win hearts.
A couple of months ago I was having dinner with my doppelgänger/clone/mini-me. She's planning to move to London when she graduates from uni. She said that my inability to get a girlfriend worries her. She'd assumed that being a lesbian in London was like being a kid in a sweet shop. I think that's a really good analogy...
Imagine you're staying at your diabetic dad's sugar-free house. You're lagging in energy, you've got stuff you need to get done and you need a sugar fix. You find a slightly dusty Werther's Original in the back of a drawer. It looks a bit gross but you eat it because it's that or nothing.
Imagine you're in a sweet shop. There's thousands of delicious looking sugary things wall-to-wall. In the corner you spot one lowly, dusty, Werther's Original. You wouldn't touch it with a bargepole when there are so many other wonderful things to choose from.
I'm that dusty Werther's Original. When I lived somewhere less well populated, and certainly with a smaller gay population, the odd woman was willing to go on a date with me. In London any lesbian has a plethora of women to choose from; so why on earth would she choose the sickly cripple who also happens to be fat, ugly, annoying, is rubbish at confirming to social rules and is a financial burden?
With 70% of people being too disablist to date me and the remaining 30% being put off by my looks, my behaviour that doesn't conform to the social roles expected of me, my being a financial burden or simply just not fancying me; how can those people who say "You could get a girlfriend, you just need to be more confident," really believe the words coming out of their mouths? Especially when I'm already confident beyond the level I should be given my lack of hotness?
It's quite depressing that with quite a high level of certainty my future involves dying alone and getting devoured by my 37 cats. There are lots of things that could change that, as a culture we could address the attitudes to disabled people that result in 70% of people being unwilling to shag me. We could fix the benefits system so I wouldn't be forced into being a financial drain on a partner. We could fix our social ideals of what a "good" disabled person is. But telling me to be more confident won't make any difference whatsoever.