As the acronym for the LGBT community grows and expands to become more inclusive and accepting, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t quite fit me, or for that matter, anyone whose ability differs even slightly from the norm.
Forgive my awkwardness. I fall into the grey areas of stupid labels. I look quite disabled, complete with the slight dribble, and an unbelievably sexy robotic voice (when I use an electronic device to communicate), but I don’t have other disability tropes: I don’t use a wheelchair, I am not deaf, nor do I have abnormal cognitive processes, well not more abnormal than the average.
So, I often find myself having to clarify first, that I can hear things, second, that I can respond in a somewhat appropriate manner, and then finally, that my name is Georgia, and I like, I don’t know, say scrabble…and boobs.
So many of my friends have been mistaken for my carer or a relative it’s actually ridiculous. It really irks me, because it’s as if people don’t see me as capable of being decent company.
I recently went to California, or to be more precise, to the Bay Area, supposedly the most socially progressive city, Berkeley. I went with one of my lesbian-looking friends, Kate. She is indeed a lesbian, and she looks tough and sort of intimidating, well I was intimidated when I first met her. But I feel her appearance kind of legitimised my queerness, because often people don’t think of me as a sexual being. With Kate, and with my short hair, it kind of made me feel more comfortable with my queerness in that environment.
As we were crossing a road downtown, there was a woman fully decked out in rainbow. She was wearing a rainbow necklace and carrying a rainbow wallet. I smiled thinking how that could be me, and just at that moment, Kate nudged me and goes, ‘I can imagine you wearing something like that.’
I proudly waved an imaginary flag, in honour of my closeted fifteen-year-old self, and signed to Kate, ‘Well, how else would people know I’m gay?’ That silenced her for a bit. Another few blocks closer to home, and another few drops of sweat rolling down my eyelids, she commented how the slushie that we had from the 7Eleven had stained my mouth reddish. She said it looked like blood, and I paused, smiled, and said ‘I don’t need rainbows to show that I love women every day of the month, it’s written all over my face.’ At which stage, we both shook our heads, Kate rolled her eyes at me, and sighed ‘You funny bitch…’ We burst into laughter.
I appreciate moments like these. It’s rare that I feel seen as just me. I find it hard to simply be vulgar and stupid, without feeling the need to temper my thoughts or explain myself. It’s rare that I can let myself be, without feeling the need to apologise for an aspect of my identity.
When I first turned eighteen, going out on ladies’ night in Newtown was the shit. I finally felt some sense of ease going out. It was almost like discovering another world where I didn’t have to come out – as sexual or queer, or anything really. As the novelty wore off, the stares and the judgmental comments became more obvious and stung in a way that really upset me. Bearing in mind that because of my wayward muscles, I encounter ignorant and idiotic people on a daily basis. But somehow this was different. I thought this was meant to be a more ‘liberal’ crowd, one more embracing of diversity. How naïve I was!
Take for example the time that I dragged my then-straight twin sister out to the Sly Fox. She was a bit shocked by her surroundings, so stayed close by my side. Nevertheless some random person on the street felt the need to praise her for ‘bringing her disabled sister out to the bar’ and, just like that, in one fell swoop, they made me feel less than an autonomous being. Another time, I was being silly with a friend, and maybe dancing a little provocatively, when a lady felt she needed to tell my friend not to hurt me later that night, as if I wasn’t aware of my surroundings. These types of things happened often enough for me to realise that Wednesdays in Newtown weren’t the best place for me. It was more than that, I felt so invisible and disempowered.
I’ve become accustomed to sympathy and condescension from people I don’t know, so that makes going out hard, and dating even harder.
A few of my closest friends have had to listen to me rant about my brief – basically non-existent – ventures into online dating. I know I am not that awful to look at, but I’m more attractive in print, trust me. Still, I think my OK Cupid profile has been up for a few years, and to date, no one has contacted me despite me sending out over a dozen messages.
So many of my friends have been mistaken for my carer or a relative it’s actually ridiculous. It really irks me, because it’s as if people don’t see me as capable of being decent company. I don’t think people realise how these things gradually chip away at your confidence and notions of self.
To be perfectly honest, it sucks. It becomes difficult to imagine being sexual in the face of this overall response. If someone glances at me, I automatically assume it’s because my body is spastic. On the other hand, who knows? They just might be making eyes at me, but that’s the thing, it’s not straightforward.
Disability complicates almost everything. Laughter can mean discomfort. I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché of the laughing sad clown. I may be winking at you, and you might think it’s a twitch. Given the way my muscles move, and how I communicate, I am unable to conform, I can’t embody my identity in a way that people won’t undermine or belittle.
So as we meander down this queer road together, I encourage you to stop and question your own preconceived notions of physical ability.