Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Complications of Having a Romantic Relationship with Someone who has a Disability.

Don't worry, this isn't the R rated information you came here for... I promise! I started thinking about this topic when I witnessed an incident a couple of months ago that didn't sit well with me. It's been heavy on my mind lately so I thought it would be great "blog" material... 

Before I begin this story, I just want to clarify that this is not me talking about an incident that happened to myself in third person. I was at the mall with a friend and we had finished up our shopping for the day and were patiently waiting for ACCESS to pick me up. I saw a woman in a wheelchair a little further down from me who was waiting for ACCESS with a gentleman by her side. There was nothing unusual about it, I assumed he was a friend. Then they began cuddling and laughing. Of course with her being in a wheelchair, most of the advances were initiated by the man. They seemed friendly with each other and then he began kissing her. It's none of my business and I don't want to say anything out of line, but I wasn't sure if she was "ok" with being kissed. I wasn't sure if he just crossed a boundary with her or if she really was ok with all the advances. 

I have been in situations where men have gone too far with me and I wasn't able to protect myself. I don't know if that's really what was going on or not. Perhaps they were in a loving relationship and this was a very normal and usual occurrence. I tend to be pretty good at reading people and situations and something didn't feel right in my gut about how she responded. But intuition is a very grey area, it doesn't make something "true" just because I feel a certain way. 

Someone once told me that he would be worried about being a relationship with a person with a disability because it may look like he's taking advantage of them. I understand that but on the other hand, it's no one's business. It is my right to have love in my life and to be free to express that in public. With that being said, I do take precautions in public because I don't want to draw more attention to myself. I don't need people to stare at me and wonder. I wanted to give that lady the same respect, so I didn't stare. But the reality is that being a woman with a disability significantly increases your chances of sexual harassment. You are simply more vulnerable. 

So how do we differentiate what is respectful consent and what is abuse? Are there any actions to take when we're unsure? Some situations are more clear than others. In this case, I would have been crossing the line if I intervened when I was unsure about the situation. I mean if this woman was actively pushing him away, it would have been obvious that she didn't want him to do that. But she may have been shocked, or scared, or didn't want to draw attention to herself. Perhaps she was having a bad day and that is why she responded the way she did. While I may feel a responsibility to speak out against anyone I see take advantage of someone else, sometimes you can't tell. It's her life, it's her business and no one else should have a say. 

I would sincerely appreciate any comments or experiences or ideas to be shared in the comments below. I believe this is an important conversation to have.