This morning I was chatting to my boyfriend, who is non-disabled, about the misconceptions that he had about disability, relationships and sex before starting a relationship with me. He said (and this is in-line with what most delegates say in our general disability awareness training sessions) that becoming a hinderance rather than a help was a concern of his, alongside saying and doing things that might be construed as offensive or patronising.
He’s glad that his friends and family have never ‘grilled’ him over having a disabled partner and have always been very accepting (which, of course, they should be. Sadly though, many aren’t). He had far more positive than negative things to say when considering what he’s learnt from having a disabled partner, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on how having a disabled partner can be a real education, and a good one!
Awkwardness and avoidance disappears
Before our relationship, my better half would avoid getting himself into any situation that would be deemed a little awkward (because he’s a nice guy and wouldn’t want to hurt any feelings!) Two years on, and he’s helped me get dressed on bad days, aided with personal care and toileting when needed, and we’ve discussed pretty much everything to do with disability and sex that you could imagine!
It’s almost impossible to avoid those ‘real’ conversations and situations of vulnerability when you date a disabled person, and that’s no bad thing in our eyes.
It’s okay to want to help.
In fact, it’s natural! The difference between being helpful and becoming a hinderance, in my opinion, is accepting when your disabled partner says no, or lets you know that they can manage independently.
No disabled person should expect a non-disabled partner to automatically understand every single aspect of their impairment and how it affects them, either. But once boundaries of support and offence have been identified, they shouldn’t need to be reaffirmed every week. Listen to each other’s thoughts and limits and respect them.
Our community has gained another ally
The one thing I love the most about having a non-disabled partner is I feel that our disabled community has genuinely gained another ally. Asking about accessibility is now second nature to my boyfriend, as is ensuring that it’s present in all the work he does. As much as I’ve learnt from him and his experiences, it’s nice to know that he’s also learnt from me and mine.
Society shies away from talking about disability and relationships, as those of us with impairments are sadly still seen as undesirable. But let’s spin that mindset on its head somewhat, and appreciate the education that can come from intimacy with someone that doesn’t have your background, ability or belief system.
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