Many of us can relate to trying to hide something. I used to try to hide being fat from potential dates, also hoping to "trick" them into falling for my "heart of gold" because I saw no path to others accepting or desiring my body.
"There's pressure to be normative, to be able-bodied, but if you’re not disclosing your disability then you’re obscuring what your access needs are." Alex points out that obscuring your needs is tantamount to not being treated like a full person. And there's nothing cute, fun or romantic about that.
Even though we may think of access as a disability rights issue, it's (of course) not only people with disabilities who have needs. "You don't have to be deaf or hard of hearing to want to have a date in a quiet setting," says Alex.
Access needs - really any needs - get treated as “un-sexy,” especially in the early stages of dating. And Alex says that's a big problem.
"I’m supposedly limiting the date if I say I can’t walk very far. In the early stages there’s so much performativity. There’s pressure to say 'I’m cool. I’m easy. I’m down. I don’t have a body with needs.' I feel pressure not to engage in self-advocacy or negotiation."
Spontaneity is such a core value of early dating, but it bars access for people who can't walk around for hours or can't be super far from a bathroom or need to know whether a restaurant has stairs or a bar has seating that accommodates them.
A type of social darwinism dominates our cultural views on dating. Instead of “only the strong will survive,” it’s “only the ones with the fewest needs will survive.” This approach is both ableist and - frankly - just not human-friendly. The conceit of needlessness sets things up for failure because needs inevitably appear as a relationship lengthens.
Here's an accessibility-driven solution: Flip the script on what we consider romantic.
The expectation of an effortless date isn't romance so much as it's a refusal to connect fully with another person, says Alex. "There's romance in saying, 'Hello, baby, tell me your access needs and I’ll work around them! What’s comfortable for you travel-wise? Do you want to be somewhere where we can quietly sit and hold hands?' It shows that you're aware that if my needs are met then I’m going to be more present and have more enjoyment."
Alex says where we meet our potential dating prospects has implications for which bodies we find attractive:
"If you’re only dating people you meet at bars, and disabled people largely can’t access bars then you’re kind of tricking yourself into thinking you're only attracted to able-bodied people because you’re not experiencing the expansiveness and spectrum of bodies."
Another access issue? Microaggressions on the way to, on the way from, and during dates.
"If someone says something awful to me while we’re on a date, are you able to support me? I want to feel a sense of shared reality, not go back to business as usual."
If your date experiences a microaggression, Alex suggests asking:
Do you want me to go talk to that person?
What do you need from me?
Do you want me to get you home?
If this botched the mood for now, do you want me to plan something else on a different day?
Any last words of advice, Alex?
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