Welcome to Briana Beaver’s “Wiggle Room,” a new Cerebral Palsy News Today column.
Did those words make you flinch? The awkwardness of navigating the virtual dating realm swells to overwhelming proportions when you have cerebral palsy.
Communication in a visual medium that discounts imperfection and glorifies physical flawlessness can be daunting. I’ve had such mixed emotions about the quality of connections cultivated through cyberspace that I have altogether abandoned hope of finding somebody special in this venue. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but from my standpoint, they overwhelmingly resemble piranhas.
Despite my conscientious assertions of my worthiness, our culture has done a number on my sense of identity. Society never lets me forget that I have a disability. Whatever other characteristics, attributes, or idiosyncrasies I possess, I’ve been made to feel as though my disability supersedes them all. Both overt and subtle cues from the medical field, the educational sphere, and everyday interactions remind me that I’m different. In addition, the subtext of stares, critical commentary, and discrimination broadcast a message that my very existence is wrong.
My rejection of dominant ideologies does little to soothe the ever-present wound of being labeled disabled; of being reduced to an amalgamation of physical characteristics. It hurts. Being devalued simply for being me singes the fiber of my soul.
Online dating seems an even more likely way to draw this kind of criticism. So, earlier this year, when an unexpected conversation bloomed into extended messaging, texting, and even phone calls, I felt torn. At some point, perhaps this individual and I would meet in person, and he would see my physical condition, like a scarlet letter D branded into my flesh. He would recoil at my unstable gait, my involuntary movements. The ways I navigate this world would repulse him.
As we continued to communicate, my interest in him grew. I wanted to meet him, to share space. And if the familiar look of rejection flashed in his luminescent eyes, at least I would know once and for all.
We were meandering toward a coffee date when we unexpectedly delved into the topic of some health issues he already knew I had. Naturally, the conversation progressed toward the presence of my disability, and just like that, he knew. He had a way out. An irrational sense of shame traveled through my veins like viscous sludge. His image of me would now be tarnished. I vividly remember a text from him inquiring about how my disability might be physically noticeable. Taking pause, I considered.
“Well, I have a wiggle. When I walk, I wiggle.”
As the words connected to him onscreen, I subconsciously kissed this man goodbye. Much to my surprise and delight, however, he responded with sweetness, appreciation, intrigue, respect, warmth: “Adorable. What am I going to do? I feel a little inadequate because I don’t have a wiggle.” I was still human to him.
This precious interaction afforded me the realization that although I’ve been taught to believe that my disability makes me ugly, unlovable, unattractive, and unworthy, not everyone else believes it. Perhaps a cadre of humans might even perceive the aforementioned characteristics to be attributes, demonstrations of beauty, and passages to togetherness. Who knew?
In every moment of every day, I’m intending to contribute to the cultivation of a society that gives me wiggle room. I’m envisioning communities that embrace my full humanity, redefining disability as we know it, because the only kind of spaces I’ve ever wanted to belong to are the ones that give us all a little wiggle room.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.