Someone once referred to my boyfriend and I as “relationship goals,” which in the age of hashtags and going viral, sounds like the equivalent of getting a ton of likes on something you post, etc. Something told me I should have been ecstatic, but somehow I also sensed undertones to this comment. When pressed, the person simply said we were “goals” because “we had been together for a long time.” Wow, what a sad culture with no thought of embracing disability. However, my hurt feelings about being a goal went deeper than this.
If you didn’t know by now, I am able to walk independently — but also own and use both a walker and a power chair, depending on what kind of day my body is having and what activities are planned. To my partner, choosing to take my wheelchair or a walker is not something to bat an eyelash at; most times, if I am honest, it is he or someone around us who recommends that some sort of device be taken for long days. The truth is, I almost always overestimate myself.
My family and significant other don’t give a second glance when I go out with or without my walker or power chair. But when I do with my boyfriend — someone is always surprised that he is, in fact, my boyfriend. I have always wanted to know why people are so pleasantly surprised. When they find out how long we have known each other, how long we have been together, and how my health has changed over the course of my life — it gets harder and harder for them to contain their look of … is it surprise, shock, pity, disbelief? Not really sure!
Society objectifies people with disabilities
Either way, I hope it is no shock to anyone that that kind of reaction always hurts me. I should be used to it by now. The reality is that some people will never believe that I am disabled, other will think I am more disabled than I am — and a select few will be comfortable with the gray area that has become my life. That’s OK. But what isn’t OK is how our society is constantly objectifying people with disabilities in the media and in our culture.
How many actors/musicians/entertainers can you name who have disabilities? How many truly disabled people do you know have played disabled roles in movies, TV shows, or on stage? Not many, huh? Why?
I don’t ask ‘why’ to encourage you to stand on lawns and protest, only to cause you to think — because I want to know why our society shames and shuns people with disabilities. And because I want to know why a person makes an audible gasp at the fact I have had a long-term boyfriend, or why people squirm in their seat when posing questions about our relationship. Why is that any of their business, and why do I feel obligated to answer?
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