Helping the handicapped

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Q: I just read your response to Disabled Dilemma, the man who was trying to find a girlfriend for his disabled friend. You told DD that his disabled friend should “reconcile himself to being alone.” I’m not sure how to react. Part of me wants to call you a cold, mean-spirited fuck. The other part of me wants to commend you for refusing to sugarcoat the truth. I’m 28 and have had a disability since birth. I use a wheelchair and a ventilator helps me breathe. As you can probably guess, I’m not getting any. I’ve managed to do a few things with my life, like go to law school and get a decent job. But my sexual experience is pretty much nil. I used to think that I could attract women through my intellect and charm. Now I’m more realistic. I understand that some physical characteristics are simply too much for people to deal with on a romantic level. At the same time, I know people with disabilities who are in happy, healthy relationships with able-bodied partners. While it’s tempting to reconcile myself to a life alone, I still maintain some hope. So I understand your response, Dan, but I wish you would have not sounded so bleak. It’s hard enough being disabled without having negative attitudes reinforced by a writer who probably doesn’t know anyone with a disability. At the very least, Dan, you could have told DD to actually make the effort to take his friend out to meet people. DD’s pen-pal idea just sets his friend up to be bombarded with e-mails from people who are motivated by pity. People with disabilities don’t deserve to be objects of pity. Disabled people should be treated like anyone else. —Mark

A: Let me see if I follow you: First you slam me for painting a harsh but completely realistic picture for DD’s friend. Then you go on to say that I should’ve gone easy on DD’s friend because it’s hard enough being disabled without having your nose rubbed in reality. Then you wind things up by insisting that an able-bodied person’s interactions with a disabled person shouldn’t be motivated by pity. That’s a bit of a contradiction, don’t you think? I don’t go easy on anyone in this column, Mark, not young people, old people, straight, gay, bisexual or able-bodied people. Christ, I write 52 columns last year kicking the living shit out of able-bodied people! And in the spirit of treating a disabled person like I would treat anyone else, I was as blunt with DD and his friend as I would be with anyone else. Was my advice painful? I don’t doubt that it was, Mark, but I didn’t write it with malice. According to DD, his friend suffers from “traumatic brain damage,” is missing a limb and his speech is slurred. Any one of those three things would interfere with a man’s love life; all three together are going seriously hamper DD’s efforts to find his friend a girlfriend because, as you put it, “some physical characteristics are simply too much for people to deal with on a romantic level.” While some people may think my advice for DD’s friend was cruel, I think it’s far crueler to fill someone with false or unrealistic hopes.

Finally, I didn’t say that DD’s friend would never find a partner. My Aunt Judy (aka Madam Sin) is in a wheelchair and breathes with a ventilator and she’s got a swell boyfriend. So, yeah, I know for a fact that disabled people can and do find partners. I also know for a fact that my Aunt Judy is a very lucky woman. If my aunt were single, I wouldn’t want her to be miserable, and I would give her the same advice I gave DD’s friend ... except for the part about hiring hookers, of course.

Q: Let me send a ray of hope to the poor dude with the missing leg, slurred speech and brain injury. A pal of mine works for an organization that takes paralyzed people sailing. She always remarks on how all the shriveled, sputtering guys in wheelchairs had physically normal girlfriends but none of the women in wheelchairs had boyfriends at all. She chalked it up to the fact that women love to nurture and heal while men are bastards who don’t give a fuck about inner beauty. The point is, there are lots of disabled dudes with girlfriends. Tell this guy to get out there with the rest of the gimps and start socializing! Sign me ... —Go, Gimp, Go!

A: Thanks for sharing, you sensitive motherfucker.

Q: I’m a bi, crip woman in my 40s who’s had plenty of wild, wacky sex throughout the years without paying for it. True, I’ve had to initiate it by placing or responding to personal ads, but the occasional curiosity-seeker who is willing to go the distance is richly rewarded! Although I prefer able-bodied partners and/or those who don’t drool, tell the guy that there are disabled dating services online. For a nominal fee (or free), he gets himself listed on services for those people actually seeking disabled partners. —Crip Babe in NYC

A: Thanks for sharing, CBINYC

Q: Your advice to the friend of a person with traumatic brain injury (TBI) was right. I have worked with several social service agencies that have clients with TBI and I can tell you this much: Most of my clients were young males who had been drinking and driving. These men will never have sex again with the women they desired before their injuries. Most of these men cannot accept the fact that they are no longer desirable to the general female population and refuse to meet women from the one group that would find them desirable: females with TBI. My advice to the TBI gentleman is to join a TBI support group. I know of at least one couple who met this way and are currently getting it on. —Do I Have To Sign Off With Some Stupid Name?

A: Thanks for writing, DIHTSOWSSN, and thanks for giving me an opportunity to address a pet peeve of mine. I get a lot of mail from disabled/ugly/fat/old people complaining about shallow able-bodied/pretty/thin/young people who refuse to date them. “Why can’t able-bodied/pretty/thin/ young people appreciate me for how beautiful I am on the inside?” they write. “Dan, you should scold the able-bodied/pretty/thin/ young for being so hurtful and shallow!” When I suggest to these disabled/ugly/fat/ old folks that they might have better luck dating other people who are disabled/ugly/fat/ old, they invariably respond, “But I’m only attracted to people who are able-bodied/pretty/thin/young!” What this means, of course, is that the disgruntled disabled/ugly/fat/old who write me are every bit as shallow as the able-bodied/pretty/thin/young they’re writing in to complain about. In this week’s column, Crip Babe in NYC writes that she prefers “able-bodied partners and/or those who don’t drool,” and disabled Mark writes that he takes comfort when he sees “people with disabilities who are in happy, healthy relationships with able-bodied partners.” I’m not saying that Crip Babe or Mark are shallow — God forbid — I’m only pointing out that disabled people (like fat people, old people, ugly people) aren’t immune to the same cultural biases the rest of us have. People who want others to “see the beauty within” should take off their own blinders.

Contact Dan Savage at [email protected]

About The Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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