It took a little time and a little more men to find the right path through the dating jungle. At a certain point along the way I stopped to let me be picked up by guys that would only see me as the means for an exotic sexual experience. Especially the ›I know I look good and already had them all‹ type seems to consider me a welcome relief from their fuck routine. I on the other hand am less than satisfied with men like these. Needless to say I am much more than that and have always been.
Speaking from my point of view, I have long stopped looking for Mr. Perfect (regardless of what does or does not pass as ›perfect‹) and learned not to have unrealistic expectations of possible partners. Quite frankly, it just got too exhausting. No matter how aware I am of what I look for in a person or how willing I am to go out on a limb: ultimately, I cannot influence what’s going on behind the persons eyes in front of me.
My seemingly paradox guise seems to have a noticeable impact on more than a few men. While being self confident, acting securely, being loud, funny even sometimes, and appearing strong and independent, at the same time, I walk (or roll) around with a pretty obvious weakness. By my outer appearance alone I let everyone know immediately that I have been through tough times and might be dependent on help.
Thus, a lot of guys are not sure what to make out of me: Am I the bold, partly pretty, partly smart cheeky gal, or am I the helpless, disabled blonde with limited capacities? It’s confusing, it’s fascinating, and it’s mysterious. I see why it is and that’s okay with me.
Actually the same goes for me. I am not always consistent in my reactions to men, either. Whenever I am fighting off being hurt or criticized, it’s very tempting to blame failure on my partner. ›If only had been able to better handle my disability, we’d still be together …‹ I have a persistent blind spot for the possibility that the guy might just consider me too dominant, cheeky, or a plain nutcase. The same blind spot covers a man just liking me because I’m exactly his type. Maybe I’m just hiding behind my disability in insecure moments like these, who knows.
There is not that one good sex
The assumption that my limited physical mobility equals limited sexual capabilities is another phenomenon that I face due to my disability. ›How could it work if you cannot even walk?‹ I’ve been asked before. Others are certain that I just lie around passively and that sex with me just cannot be good.
Questions and speculations like these are plain stupid. They are a testimony of insufficient imagination and flawed fantasy. What’s good about good sex is that there isn’t that one good sex. Everybody has to discover individually what feels good, how to be satisfied, and how to satisfy your partner – whether disabled or not. A decent feeling for your own body and being able to communicate are key to a satisfactory sexuality.
Since my disability forces me to deal with my body in creative ways on a daily basis, I lead a fulfilled life on every level. In combination with a healthy dose of (preferably black) humor, this guarantees both my fun and passion.
Aside from sharing vacations, parties, and morning sex, relationships do require constant work for both partners. Certain circumstances require the subordination of your own needs in favor of those of the partner. Best-case scenario is that the compromises you make do not feel like compromises at all. If you truly love someone, that one’s well-being is the greatest reward for yourself. A linkage to grow from and get to know yourself better.
Disability as a compromise?
A prejudice I keep coming across is that my respective partner has to make an exceptional amount of compromises in our relationship. My boyfriends keep hearing questions like ›Why do you keep putting up with that?‹ or ›Have you really thought this through?‹
There are two sides to phrases like these. On the one hand they question my partner’s freedom of choice and their affection for me. On the other hand it leaves me angry when my other half gets a glorifying pat on the back for being brave and caring. All that just for falling in love with a woman in a wheelchair. Especially the ladder sheds a poor light on me and makes me feel like a supplicant.
Biased reactions like these have made me feel hurt and urged to prove the opposite more than once. For a long time I felt ashamed for my insufficiencies and the obligation to comply with various demands. That in mind, I dragged myself to festivals and concerts, often reaching, or worse, exceeding my physical limits. At restaurants, I would deliberately avoid ordering meat in order not to have to ask for help cutting it due to my weak right hand. By no means did I ever want to give room to such presumptions and used most of my energies for coming across as being independent. Until I figured out that the constant self-imposed pressure to show how ›normal‹ I am was in fact more demanding than being honest about the effects of my disability – and to give a shit about what others thought about it. Big time.
Courageous, strong, attentive
I have become more lenient over time. Nowadays, whenever I sense that people impose a difficult life outside the norm on me because of my disability, I just assume they have not been regularly exposed to disabled people yet and that the media and other social institutions have conveyed a blurred, deficit-oriented picture of disability to them. Maybe they just do not know yet that one’s disability does not inform about the level of willingness to be active or compromise in comparison to anyone able-bodied. Being disabled does not equal being unable to give less or to settle for more or less. At the same time, a disability does not prevent anyone from being an asshole.
A healthy well-balanced relationship requires long-term devotion to it, just like any other partnership on this planet.
Any man who considers a relationship with me has to be courageous, strong, and attentive, among other things. I would not choose a man for myself who lacks any one of these traits. I like these characteristics in men. They nurture me, whether that’s in conjunction with my disability or not. I hardly know myself as a grown up without a wheelchair.
Yet, I know that I, too, bring these qualities to the table and therefore want my partner to mirror them. I consider myself lucky, because I have little faith in any man chosing me who is not courageous, strong, and attentive.
Only a guy who is confident, knows what he wants, and what does him good will put up with me, a strong woman with a disability. Not because he’s able to overlook the wheelchair and the disability, but because he is man enough to face both and accept them as part of me.
Only the man who can stay true to himself and does not confuse being humble with having to restrict himself will have a shot at making it work out with me. Anyone lacking an open mind for a change in perspective, acknowledging, and appreciating diversity would not have the balls to keep my by his side.
Because it’s me, Laura. Funny, assertive, cheeky, and pushy. Devoted, enthusiastic, judgmental, and lying in bed at night, hoping for Mr. Right to come along like a crybaby. My disability has had an impact on my personality and I like the person it has formed.
Yet the best thing about it is that it works as an automatic filter for all those not seeing nothing more in me than a disabled woman, whose wheelchair symbolizes passivity and weakness.
My disability operates as my personal asshole filter.
Laura Gehlhaar was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1983. Studies of social work and psychology brought her to the Netherlands, before moving to Berlin in 2008, following her heart and a job at a psychriatic ward. Since completing a training for mediation and coaching in 2014, she works both as coach and author. Besides writing about life both in the city and in the wheelchair, she speaks publicly about inclusion and accessibility. Her first book „Kann man da noch was machen?“ was published by Heyne in september 2016.