or Not to Telll
The hardest thing about being
a vegetarian is knowing when to tell people. I never know if I should
disclose on the first date: “John, there’s something you need to
know about me: I like lentils. And I know 50 ways to cook tofu.”
Perhaps it would be better to wait until the relationship is more
established, trust has been formed and it feels safe to take a risk.
“John, we’ve been going out for a year now and you’ve probably noticed
that I’ve never eaten with you there’s a reason for thatand
I’m not anorexic.”
I don’t have the same problem
about disclosing my disability. Unless I sit very still and do not
say a word, it becomes very obvious, very quickly, that my body
is diverse in function and form. The visibility of my disability
both benefits and disadvantages me. I am benefited because I’m not
tempted to try and “pass” as non-disabled, only to risk heartbreak
later when I reveal a relationship based on a lie and he gets pissed.
Instead I get the heartbreak straight away when I fail to get past
first base with those guys who can’t see past my physical deviance.
Damned either way, damnit. And while I may convince myself that
forthright rejection is a blessing in disguise, I’m not so sure
that every guy who doesn’t know how to deal with his phobia of physical
imperfection is a right-off. Our fearshis of the unknown and
mine of the all-too-familiarcollide and, stunned, we stagger
from the wreckage.
But that’s IRL (which means “in
real life,” my 18-year-old mentee taught me recently). As we know,
more and more interaction between people is happening on the net
(I don’t know if OTN is a recognized acronym or not). Could I pass
as non-disabled in cyberspace? Would I want to? If I did, when would
be the best time to tell and, when I did eventually ‘fess up, would
I be accused of deceit?
The question of whether to come
out of the disability closet when dating online must be one of the
biggest dilemmas in the lives of disabled people, as this month’s
Forum proves. The temptation
to moderate an online version of oneself must be huge for anyone
but, for disabled people, the opportunityto edit out the one
aspect of self that, because of stigma, stops people from getting
to know youis a revolution in social dynamics.
I’ve tried at least a hundred
different ways, I’m sure, to portray myself on dating sites. From
completely omitting my “mark” to explicitly flaunting it. From posting
pictures of myself sitting in my chair to Yahoo cartoon avatars
of myself, standing up. Ironically, nothing changes the fact that,
usually, the guys who contact me are dickheads.
Until recently. Contrary to my
usual passive cyber-strategy, I contacted a guy whose profile was
significantly different from the run-of-the-mill “I’m a normal guy
looking for a shag but pretending to be into a relationship” routine.
Contrary to the usual non-sexual attention span of most men who
use dating sites, he was willing to chat by MSN for longer than
five minutes without having to meet. In fact – let me just check
my MSN history – we’ve been chatting daily since 29 June. Not only
is this a feat in itself, what makes it fascinating is that I am
not sure if he knows that I am disabled or not!
Admittedly, I have not said, straight
out, “Hey, I’m disabled. Whaddaya reckon?” For the first few days
I deliberately didn’t say anything – not only about my disability
but also about my occupation, as guys often recognise me through
my media profile. Being disabled is bad enough – being disabled
and high-profile screams “Keep Away” to prospective pickups wanting
This time, I chose not to wear
impairment on my sleeve from the start because, after trying different
approaches, I’ve decided it has no relevance to the online getting-to-know-you
process. It is not the first thing people need to know, just as
my income or my deeply-held spiritual beliefs or my blood type are
not things I would tell a guy on first meeting. Sure, information
about physical diversity might make a huge difference to his decision
to continue getting to know me, but so might those other things,
until he’d gotten to know me first.
Gradually I began alluding to
disability. When he asked my age I said, jokingly, that I was so
old that I used a wheelchair. I revealed that, coincidentally, I
knew someone in the disability office where he works. I never told
a lie and I never once omitted to tell him something about myself.
On a day-to-day basis, however, disability never came up, as it
doesn’t with my nearest and dearest. Several times I thought of
forcing it to come up, but realised that it would have only been
to rid myself of the discomfort of not telling him my little secret.
Eventually, just about a week
ago, he showed me his blog so, in the spirit of self-disclosure,
I referred him to my website. This’ll do it, I thought, disability
is written all over it. I waited for his "But why didn’t you tell
me?” It never came.
So now I’m in a quandary. Should
I say something? Given the duration of our acquaintance, it would
be more appropriate to ask than tell him, “Do you realise I’m disabled?”
But it seems almost irrelevant, as we’ve established a relationship
in which disabilityrefreshingly isn’t an issue. I’m
enjoying it. I’m enjoying him.
One day, no doubt, it will become
an issue, either OTN or IRL if we meet. How he’ll react, if he doesn’t
already know, I have no idea. But I do know exactly how I’ll respond
if he asks why I didn’t tell him: “You never asked.”
© 2006 Philip Patson
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