Transcending Disabilities Biases on Love
Ever heard the phrase ‘love is blind’? Modern-day research supports the idea that the blindness of love is not simply a figurative matter. A research study in 2004 by University College London found that feelings of love suppressed the activity of the areas of the brain that control critical thought.
However, visual attraction is a key factor in laying the groundwork for romance; first impressions really do count in this as much as if not more than in other aspects of life. Shallow as it may at first sound, human beings do tend to make snap judgments about each other based on their appearance.
To its core, human attraction based on appearance stems from evolutionary impulse - we have certain deep seated factors that determine our perception of physical attractiveness which are fundamentally related to health, well-being and strong, well-rounded genetic makeup. In other words, attraction to one another is grounded in a subconscious assessment that they are good breeding stock!
Where does that leave those of us with disabilities who may at first appear weak, frail or unable to, well, breed? Unfortunately, and in my previous dating experience before meeting my wonderful husband, Bryan, I can say firsthand that many people (not all of us) seem to have a natural revulsion on a basic animal level for people who are disfigured or who have disabilities. From the animal kingdom to ancient mating rituals, a disability or illness separated the more traditionally accepted specimens for mating from those with imperfect bodies.
We have, however, come a long way from the Dark Ages in society in our capacity to accept people with disabilities – male and female – and thereby have the capacity to surpass baser human impulses, and reshape the social order in such a way that does not simply weed out the perfect mate based on real and perceived impairments. In fact, there are people who consider disability as so natural and similar to bodily type, height, weight and hair color that a disability could be considered drawing factor for a suitable mate. Many of these folks are dubbed as devotees in their most extreme forms and many with disabilities don't mind this, while others with disabilities would rather be chosen for love based on other more basic qualities beyond the disability.
Our society is currently in a much better place morally, intellectual and emotional in how we treat people with disabilities, with a few exceptions. Still, some taboos remain in place more firmly than others. The sexuality of people with disabilities, particularly adults with intellectual disabilities who are still seen as child-like, for example, remains a largely sensitive subject to talk about, not only among people with disabilities, but also caregivers, family members and service providers who are enlisted in supporting the fullness of our independent, human experiences.
For years children and young adults with disabilities were denied any type of sex education whatsoever – as were adults with intellectual disabilities. This has proven to confuse and lead to well-intended acting out in inappropriate ways and at inappropriate moments that frighten, not only people around them, but themselves as well when they lack the proper supports, education and understanding about such matters of their bodily functions and emotions. The common accepted wisdom was that they would not need to know since no one would ever find them desirable and they wouldn’t understand anyway. Luckily, our capacity to accept that people, particularly with more profound disabilities, can and do understand many things, has widen our acceptance for learning ways to effectively talk about safe (yes, safe and and consentual) and healthy ways to find and achieve love for self and another person.
The other popular misnomer was and still is that people with disabilities who have bodily and intellectual difficulties won’t be able to express, physically experience or fully understand things of a sexual nature. Now, in this our 21st Century, we recognize that people with disabilities may do a lot of things differently, but they achieve the same end of living life to its absolute fullest. It’s merely about being able to adapt and find the tools and resources we need to experience that full life.
This issue is further made more prickly by mainstream, able-bodied society's readiness to label any individual without a perceptible disability as someone who does find him or herself attracted to people with unconventional body types (including but not limited to those with disabilities or serious disfigurement) as a pervert. My husband is not a pervert! The men I have dated were not perverts --- well, most of them weren’t.
The very fact that this issue exists indicates that there is a positive answer; that yes, in many cases, love can be blind. Love, by virtue of its very nature is in some ways a very individual and private thing, yet it is also a thing that society at large feels entitled to comment on and around that which sets many high and wide boundaries. Until a larger majority of society opens its mind wide enough to achieve that same blindness among all of us, including people with all disabilities, an uphill struggle remains for those among people with disabilities whose capacity for love and affection transcends the body and mind. Thankfully, minds and hearts are opening, slowly but surely.
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