I’m on Tinder. I’m sure it’s common knowledge. If it’s not, well you know something about me now. So, my bio says “I’m looking for a summer romance”. Pretty simple right? You would think so. However, the fact that I – a disabled woman – would want to date just like any able bodied woman would still catches people off guard. (Yes I’m as tired of being shocked by it as you are about reading about it.) I just find it so puzzling. Still, I will continue to talk about the ways ableism and opportunism affects my bedroom experiences.
So I made a decision not to date Black South African men exclusively and started experimenting with other races within South Africa; sort of a test run to see how my womanhood would translate in a “crossover”. After all, if I’m going to slander men as accused, it’s only fair that I try the whole spectrum for a more accurate sample. And besides, dating is fun and I get to learn so much about people.
Did I mention I’m working on a book? It’s going to be a scream! The men I date know I’m a writer and most always sound so excited to be written about. It’s always those ones that I tend to make time for. I find people who like being main characters interesting; they tend to do things that I think are out of their character just so I can have an interesting story to tell. However, there are also a few who say they just want to find out what it’s like to have sex with a Disabled person. Those are even more entertaining because their questions make me wonder what happens during biology lessons, or whatever human existence they live in because they often sound surprised that Disabled women like and have sex. Then comes the objectification because when the conversation starts about toys – which ALWAYS come up in the conversation – it tends to degenerate from there. I’ve learnt how to pick up cues earlier so my time is not wasted and I can safely assess whether somebody is worth exposing myself to. Sex work requires that I do this. As I said, the book is going to be phenomenal.
I suppose it helps that I’m looking for a summer romance, however it’s not the centre of my existence. Enjoying my own company is a priority (yay growth and ableism, I suppose). The world is largely closed to people like me – not just in physical spaces, but with representation and exposure as well – where we are forgotten. I often perceive that women like me (read, Disabled) are thrown away by the world. I won’t blame this on COVID. Pre-COVID I was still Disabled and back then it didn’t cross my mind to get online to make friends. I was invested in trying to fit my unwelcome self in the ableist world. I’ve since realised that I tried to make up for ableism by exposing myself to people who have said and done things to me that took pieces of myself from me. As difficult as Disability was, I still tried to negotiate with ableism because I thought it was “my bad” that I was disabled. Having an online community has reminded me that it’s not my fault that the world is inaccessible; I have the right to exist in this world as I am and I don’t have to explain why I have the right to be. I’m human, that should be reason enough for all of us. Anyway, before I get preachy…
I will say this, if you are going to use dating apps, don’t be afraid to be upfront about what you want and expect. I’ve since also realised that a lot of us are not raised to date so when it happens in our 30s, it feels refreshing because I’m more certain of myself. However I wish somebody had told me in my 20s that I wasn’t being ridiculous by having non-negotiables. The threats that you won’t find somebody to spend time with you as a woman, as a single mother, as a disabled woman are all lies, and in a world that questions your existence, being sure of yourself means realising that you don’t have to fear being alone. There is more to life and you find interests and other things to do that don’t require you to give up yourself for a little love.
And I’ve since noticed that if I do match with Black men, they won’t be South African. Yes unfortunately they tend to have bad reputations with the women from their home countries, so my being able to match up with somebody who doesn’t want to harm women or says they haven’t, it’s their word and that is all we have to work on.
Since I’ve begun matching up with men from other races, I’ve learnt that there is no short supply of men wanting and offering to sleep with me. Specifically, if men from other races talk to me, they also approach me with an attitude of doing me a favour. Their hope is that I will stop expecting or wanting a summer romance and will settle for being chatted up. People think just because they don’t value themselves then I must not either. These projections are always wrong and after giving them my number, it usually leads nowhere very quickly. As I said, I’m Disabled, not desperate.
So, I’m back on Tinder looking for a summer romance. Maybe I will meet my muse one of these days. And maybe, just maybe while I’m there, people will discover what ‘dating’ is about. There are adults who exist without an idea of what the concept involves, looking for somebody who won’t ask them to be decent or treat people with decency. Ain’t that a shame?