Ever since I’ve been in a wheelchair, I've stopped getting catcalled. Not that I don't experience my share of harassment, but I don't get harassed sexually.
When it used to happen, I would always think I would be relieved or even happy when it would stop.
Now that it has stopped, only part of me is happy.
Men whistling to me, calling after me, knocking on things in excitement and making animal noises has never made me feel pretty or wanted, it mostly made me feel vulnerable and objectified, and on a good day just slightly annoyed. But I don't think this has stopped happening because it's somehow become very clear that I don't appreciate it.
It's stopped happening because a lot of guys stopped seeing me as “potentially doable” when I started using a wheelchair. Which is a little weird, since I didn't start feeling sexually attractive until after I became a wheelchair user.
The harassment I experience now is people telling me that when I convert to their religion, I will be able to walk again. I always answer that I go to church already, and that it has taught me to accept God's creation the way it is, and that I honestly don't think something is wrong with me, I'm exactly the person I want to be. And it confuses them to no end.
Then there’s the people telling me that it is so inspiring to see someone like me out on the streets and doing their groceries.
Or the people who tell me that they know someone just like me, and that they always do their [insert whatever I'm doing at that time] for them, so they know exactly what I'm going through (this confuses me, sure, buying toilet paper isn't usually the happiest moment in my life, but it really isn't such an ordeal that I would describe it as something I'm going through).
And then there are also people who ask whether I'm actually allowed to go out on my own, whether there isn't some law against it, or whether my group home permits it.
But hey, at least I don't get harassed sexually, the feminist in me should be happy right? Except she's not.
Because Amsterdam is not the most accessible of cities, I quite often need a little help getting around, someone giving me a little shove when I enter a tram or a shop with a high doorstep, someone who gets an item from a high shelve for me, someone who helps me buy my train ticket, or slips my card through the machine over at an inaccessible checkout.
Sure I can ask, and I do ask. But when I'm not wearing make up, not making an attempt to do some casual flirting, people will not hear me.
For years I knew that if I went outside, I needed to make an effort in my appearance, or just accept that it would take me much longer to get what I need, but I never realised how much I rely on my sexuality until I went on a date with a disabled guy who didn't use his.
When I was sitting outside of the coffee shop and he was waiting in line to ask for the baristas to put the ramp outside, it started to rain. For two seconds I thought about whether it would be impolite to flirt with strangers on a date with someone else, but then a guy passed by, and I just smiled at him, putting all of my personality in it. I didn't go as far as to ask him to just lift me inside, but within 30 seconds the ramp was there and I was in.
I felt horrible afterwards, partly because I was not attracted to the perfectly fine guy I was dating with, and me casually flirting with passer by guys, baristas and tram drivers made it painfully clear that I wasn't flirting with my date, and partly because it made me realise that I exploit the fact that I'm a young, blonde, female – and that my wheelchair makes me stand out in a crowd.
I know that I'm lucky in some way, to have all that young blonde femaleness to exploit, so that I can go out and about with relative ease (I say relative, because if I really wanted it to be easy, I would have to move, I never been in a city that is as inaccessible as Amsterdam, so any other place would probably do.), but it also makes me feel like I'm catcalling myself. Or even worse, giving out signals that I'm open to it, or other forms of sexual harassment. Do people think I'm DTF for a freaking ramp?
It troubles me that on the one hand I'm totally opposed to any form of street harassment, but on the other hand, I'm almost aggressively using my sexuality myself. But quitting using my sexuality is not a neutral choice, it would make my life a lot harder.
Still, it is weird that I can prevent a tram from moving away from the stop when I'm miles away by just smiling and waving to the driver (this sounds like a luxury, but actually in Amsterdam a tram driver is allowed to refuse wheelchair users, so everytime I want to use a tram, I need to basically seduce the driver into allowing me on the tram), but when I'm in a club, dancing, I only get attention from the drunk guy draping himself all over me, looking as if he's going to puke in my lap and than slurring “It's so good that people like you do this”.
So what do you think? Will people think I'm DTF for a ramp? Am I making it harder on other disabled people, by setting a standard that not everybody wants to live up to? And am I the only one using my sexuality all the time, to make my life easier?
If your Dutch is any good, check Fem out on Twitter @fatalefem