The Complicated Sexuality of A Wheelchair User

I no longer get harassed sexually! Which isn't to say that I don't exercise my sexuality.
Publish date:
September 19, 2012

Ever since I’ve been in a wheelchair, I've stopped getting catcalled.

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 that's why it stopped happening. It stopped happening because 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.

I still experience my share of non-sexual harassment. Like 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; 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! Which isn't to say that I don't exercise my sexuality.

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.

If I go outside without making an effort in my appearance, people don't seem to hear me asking for help. 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, and within 30 seconds the ramp was there and I was in.

I felt horrible afterward, partly because I was not attracted to the guy, which my casual flirting with passerby guys, baristas and tram drivers made painfully clear, and partly because it made me realise that I exploit the fact that I'm a young, blonde, female in a wheelchair.

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, 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?

Aggressively using my sexuality makes my life a lot easier. 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 every time I want to use a tram, I need to basically seduce the driver into allowing me on. And why, when I'm in a club, dancing, do I only get attention from the drunk guy draping himself all over me and slurring, “It's so good that people like you do this.”

So what do you think? 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