I don’t get a chance to visit home often, so when I do, I make it a point to spend as much time with my mom as I can. So yesterday, realizing that my brothers and her boyfriend wouldn’t be home for hours, we decided to go shopping then out to eat.
Victoria Secret was our first stop. Teddies, shirts, thongs, boy shorts and so much more greeted us when we walked in. What’s that – a bin full of bras on sale? Don’t mind if I do. Lace, ribbons, beaded, dotted and bows; full, padded and plunge; racerback, convertible and balconette. All wonderful but not what I was looking for.
“What size is she? What style is she looking for?” Although these questions were about me, they were not to me. With a few words, the employee my mom gestured over to help me, has shown right away that she does not consider me a part of this conversation – although it is my body she is discussing. This is not new. I have never been to Victoria Secret but I have been a witness to this scene many times before.
My mom doesn’t answer. She turns and walks to a bin a few feet behind me. This shows the employee that she is not – nor does she consider herself to be – a participant in this conversation. I wait a few seconds then answered her. I show the employee that I am a part of the conversation, I am knowledgeable about my body and what I prefer. I both appreciate my mom’s action and hate it.
Appreciation for not jumping in and answering for me – or telling the employee to ask me. Annoyance because in order to show authority over my body and mind my mom – the able-body – has to take a step back and exit the conversation.
The employee leaves to go through another bin. My mom comes towards me and shows me a bra she thinks I might like. While deciding whether or not I like it, the employee comes back – with the same bra. “Does she like it?” The employee has shown that she still does not consider me to have a voice. I am only the subject of this conversation – not a participant.
No. I did not like the bra. I put the bra in the closest bin, thanked her for her help, picked up my dogs harness and asked my mom where the babydolls were.
Babydolls run through my fingers: satin, lace, silk, ribbons, bows, rhinestones and ruffles; open-front and sheer see-through; thongs and G-strings; adjustable spaghetti straps, halter tops and off-the-shoulder sleeves. All beautiful but I couldn’t find one in a color that I like. After telling my mom what color and style I’m looking for, she walked down the rack calling descriptions out to me.
Denying each item she described, I reached down and picked up a babydoll that had the style I preferred. Finding out it was in a color I didn’t like, I placed the babydoll back on the rack.
Thinking I should call it a day, a conversation immediately caught my attention. An employee that I previously told not to touch my Seeing Eye dog was talking to a customer behind me. Normally I wouldn’t have paid it any mind, but I heard the words blind and lingerie.
The employee was telling the customer how amazing it was that a “blind girl was looking at lingerie.” She goes on to say she was watching me for a few minutes and how she was surprised that “the blind girl knows what she wants.” The customer wonders if I’m actually going to buy one and what I would need one for. They both laugh. The employee and customer were standing directly behind me. They did not lower their voices. They did not hide their fascination: observe me, a creature outside of its normal habitat, almost passing for normal.
I have heard comments like those made by the employee and customer many times before. I used to think I deserved these comments, there was something I wasn’t doing right – perhaps it was the way I looked or acted. It’s not though. There is nothing wrong with me. Being blind does not make me any less of a woman. There are women out there who enjoy wearing lingerie and no one comments. There are women out there who buy lingerie and no one comments. So why is it fascinating – unusual even – to see me do it?
When talking about sex, body image and sexual orientation, people with disabilities are not brought up. Very often, we are considered to be like children – touching one is bad, they don’t have a sex drive, you’re sick for even thinking that.
I have spoken with feminists, attended panels and lectures, took courses on feminism and sexuality, read articles and books on these subjects and people with disabilities are not brought up. We’re nonexistent. The only times people with disabilities are given a voice is when you read about, attend a lecture or take a course that focuses on disabilities.
It’s not right. There are women out there who can attend a lecture, take a course, read a book – and their image is there, in the open and talked about. They are given a voice. They are told over and over again in books, lectures, movies and songs that they exist. People with disabilities do not have that privilege. We do not have that right. Things need to change. We need to be a part of the conversation not just when it is all about us; we need to be a part of the conversation when they are talking about “everyone.” We need to be part of “everyone.” It shouldn’t always be us or them.
I remember taking a sexuality course a few years ago and people with disabilities were talked about for two minutes. That was the only time during the semester where someone with a disability was mentioned or shown. What was it about? We were discussing paraphilia’s. The image of a white woman in a wheelchair – and the PowerPoint read: acrotomophilia.
Acrotomophilia – an able-bodied person expresses strong sexual interest in amputees. It is known today as devotism – a sexualized interest in the appearance, sensation and experience of disability. Whatever you choose to call it, being attracted to a disability is disgusting; you are objectifying and dehumanizing us.
However, since the class only saw a person with a disability once, during a chapter on paraphilia’s, I would not be surprised if the class learned in those two minutes: if you are attracted to someone with a disability, it is considered wrong. It is bad. You are disgusting. People with disabilities do not have sex unless a pervert gave them attention; people with disabilities are not sexual – they should be pitied for being victims.
I didn’t say anything to those two women. I signaled to my mom that I wanted to leave. I have told a few people about this incident and only a few understood why I didn’t confront them. It is very tiring constantly having to prove that you are just like them. Next time, I will say something. It may be with politeness or with anger; but the end result will be the same: I will have to justify to that person why I took offence. I am tired. So very tired of being a teachable moment.