People Will Fancy You: A Meditation on Desirability and Disability
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
‘You are beautiful.’
Upon hearing this, especially if it is said by a man I am attracted to, my immediate reaction is resistance. A small voice in my head will say, ‘can’t he see how bent my hand is?’
It isn’t just the bent arm. It’s the bent fingers, the limp foot, the poor posture. The general crookedness of my body that I have grown up feeling means that I cannot be attractive. There has always been a negative whispering voice that attacks the well-meaning words of a partner.
Before I go further, I want to make clear: this is a voice of self-loathing alone. Never have I looked at the body of another disabled person and factored in the presentation of their differences as a marker of their attractiveness. When I see disabled people celebrating their sexuality, I absolutely champion them.
Some readers who know me will now rush in with, ‘oh but Scarlett, your hand isn’t really that bent, don’t worry about it.’ But that’s really null and void.
It doesn’t matter how bent my hand is, what we need is the space for disability and desirability to co-exist. Furthermore, we need the space for bodies that are visually more obviously different than mine to be attractive too. Saying that my body is attractive because it doesn’t look ‘that’ disabled isn’t healthy or helpful. Disability and desirability can happily co-exist.
I speak about my body plainly. By stating that my hand is bent, I am not trying to insult myself. Some people, when I have referred to my body as ‘bent’ or ‘spastic’ have tried to “reassure” me that this isn’t true. I’ve put “reassure” in quotation marks because it’s not really reassurance at all. Language used to describe disability is so often turned into offensive language. So much so that it becomes near-impossible for disabled people to actually describe their body in terms that are truly viewed as neutral by society. But there is a deep self-acceptance in being able to describe the differences your body has.
When I was younger, I thought that someone would only find me attractive if they could not see how bent my hand was. What came with this was a longing for my hand not to be that bent, and a deep discomfort and inability to see how it actually appeared.
These days, I recognise the importance of acknowledging rather than denying the differences that my body possesses. Of seeing myself as I am rather than having a distorted self-image.
These words might be strange for some people to read. Aside from my cerebral palsy, my physical description reads as: a 5’4 petite twenty-two-year-old with dirty blonde hair and dark blue eyes. Many of the cards of attractiveness that the world has declared point in my favour. Don’t get me wrong. I was a teenage girl for long enough to know that many people with the exact same physical description as me, who have no disability, have self-esteem issues. Many people feel resistance when somebody tells them that they are beautiful, no matter how many times told, no matter how sincerely the words are said. Low self-esteem isn’t just an issue for disabled people or teenage girls.
However, when I was younger, I was very much a strong believer that because of my disability no one would fancy me. If anyone was able to see past the disability, then I was a very lucky girl indeed. When I came of an age where people did start to fancy me, I was so genuinely surprised that it disorientated me.
How could they? Have they seen me? Why would they want me if they could be with someone able-bodied?
It is very easy to say, ‘don’t worry about what people think about you, you are beautiful the way you are’ etc. But if that worked, everyone would just believe their Mum when they said they were beautiful and there would be no self-esteem issues. Plenty of us do long to be fancied. Plenty of us agonise over if anyone will ever fancy us.
My strong belief that no one would ever fancy me because of my disability was probably due to a lack of representation. I didn’t really know of any disabled people, either in my personal life or in the media, who were sexual beings. Thankfully, representation has increased from when I was growing up. I write this partly because you can become the representation that you wished you’d had growing up. I know I was not the only disabled teenager who feared that their disability meant that no one would fancy them.
People will fancy you.
This is not to say that there won’t be cruel people too. There are people who cannot conceive of the co-existence of desirability and disability. People who make you feel inadequate; people who press hard on your insecurities. But those people are worth no one’s time.
Importantly, what you need is not someone who sees past your disability, and finds you attractive. What you need is someone who sees your disability and thinks you are attractive. We need people who hold two facts to be true: you walk with a limp and you look hot in a miniskirt. What you don’t want is someone who denies your body, who says that you do not limp: this is not love, this is erasure. What you don’t want is someone who says: you walk with a limp but you still look hot in a miniskirt. Your disability does not mitigate your attractiveness. Disability and desirability can comfortably co-exist. Accept the affection of people who perceive the reality of your body, without denying any of its differences, and want you.
I wrote this a few weeks ago when I was being particularly irked by my inner voice. I couldn’t take a compliment without the ticking, ‘but haven’t you seen how spaz I am?’ Self-awareness is great. But sometimes you can be self-aware and still unable to solve a problem. That can be more frustrating than not having self-awareness at all.
I do have better self-esteem that I did as a teenager but that doesn’t mean it’s immaculate. I am not totally befuddled by people fancying me in the way that I once was. As cliché as it sounds, it’s all more of a progression than reaching a standstill of self-love. In reading this back, I was pleased to realise that the critical (and frankly, ableist) voice had become quieter since the initial draft.