‘I am a woman who wants’: on disability and desire

Cerebral palsy made my body a country of error and pain. It took me years to accept the part of me that craves intimacy

The autumn I was 19, I entered my college dining hall in California just in time to overhear a boy telling a table of mutual acquaintances that he thought I was very nice, but he felt terribly sorry for me because I was going to die a virgin. This was already impossible, but in that moment all that mattered was the blunt force of the boy’s certainty. He hadn’t said he could never … or “She might be pretty, but” … or “Can she even have sex?” or even “I’d never fuck a cripple” – all sentences I’d heard or overheard by then. What he had done was, firmly, with some weird, wrong breed of kindness in his voice, drawn a border between my body and the country of desire.

It didn’t matter that, by then, I’d already done my share of heated fumbling in narrow dorm-room beds; that more than one person had already looked at me and said: “I’m in love with you,” and I had said it back. It didn’t matter that I’d boldly kissed a boy on his back porch in sixth grade, surprising him so much that the BB gun he was holding went off, sending a squadron of brown squirrels skittering up into the trees. Most of me was certain that the boy in the dining hall was right in all the ways that really mattered. He knew I’d never be the kind of woman anyone could really want, and I knew that even my body’s own wanting was suspect and tainted by flaw. My body was a country of error and pain. It was a doctor’s best attempt, a thing to manage and make up for. It was a place to leave if I was hunting goodness, happiness or release.

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‘I am a woman who wants’: on disability and desire