‘Disabled, queer and fabulous’ find a place of their own in the dating world
The dating pool can be a bit shallow on the best of days. But dating during a pandemic, while queer, disabled and Black … well, that’s a phenomenon all its own.
Jay Baldwin, whose pronouns are they/them, says they have always been discriminated against on “all three levels.” Dating is no exception. They have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, chronic pain and depression.
Not that they are after pity. Not at all. They recalled that when they were a teen a friend started dating them because they felt sorry for Baldwin. Baldwin was understandably hurt when they found out their ex’s true intention.
“I don’t want people to only date me because they want me to feel better. Or because my life is ‘that bad’ that they feel like they have to date me to make it better. My life is pretty great without that pity, thank you very much.”
Still, as an adult, Baldwin has had their fair share of ableist experiences in the dating world.
“I’ve found that people will sometimes ask super rude questions, like if my ‘parts work,’” they explained. The 21-year-old says these experiences understandably cause anxiety.
Amy McPherson, a senior scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute, is creating resources to demystify dating while disabled. “What we’re working on is, how can you talk about sexuality more broadly with young people? It’s not just about having sex or not having sex. It’s about how they feel about themselves, how they feel about their gender, orientation and sexual orientation, not making any assumptions, and seeing them as someone who has the right to make decisions about their sexuality.”
Baldwin is a former patient at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, which is associated with the research institute. They say the resources at Bloorview mostly come from LGBTQ organizations. “Everywhere else that I’ve seen only has specific resources for specific groups of people. And it’s not really inclusive.”
That’s what McPherson’s research hopes to change. She wants to empower disabled youth to have these conversations with the people in their lives. She thinks if sexuality can be discussed freely with parents and doctors, then speaking to partners about it will become easier.
“How can we help parents, health-care providers and young adults to negotiate or navigate this topic, by giving them some evidence and informed resources? That’s what we’ve been creating. All the research focuses on sexuality as a fundamental human right. That includes people with disabilities, as well. They’re often left out of the conversation.”
During the pandemic, Baldwin has turned mostly to online dating. But that can be too expensive, they say, and the ableist culture is discouraging.
“The ableist culture we live in simply does not see people with disabilities as sexual people or those who have the right to make decisions about their sexuality,” McPherson explained. “Because of this, people are often very surprised when a person with disabilities expresses a desire to date.”
So Baldwin used the web to find community instead. They created a Facebook group in October 2020 called Disabled, Queer and Fabulous! The group has nearly 1,000 members from around the world, including Germany, the U.K. and Australia.
“I created it because the younger version of me didn’t have a community like this thing. I’m from a very small town and, for the longest time, I was the only visibly disabled kid in my school. I didn’t have any friends that were disabled. I didn’t see me in the media.”
In Disabled, Queer and Fabulous! group members support each other with dating and navigating life at the intersections of these identities.
Baldwin, who lives in Georgetown and is a student, explained that the community has saved lives, theirs included. “I’ve had people say that they didn’t have a family before joining my group, because their family abandoned them due to how they identify. But, since joining my group, everybody feels like they have a family. I haven’t heard anything other than that. It means the absolute world to me.”
McPherson agrees an online community such as Disabled, Queer and Fabulous! can be very positive.
People with disabilities “may also not have a safe space to explore their sexuality, think about their identity in terms of gender and sexual orientation.” McPherson said. “Communities are a powerful way to reduce people’s isolation, provide hope and increase advocacy skills.”