Drama 5: ‘Julie’
Julie and Sam are both wheelchair users. They talk about their personal experiences of meeting partners and the differences for disabled and non-disabled people, including issues to do with perception of body image. John is Julie’s ex-boyfriend. He talks about going out with a disabled girlfriend from the perspective of a non-disabled person.
- Julie - young disabled woman
- Sam - older disabled man
- John - Julie's ex-boyfriend
Put yourself in this situation right. I’m out for a night with my girlfriend - she’s a wheelchair user too. We’re off into town take in a movie, a bite to eat, club and back to my place. We’ve had a great evening until we get to the club. The doorman won’t let us in. Why not? Because two people in wheelchairs are a health and safety hazard! No kidding! He said one of us could get in but not both. Great I said. See you later Julie and left her sitting at the door while I went in for a beer! Only kidding! Can you imagine that? It put a right damper on the rest of the night I can tell you. Back to my place maybe but I was so angry I wasn’t in the mood for anything!
That’s Sam’s favourite story, if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times. But it’s not like that now, though there are still issues with access and with fire regulations, but they’re not my problem. Then again I don’t normally go out with other wheelchair users. My friends are mostly able bodied so you could say I’m playing it safe by being the only health and safety hazard in the group. I’m lucky, I’m fully independent, I live in my own flat, I have my own car and I can go more or less where I want, when I want. It’s not access that’s the problem for me when I’m out, it’s the public who can be the problem. For the most part it’s OK. When I’m with my friends I have loads of company and I don’t think about the other people that much. But let’s face it, a big part of the fun of clubbing is meeting other people and that’s not so easy when you’re in a wheelchair. It’s not that I’m shy, but it’s hard enough just getting on to the dance floor in a wheelchair never mind trying to negotiate your way through to ask a stranger to dance. Though if you make it to your chosen man, it can have its advantages because they’re less likely to say no – it kind of looks bad on their part if the give a girl in a wheelchair a knockback. But then comes the problem of chatting up. I’m inevitably about half his height so there’s the awkward situation of him having to bend down to talk to me. It takes a lot of effort and guts to make a move on a guy on the dance floor so I don’t tend to bother, I have to use different tactics to get my man. That’s where friends can come in handy!
I know Julie’s tactics, I should do, I fell for them – right into her lap so to speak. We were an item for a while. She was out with a group of friends when we met. Usual story, bunch of guys, bunch of girls. Strangers who just meet up in a club. The next thing I know is it’s the usual story with a twist and I’ve got myself a girlfriend in a wheelchair. The relationship lasted about a year, but after a while we both felt it was time to move on. Well, to be honest, I think Julie was more ready to call it a day than I was. She is a very special girl and I liked her a lot – still do. We’ve become really good friends and go out a lot. I’ve had a few girlfriends since and Julie’s had her fair share of boyfriends. Seriously, she’s not backwards at coming forwards, but when it comes to being in a wheelchair, getting your leg over requires a bit of extra planning.
I gave that up years ago – trying to get a girl on a night out that is. It was just too much hassle. Too many knock backs. It’s really difficult to overcome all the hurdles when you’re in a chair. Firstly some people can’t look you in the face, so if you want to meet a girl, you’ve first got to find one who’ll look you in the eye. This gets complicated, but take some typical guys on a typical night out. They’re obviously out to get themselves a girl – that’s what guys do. So in the pub or club the first thing they’ll do is find one or two potential ‘victims’ – remember you’ve got to keep your options open, able bodied guys get knockbacks too, so you need a fallback position. But for an able bodied guy, every girl in the place is an option, for me it’s only the girls who are sitting down. I can’t chat up a girl who’s standing up, she’s got to be at my level. So aside from the fact I’m in a wheelchair, my chances are immediately reduced. Next spot the girl and make a move, sidle up to her- or in my case roll. It’s a lot easier to be subtle sidling than rolling, so they’ll generally spot me coming. After some subtle sidling an able bodied person can start the chat, at worst he’ll get told where to go. Me, I’ve parked myself in front of this girl and I don’t know how she’ll react, if she’ll even look at me never mind talk to me.
I was very surprised to find myself with Julie on that night out. But I suppose we were all sitting round a big table and she quickly blended in. When you’re round a table, you only see the people’s upper body anyway, so the wheelchair becomes pretty much irrelevant. Mind going out with, just the two of us was a bit odd at first. People would look at us when we were out together. At least I was aware of it at first. I suppose people always looked at us but eventually I didn’t notice and I guess if your born with a disability you learn not to notice the stares form other people. I remember shopping with Julie though and being surprised by the fact that she just bought from the same high street stores we all shop in. I don’t know why that surprised me. I suppose I expected her to have them made to fit. But really she is just the same as everybody else pretty much from her knees up, so there’s not much needing alter in her clothes – it’s like taking up a hem on a pair of trousers. It’s funny to think that what is really a small portion of her body that’s not there has such a huge impact on how other people see her.
I think it’s great that there’s more and more genuinely disabled people turning up on TV. That ‘Britain’s Next Top Disabled Model’ was great for the likes of me. Suddenly was it not only acceptable and almost trendy to be disabled, it was sexy too. I felt different after that, it gave me a confidence boost. Not that I was lacking confidence, but it’s hard enough just living in a wheelchair without having to fight for your place in society too, so that was great. Though of course now I’ve got guys wanting to date me because it’s cool to have a disabled girlfriend. Of course I often been approached by guys who have a kind of warped idea that it would be interesting to have sex with a girl in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t take long before they say something or ask a couple of stupid questions that are a dead giveaway. So they’ll never find out what it would be like to have sex with me – that’s for sure. But they’re not all like that, some guys are just genuinely interested in the person, not the disability and it can be good fun too. There was one time my friend came out with us, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but it’s a great story. And she’s in a wheelchair too. So she was being chatted up in this club with the guy sitting rubbing her leg. We were all watching and could hardly contain ourselves but we had to try not to laugh out loud, because the guy was rubbing up her wooden leg and didn’t know it. God it was so funny! But he genuinely fancied her and they ended up going out together.
Julie’s a laugh a minute. She’s great fun and when we’re out we always have such a good time. But I know that deep down she’s very conscious of the fact she’s in a wheelchair. She hides it most of the time but she is conscious of her body – but then we’re all conscious of our appearance it’s just she’s a bit different from the rest of us and has to work that bit harder to get the general public to accept that. I don’t really notice it any more, she is who she is, but I have seen people look at her and look at me with her as if there’s something weird going on, and I’m not even her boyfriend now. If people would just accept her then she wouldn’t have to be constantly trying to prove herself. Not that it’s a big deal but it just pisses me off sometimes. She’s such a great person and I love having her around. It can be a real laugh when we’re out and she has her eye on someone. She’ll tell us who she fancies and then we go into what I now call operation round-up. Either I’ll try to time things so that I get to the bar at the same time as the guy she’s after, or the girls will move in on the dance floor and invite the guys over, then Julie can work her own magic from there – and she rarely fails to get her man.
It’s a very effective technique because it forces them into a situation where they have to accept me or lose face in front of everyone. Trapped like a fly in my web.
I like meeting up with Julie and hearing about her various conquests. It makes me feel that I should get back out there and go for it. But I’ve lost the inclination, and I’m out of practice. If I was young like Julie I’m sure it would be different but I’ve been on my own for a long time now and I’m not sure I’d want to risk getting into another relationship, even if I could, only to be hurt again when it finishes – which they inevitably do due to all the extra strain that my condition place on it. But maybe I will take the chance again at some point, I just need to work up to it and the more I hear what Julie gets up to the more I think I can do that to – well not exactly, but hey there’s a big world out there and I’ve got a lot to offer.
I’m sure Sam’ll get there. He’s a great guy and brilliant musician, one day his time will come. And me? I fully expect to get hurt somewhere along the line. It won’t be the first time. But you don’t need to be disabled to get hurt in a relationship, you just need to be prepared for it to happen a bit more often, or be like Sam and avoid it altogether. But it works both ways. I’m not always the one to get chucked; I’ve broken a couple of hearts already. The way I see it it’s not the body that causes a relationship to fail it’s the mind. If two people are compatible, then the minor problem of a bit of a disability is not going cause the relationship to breakdown. It might be blamed for it, but it’s unlikely to be the real cause. Anyway, I need to go, I’ve got a party to go to tonight and there’s this guy I fancy and I know he’s going.