Height of indignity

One of the difficulties with dating and disability is that you
never know whether the problem is you or the disability. Just
because the person you fancy does not respond with ardour to your
advances, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are prejudiced, or
cannot see beyond the disability. Indeed, they may see beyond the
disability all too well, and simply find you personally

You could argue that, as disabled people, we are in a protected
situation. We can always convince ourselves that we have been
rejected not on personal grounds, but as a result of pure
prejudice. Perhaps rather less damaging to the psyche than the
realisation that it is just something about you that turns them off
in droves.

Mind you, my first experience of pairing off should have been
enough to traumatise me for life. Someone at my usually rather
restricted and unimaginative boarding school for blind children had
a burst of ill-judged liberality and decided that the younger boys
at our single-sex seminary should be introduced to the joys of
girls. But lest we should find the business of selecting the girl
too difficult, this part was done for us – publicly.

Picture the scene. A group of 14-year-old blind boys, paralysed
by awkwardness, huddled at one end of the gymnasium. At the other a
group of equally awkward 14-year-old girls, giggling nervously, and
probably wondering what on earth they were doing there (in fact, I
often indulged in the fantasy that coming up to our school was some
sort of punishment, doled out for a particularly heinous crime:
“Monica, do that again and you’ll go up and dance with the blind
boys.”). Anyway, here we all were, having washed bits of ourselves
earlier in the evening that we hadn’t previously known existed. And
then the grisly process began. A name was called out, and the
unfortunate boy had then to advance toward the other end of the gym
to be formally introduced to his partner for the evening.

It was a recipe for acute embarrassment, and I was prepared for
that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the reaction when my name
was called, and I set off gingerly to meet Janet. First, an
isolated giggle. Then a sound as if several people at once were
desperately trying to suppress a sneeze, and then an uncontrollable
burst of laughter. What the hell was going on? Had I left my flies
open? Was I trailing a stream of toilet roll from my turn-ups? Had
my hair turned green?

When you met, you were supposed to shake the hand of your escort
for the evening. As I reached Janet, her voice boomed a deep
“hullo”, and at last I realised the source of the amusement.
Whoever had made the pre-selection had not thought to check
anyone’s height. I was a very stunted 14 year old (probably still
quite a lot under 5ft). Janet, on the other hand, the robust
daughter of a country policeman, was tall – and I mean tall. Other
people told me subsequently that there was about a foot between

The problem was compounded by the fact that when I reached out
to do the handshake, I missed her hand altogether and encountered
another part of her that had also developed quite quickly. By that
time, the whole assemblage was in an uproar of mirth. I suppose my
only consolation was that I had succeeded in breaking the ice for
quite a lot of other couples who until then had been in the hell of

It didn’t get a lot better either. I went to university in the
late 1960s with the belief that I and the swinging sixties would be
reunited after seeming to have parted company somewhere along the
way. But surely at our liberated seats of learning, even I couldn’t
fail to score. On the first Sunday of term, I went along to the bun
fight where all the university societies set out their wares and
appeared to be “picked up” by a girl with a charming voice and an
apparent desire to please. I thought that the whole purpose of
going to college in the first place had come to fruition even
sooner than I’d hoped. When she invited me back to her student
house for lunch, it looked even more promising. It was a mild
disappointment to discover a few of her friends there, but only
mild. After all, you wouldn’t want to rush things on your first

It was only when they said grace that there was a mild flutter
of uncertainty in my callow heart. It wasn’t quite the image of
wild abandon that I’d expected, and hoped for. Also, was it all
that common for one student to address another as “friend”, or
“brother”? It was with gradual comprehension that I realised I had
not been commandeered for an afternoon of sexual abandon, but
fished by a fundamentalist religious group, looking for what they
presumed were easy pickings. It taught me one thing: if it looks
too easy, there’s probably a dreadful catch. 

Peter White is the BBC’s disability

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.