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
    objectionable.

    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
    us.

    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
    uncertainty.

    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
    date.

    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
    correspondent.

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.