Infantilizing and Desexualizing Disability, or, Can Blind People Love?

Today I came across an article where some Reddit users were wondering how blind people know they’re gay. Or, in other words, how a blind person conceptualizes their sexuality when they don’t have the assistance of vision? Apparently some blind people saw the actual thread and responded, legitimately trying to explain how it is that blind people feel attraction without sight. A concept surely even a child could grasp if they thought about it for 2.5 seconds, but I digress. They listed things like voice, smell, personality, etc as contributing factors in forming their attractions, and also used their knowledge of their orientation at a young age as evidence that it isn’t a choice. The article I read, which was a separate thing from the Reddit thread, consolidated some of these responses and used them to make some kind of point about … I don’t know … the universal experience of love? How wonderful it is to be lgbtq because it even transcends sight? To be honest, I’m unclear on what the purpose of the article was. But I know how it felt to read it.

Like I’m a curiosity. Like I’m a mythical being mere mortals can’t possibly understand, despite being a mere mortal myself, with all the feelings, desires, and preferences that entails. Like my time and emotional labor don’t matter and so it’s fine to waste them with this inane nonsense couched in a question about being lgbtq, when, as articulated by a friend I discussed it with, the root of the question was really simply, “Can blind people love?” Like I’m such a confusing anomaly that the rules of humanity don’t apply to me.

Or, like the only way to experience love and attraction is the way sighted people experience it, which is apparently through their eyes and doesn’t engage any other senses or feelings. “How do you know when you’re attracted to someone if you can’t see them?” was the overarching question. How do sighted people know when they’re attracted to someone? Do they not feel the butterflies in their stomachs? Do they not have a deeper than average interest in a person and what they say, think, and feel? Do they not smell their skin, their hair, their perfume/cologne and feel all wobbly? Yes, obviously they do. So why is this even a question? It’s clear that attraction is not reliant on sight alone, even for sighted people. It may spark an initial attraction, but it’s not what ultimately determines your entire orientation, and it’s not what lasts past the initial spark and lets you know if you’re really and truly attracted to someone.

Infantilization and desexualization of disabled people is nothing new, and it crops up in all sorts of places, in all sorts of ways. Some are very blatant and gross and everyone recognizes them, but some are more subtle and disguised in seemingly innocent questions and feel-good articles. I feel like this is an instance of the latter. The assumption seems to be that obviously love and attraction are sighted phenomena, relying on vision in order to be perceived and understood. And obviously, since we as blind people lack that imperative sense, we’re asexual and aromantic by default. This is, as most blind people could tell you, a painfully common misconception about us, which comes from everyone from the most to the least educated in matters of disability. I expect it from Reddit, which is a cesspool of garbage and ignorance and general bad, but when people start taking it from there to make articles for a purpose I can’t figure out, I get frustrated.

You might say, or at least think, that I’m oversensitive. Making mountains out of molehills. Blowing things out of proportion. Pick your saying of choice. You wouldn’t be the first–far from it–and you certainly won’t be the last. But just put that aside for one moment and ask yourself a few questions. Why is it considered perfectly acceptable to ask an entire group of people about their personal relationships to sexuality and sexual orientation, to pry into how they experience it and question its legitimacy? Why is it assumed that because we lack one sense, not even the one that matters most in this scenario, the way we come about realizing our orientations must be vastly different from the way every other person does? Why is it enough of a talking point to turn into an entire article, which doesn’t even make any broader point than, “Wow, it turns out that blind people are capable of feeling things, just like us!”? Why would anyone think anything otherwise, and why would they need an article to tell them?

Blind people are, in fact, capable of feeling things, just like you! It’s pretty amazing. Some of those feelings are even about sex. I know, I know, freaky, right? The disableds are out here trying to get laid, just like you! Or they’re not, just like others of you! They’re trying to find love, a genuine connection, a good conversation, a fun night with no strings attached, all the strings, including marriage and, wait for it …………….. even ……………………………….. children!!! That’s right, sometimes blind people want to be, and are, parents! I’ll be waiting for the Reddit thread and subsequent article on how that’s possible, now that we’ve hopefully wrapped up the matter of whether and how we can feel attraction and maybe even act on it.

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