Rewire Logo
A nonprofit journalism
website produced by:
Twin Cities PBS Logo

Having a Disabled Partner Isn’t a Sacrifice

It's time to debunk common ableist assumptions about my relationship.

by Cal Simmons
January 4, 2021 | Love
Illustration of man pushing woman in a wheelchair, disabled partner, ableist, relationship, rewire
Credit: Valenty // Adobe

I've had to grapple with a lot in my current relationship: internalized homophobia, trauma and fear of commitment, to name a few. 

However, when I talk with other people about my relationship, the focus usually lands on my partner's disability. As hard as it might be for some to believe, that's actually one of the things I've struggled with the least.

My partner, Sascha, is a big advocate for transparency when it comes to disability. It's a big part of our lives and something we don't shy away from talking about. 

However, there's a sharp distinction in how people choose to talk to me about disability and how they talk to Sascha about it. Conversations held with me, I've noticed, are much less filtered.

Many people feel they can ask me questions that they would never ask Sascha, regardless of how inappropriate they are. Sometimes these questions are a good opportunity for education. 

For me, the real issue lies in the throwaway remarks people make about our relationship dynamic. Many of these seem innocuous, but they carry internalized ideas that are actually very harmful. Here are a few of the most common ableist assumptions I'd like to address and debunk.

Mutual caretakers

One comment really chafes me in a way that I sometimes find difficult to articulate. I often hear that what I do for Sascha is a "labor of love," implying that she should be grateful for the energy I devote to her.

The things I do to take care of my partner aren't work. There's no labor involved because, to me, it's simply part of being with her.

As the oldest of four, I'm already accustomed to taking care of those who are close to me. I've spent almost my whole life doing it. Taking care of my partner is a natural progression, and I would do it whether she was disabled or not.

Something my partner has often expressed to me is that everyone needs help sometimes. No one can ever be truly independent. There's always going to be a give and take in our society, but there is more stigma when it involves disabled individuals. 

Overcoming this mindset and acknowledging that taking care of each other is a natural act is a step toward eliminating prejudice toward people who need different kinds of help. 

Disability is not the end

"I would rather be dead" is a phrase I often hear in relation to disability. I've had coworkers and classmates express this sentiment to me after I've talked about my girlfriend's chronic illnesses

While to me it seems like a blatantly rude statement, many of them consider it to be a simple fact: There is no merit to a life without an able body.

A person standing next to a person in a wheelchair inside an art gallery, disabled partner, ableist, relationship, rewire
My hope is that someday our dynamic is normalized and celebrated simply for being a loving partnership.  |  Credit: Courtesy Cal Simmons

I think that for many people becoming disabled seems like a very distant concept. It is alien and, therefore, something to fear. 

In reality, anyone can become disabled at any point. Whether through sickness, an accident, or even age, it's entirely possible that you or a loved one will no longer be able to function the way you once did. 

But disability is not the end. Many things that able-bodied people might consider out of reach are still attainable, just through different channels. 

There are entire cultures behind disabled communities that are full of people living fulfilling lives. While it might take a recently disabled person time to adapt to a new lifestyle, it isn't any different from other adaptations we have to make when something new comes our way.

Not quite compliments

The most difficult comments I get are the ones that, at face value, seem to be innocuous compliments. 

When someone thinks they're being nice, it's a lot harder to tell them what they are saying is actually harmful, like when they say "you're such a good person" or "I could never do what you do."

I am not a good person for dating my disabled partner. I am with Sascha because I love her, not because I am full of grace or doing what no one else would. 

Our relationship is no different from any other. We like to play video games, try new restaurants and explore second-hand bookstores. We live together, encourage each other and lift each other up just like any healthy relationship. 

These kinds of compliments elevate me for doing the bare minimum of being a good partner, while also ignoring what my girlfriend brings to the table. Comments that undermine the support and care that Sascha gives me is a disservice to both of us. 

She helped put me through beauty school, encourages me to strive for new goals and has nurtured my writing since the beginning of our friendship. Her impact on my life is visible, tangible, and no less important than the care I provide her.

When it comes to any relationship, there are good and bad fits between individuals. I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and there are many people who would be absolutely miserable with me. 

Sascha and I are a good fit, plain and simple. That alone is not worthy of praise, and I would much prefer people celebrate our accomplishments as a team rather than focusing on whatever they think I am sacrificing.

A loving partnership

Ableism is something that will always be directed at Sascha. 

There will be people who jeer when she has to stand up briefly from her wheelchair because the sidewalk is too broken. There will be rude men who pretend to ignore her at the record shop as they reach over her head to get to the album they want. There will even be doctors who consistently refuse to treat her symptoms.

Ableism is only directed at me through Sascha, and as her ally and partner I want to do everything possible to counter every instance I can. 

I don't want our relationship to be seen as unique. My hope is that someday our dynamic is normalized and celebrated simply for being a loving partnership.

Cal Simmons
Cal Simmons is a writer, cat dad, and hot mess based in Denton, Texas. He can often be found playing the same video game for the sixth time or reading.
Are you here? So are we!
Rewire LogoFor a better life and a brighter future
A nonprofit journalism website produced byTPT Logo
©2021 Twin Cities Public Television.Privacy PolicyTerms of Use