In addition to being a full-time awesome person, Sweta is an MBA turned writer and disability rights activist who stumbled upon comedy quite accidentally; just like the other things that she stumbles upon while walking with crutches. Through her endeavours, Sweta aims to construct accessibility and initiate inclusion in people's buildings, minds, and lives.
A swipe in time
It all began around this time last year. I was about to swipe left on him, this boy who changed the way I feel about myself, but then I saw that his profile which read, ‘ABC | XYZ | Feminist…’ ‘Feminist, haan,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m sure it’s just for the swipes. Let me mess with him for a while.’
You’ve got to stick around until the end for me to spill all the beans, but for the record, yes, he did turn out to be a feminist.
By this time, I’d stopped playing hide-and-seek with this world that made me feel like I didn’t belong. I’d finally started posting pictures of myself with my crutches on dating apps and owning my disability in the oh-so-intimidating dating world. In the conversations that I had with M after we matched, we addressed the elephant in the room. Yes, he began with the cliche, ‘Aren’t we all disabled in our own ways...?’
But he also spoke about how conditioning plays a role in how one perceives disability. I discussed how ableism impacts my life and he listened patiently. He did not un-match. He stayed to have more conversations.
The start of a flawed-yet-unique relationship
After a few days of sporadic texting, he finally asked me if I would like to meet him. I wasn’t my most confident self back then, so I immediately responded, ‘I’d like to, but are you sure?’ He replied, ‘Of course! You’re so beautiful and funny!’ Past experiences had taught me not to believe anyone when they said that, but this felt tad more honest.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the first time that a guy who knew about my disability had called me beautiful. And actually meant it. He had no qualms about calling a conventionally ‘disabled’ woman beautiful. ‘Wow, I’m actually talking to a boy who knows what he wants!’
I told my then-therapist with child-like enthusiasm. Umm, yes, that’s what ableism does to you. It makes you question your self-worth and doubt everything good that’s happening to you.
We met and we had (what I’d call) a good first date. He was intelligent, had an endearing smile that made me blush, and a melodious voice that soothed my anxious nerves. He’s a phenomenal singer, and he sang some songs that he had recorded for me. To top it all, his punches were so witty that they made me chuckle unexpectedly.
He was also nervous about meeting me, which I thought was cute. We’d spoken about how conditioning and stereotypes make us say and do things that we don’t mean to. So, during the conversation, when he referred to me as a ‘rockstar’ I immediately called him out for it, and he made sure to never say it again.
Within a couple of weeks, we started dating. The relationship wasn’t perfect! But I’m not here to talk about its masala movie elements. I’m here to talk about how this flawed-yet-unique relationship changed something in me that I didn’t know needed to be changed.
Falling in love with myself, with a little help
When you live with a disability, you want to be with someone who looks beyond the narrative that society has chosen for you. You want to be with someone who loves you with your disability, not in spite of it. M did just that. He didn’t victimise me for being vulnerable about my disability, nor did he glorify me for going about my day as any other thirty-something-year-old.
I am what you’d conventionally call ‘overweight.’ I don’t hate my body, but I’ve never been comfortable with the way I look. Waking up to messages like, ‘Hey, beautiful’, and being stared at during video calls, even when I’m not wearing kajal, made me fall in love with myself a little more.
It was those simple acts of love and affection that challenged the complex notions of ableism inside me. He was on his own journey of unlearning, which made a world of difference.
A few days ago, when I was chatting with another boy from my past, I referred to myself as ‘hot’. The old me would have worried about making a fool of myself by doing that, but the ‘new’ me, who has felt acceptance from a partner, didn’t hold herself back.
Yes, it’s strange that it took a man to make me feel comfortable in my skin and challenge my own notions about disability and beauty. But self-love doesn’t come naturally to us, at least not in this capitalist society.
So, this Valentine’s day, instead of giving in to the offer that your favourite brand is luring you with, do some unlearning, and repeat after me - ‘Disabled bodies are desirable and loveable.’
Once, I remember telling M, ‘I’m sometimes so anxious about not being able to reach the restroom in time, I’m scared I’ll wet my pants— shit, why did I tell you this? Will you break up now?’
‘I’m not going anywhere!’ he reassured me. Our relationship didn’t end up lasting too long, but its impact will stay forever. Disabled or not, find yourself someone who likes you even when you’re about to pee your pants.
Rising Flame in collaboration with Love Matters presents a series of essays on love, intimacy, relationships and disability. Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar is an effort to amplify voices of disabled women; narratives on love that seldom are seen in mainstream discussions on romance. Starting February 14th, we will be releasing four pieces authored by women with disabilities giving us a sneak peek into their lives, dreaming and hoping for the possibilities of love.
To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model.