Shivangi, 27, lives in Delhi and is a consultant, artist and a traveller
Prettiest girl in the town if..
Love can be a complicated feeling when you have a disabled body. In my adolescent mind, I always thought that people would only love me out of sympathy. Would I have the same people in my life if I wasn't born with a disability? Would the people around me treat me differently if I was able bodied?
I often remember a moment in my middle school when a girl told me that I could be the prettiest girl in the whole school if I adorned fake prosthetic legs. I didn't really care for her opinion on my body or my choices but that comment stayed with me for a long time.
Now that I think about such moments in my life, I don't think my disabled body could ever fit into the society that we all grow up in. I cannot make my body uphold the expectations of getting an education, a job, then marriage and giving birth. I don't have to follow this typical and let's be honest, quite a boring progression of life to be authentic.
My first love and now..
Therefore, it was never about ‘coming out of the closet’ for me, I always knew that I was queer. My sexuality was the most ‘normal’ thing for me in my ‘abnormal’ world. The first time that I fell in love with someone as a 12 year old kid, the gender of that person was hardly a concern, only the fact that they were an able-bodied person who never saw my disabled body as lovable.
And even today, while I am in a meaningful committed relationship, what matters is how much in love I am with this person and how we can be there for each other.
Nikita and I met online in June of 2018, and we connected in the most cosmic and magical of ways. The love between us is cute and sexy. The love we share is easy, comforting and kind. But love also needs constant work, understanding, and growth.
Our story is not like those that you see in Bollywood films where actors pretend to have disabilities. We are a non traditional family defined outside the rules dictated by our prevalent culture.
Our first date
On our first date, the most important thing that we did was to respect each other’s struggle and experiences, but at the same time giving the space to let the stories flow out naturally instead of asking intrusive or triggering questions about the past. This is something that we have continued to practice and the keys are patience, affirmations and of course a lot of affectionate cuddling.
As a disabled, queer and trans* couple, we are constantly aware of the fight it takes every single day to exist in this society that only acknowledges a nuclear family structure with legitimate blood bonds.
My relatives do not understand the connection between me and Nikita, and even though they have never created any problems, we are still always ‘friends’ in their eyes.
We know that friendship is also an extremely meaningful bond that our socio-political environment overlooks. We must remember that this is the kind of society that recognises documents and papers as the only admissible source of who the person is, instead of the person themselves.
For example, our government issued disability certificate is the most valid proof of our existence, rather than the presence of our disabled bodies and experiences. The percentage of disability outlined in that certificate will define the amount of benefits that we can access, instead of our socio-economic status. As if people around us check our percentage of disability before they decide if they should discriminate against us.
In such times, we always need to ask ourselves who we hold near and dear to us, because as we know very well, the personal is political. We cannot talk about relationships without considering the revolutionary, political act that love and friendship is.
Love should not be defined by the imaginary or literal borders, whether it be a country, a gender, a blood relation, a religion or caste. Love is borderless, it is a community feeling, not a competition of who is winning at it or who has achieved the most of it. And love is definitely not a capitalist holiday of flowers, chocolates and ornamental hearts that only comes once a year in mid-February.
Names have been changed and the person in the picture is a model.
Love Matters, in collaboration with Rising Flame 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 several pieces authored by women with disabilities giving us a sneak peek into their lives.