Revival in the City: Dilli, A Whole New, Wonderful (Inaccessible) World

A recurring series about navigating life in the city as a queer, disabled womxn, by Anusha Mishra

Fair warning: This column is going to be about Disability and sex, dating, relationships, sexting and disappointments. Rebellious, huh? No.

By Anusha Misra:

I grew up watching a show called Girl In The City (starring Mithila Palkar) and would dream of the day when I moved out of my house to a new city where I would meet someone and, of course, fall in love. A simple Calcutta girl had a simple heteronormative dream. The show follows the journey of Meera who arrives in Mumbai from the town of Dehradun to pursue her dreams and ambitions. As a 14-year-old, when I watched the show, the thought of accessibility never crossed my mind, not even once. Meera was confident in her steps, Meera could climb stairs, Meera could carry her luggage without any help, Meera could navigate the environment without her non-existent mobility aids slowing her down. As an impressionable teenager, I thought I’d be just like Meera. By denying myself my disabled identity, I now feel like I was unfair to myself.

The people around me didn’t help either. Relatives would say, ‘’You’re not disabled, you’re just lazy!’’ with boys I dated chiming in with, ‘’You’re too pretty to be disabled! My girlfriend can never be disabled!’’. Clearly, I would now barf at these comments. To recognize abuse in the form of ableism and find power in my identity took me 22 years.

I like to identify with myself rather than identifying with an able-bodied adult on screen, a conclusion which I’ve arrived at after a whole life led otherwise.

“I had the habit of naming rooms in my house after my moods. The room where I grew up was called the “depression room”. The bathroom was called my “happy room” because it had memories of warm showers and soapy bubbles on a sunlit afternoon.

The house I grew up in had a certain storybook quality to it. It was feminine, it calmed me down. Calcutta was home. The narrow lanes of Calcutta were warm and non-threatening. However, it is also where I experienced severe childhood depression, borne out of disability grief and self-loathing. I had the habit of naming rooms in my house after my moods. The room where I grew up was called the “depression room”. The bathroom was called my “happy room” because it had memories of warm showers and soapy bubbles on a sunlit afternoon.

I would often ask myself : Why was the moon bigger in Delhi? Why was love bigger in Delhi? Why was the sky bigger in Delhi? As someone from a small city like Calcutta, being just about 5 feet and having an intense fear of open spaces, I would look at the narrow (inaccessible) lanes of Champa Gali and the lights of JugMug Thela and wonder, ‘’Isn’t Dilli the loveliest place to fall in love?’’. Well, I was naive back then, with my eyes full of stars.

Please excuse my conditioning!

Growing up disabled, I have often perceived love and relationships as something terrifyingly inaccessible—from the man to whom I’d send daily feminist posts on Instagram (in the hope of ‘’training’’ him to become an intersectional feminist), to the person I was seeing for about a month, until I realized that they open up more on Twitter than they would ever open up to me.

Whatever it was, can I blame my conditioning, which mostly consisted of Carrie Bradshaw and her toxic love life? My first relationship was with a cis-het man who was overly obsessive and controlling. He started imagining the names of our future offspring by the 2nd date and made me meet his mother by the 3rd.

Our first date is worth noting. I was feeling particularly rebellious (undeniably, a result of my sheltered upbringing) and so I decided to get drunk for the first time with a stranger from Tinder. Soon, it was dark, and I was intoxicated with alcohol which in turn, made me think I was intoxicated with love (as it often happens). What ensued was cuddling, and a conversation between two hormonal horny teenagers. Cute, right?

He dropped me home, I began to see stars in his eyes and the rest is history. It was a cute, traumatic relationship. He gave back all the gifts I had given him during the course of our coupling, except well, my bra. I often wonder what he did with it. Did he burn it? Did he throw it? Did he give it to another romantic escapade? Does he still have it in the back of his closet? Well, who knows.

One conclusion can be drawn from above: Fake orgasms became my forte.

Clarrissa Pinkola Estes writes in her much celebrated book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, that women who’ve been caged their entire life, either because of childhood abuse or disability, grow up hungry. As soon as they taste freedom, they don’t know how to balance it with reality. They’ll often paint too much, love too much, work too much. I believe that I’m one of those women.

All my life, due to my disability, I’ve always felt like I’ve been missing out. And so, as soon as I entered college, I always engaged in extreme behaviours—I either studied too much till I got sick, drank too much (alcohol), and oh, the toxic men were many. My entire life, I’ve always felt like I had to somehow “catch up” to my able-bodied classmates.

Petition for Accesible Fashion:

Now that I was living alone in a new city, I had to book my own therapist appointments, learn how to be kinder to myself, learn how to make the right decisions, teach myself to work harder because we live in an able-bodied world where disabled folk constantly need to prove themselves. I no longer had mom to help me tie my hair, or attach the hooks of my earrings (I couldn’t attach them myself due to my disabled left hand). Petition for accessible earrings, by the way. I had to learn to ask for help from my hostel mates.

“One of the realizations I’ve reached, over the years, is that it is absolutely okay to ask for help, even if it’s something as simple wearing an intricate gown or attaching the hooks at the back of a dress.

I had grown up thinking that my disability made me inferior, weak, and asking for help would simply tarnish my reputation as I thought that I was already a burden by being around people. One of the realizations I’ve reached, over the years, is that it is absolutely okay to ask for help, even if it’s something as simple wearing an intricate gown or attaching the hooks at the back of a dress.

Loneliness and Disability:

As we enter our later 20’s, more than physical rebounds, we look for emotional rebounds—or as I like to call it, an emotional “quickie”—jumping from one obsession to another. As young women, we’re always taught to “settle down” quickly : As a result, I grew up craving security and searching for it in different men.

As I swiped on dating apps such as Hinge, where a man congratulates himself on ‘’putting down the toilet seat’’ and another bold man proclaims, ‘’Dating apps have brought about an era of feminism never before seen, we men have to put on a fancy show to impress women and pray to God that we get laid!’’ (I’m not making this up; I’m quoting it word for word), I realized that trying dating as a single person during a pandemic is, to say the least, brave and I’m certainly not brave (I inherently dislike that word due to being intensely patronized during my childhood days. People would call me “brave” for surviving an illness).

I cringe when able-bodied men on dating apps ask me if I would like to “go out” for drinks. Me, who has an immune system that is compromised due to a chronic illness, would scoff at that. Going out during a pandemic is nothing but an act of violence.

As our lives have gone online during a pandemic, so has love and sex. I’ve dated able-bodied men my entire life, and I’ve always been curious about sexting : How do I sext as a disabled woman? How do I inform my able-bodied significant other (who’s really into sexting, by the way) that the impossible sex positions he’s describing on text cannot be possible in real life because well, I’m…disabled? Does disabled-friendly feminist sexting exist, or is it just heteronormative able-bodied sexting? Am I a bad feminist? What is the intersectionality between sexting and disability? How do we meet somewhere in the middle? I’m not being too crude, am I?

In my only adult relationship, I felt like I was too dependent on the other person for validation and positive affirmations. After our whirlwind romance where parked car conversations would end up always being a trigger for me, I realized that I had always depended on the other person for acceptance and approval : Whether it was waiting for a text back, conditional happiness, or emotional dependency, I always sought a certain kind of security in the other person.

As a physically disabled woman, I feel like I grew up with overprotective parents (understandably so) and as I ventured out into the world alone, in a new city, I looked for the same emotional security in a significant other.

Until I found out that the only security I needed was within myself, loving myself has been radical. Fu*king myself has been radical. Exploring my body and its needs has been radical. Realizing my bisexuality has been radical. Respecting my own boundaries has been radical. Learning how to say “no” has been radical. Respecting my own emotional and mental peace after years of toxicity has been radical. Putting myself and my hardwork first has been radical.

Realizing that I’m worthy of life, of love and of appreciation has been radical.

My disability has certainly not been a gentle breeze, neither has heartbreak. I’d be lying to myself if I said that I accepted myself from the very beginning. My grief has been cruel to me. It has made me give up time and again and has made me pick up myself again from the bathroom floor because I was grieving about the loss of my mobility. I’ve tripped and fallen several times, bruised my body, hated my unstable balance. I always remember the faces of kind people who pick me up after I’ve fallen down, both physically and emotionally.

I promise I don’t examine all my behaviours to such an extent. Or maybe I do?

For everything else, whenever I feel lonely and feel the abandonment issues creeping in, I hug myself and my boobs very tightly, until I feel warm enough—because I’m my own emotional rebound.

Until next time,
Your fav disabled girl in a new city

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