At 21 I came out as bisexual. A week later, I was diagnosed with Osteo Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer in my ankle which resulted in a below-knee amputation.
Not only did I have to navigate dating as someone who was newly bisexual, but also as someone who now had a disability.
As someone who has now dated while able-bodied and while disabled, I will go out on a limb here and say that dating with a visual disability eats ass — and not in the good way.
My experience of dating with a disability has been a learning curve for me and for the people I’ve dated. So I thought I’d share some advice if you’ve found yourself about to go on a date with someone with a disability and don’t know how to be.
Here, I’m going to share my top three pieces of advice to keep in mind when dating someone with a disability.
1. Your initial convo shouldn’t include the question: “So, what happened???”
About 10 minutes before I sat down to write this, a new message notification popped up from Tinder.
“I love your tattoos”. We were off to a great start. He then asked if I lost any tattoos when I lost my leg — which I had and thank God because I ended up hating the tattoo I had on my ankle. They then followed up straight away with “can I ask you something awful, I’m sure I won’t be the first one?”
Straight away, I knew exactly what they wanted to ask.
“Is this all you want to talk about?” I asked, and their response was “curiosity does kill”.
He got me, he was right. Curiosity does kill and it had just killed that conversation.
Now don’t get me wrong, as someone who is very open about their disability — so much so that my bio reads “sense of humour 10/10. Legs 1/2” — always talking and having to answer questions about my disability is exhausting, especially on a dating app.
The question that always remains in my head is whether people are messaging me with genuine interest in me as a dating potential or just to cure their curiosity and be provided with an entertaining story about how it happened. Although, I will admit I do fuel that sometimes, especially on Grindr, by telling every gruesome story you could think of.
Someone even believed it was from a monkey scratch in Bali. If you do want to see more stories that I have made up for people, there is a whole story highlight on Instagram dedicated for that.
It becomes despairing when you are genuinely trying to date and all someone wants to know or talk to you about is your prosthetic leg. Expecting someone to share their medical history or relive an event that may be a traumatic one is fucked.
We know you’re curious, we get it — so are we.
There’s a time and a place. My best advice is if you feel awkward, scared or uncomfortable to ask, then don’t. They’ll tell you themselves if they feel comfortable in doing so.
2. Don’t take an amputee on a date somewhere that isn’t accessible
Although I am quite an active amputee, I still do have some accessibility issues and every amputee’s requirement may be different. If you are dating an amputee or someone who has a disability and planning to go on a date, it won’t hurt to double-check if they have any accessibility requirements.
When I was a new amputee, I had some issues with my prosthetic and couldn’t wear it for a short time. I once went on a date with someone when I was using crutches. It was after watching Lizzo play at The Forum.
I had drunk a little too much to drink to the point where I was not only physically legless, but also legless in the intoxicated sense.
He invited me to a cute bar but failed to mention that there were three flights of stairs and no elevator. I was fine getting up them, but on my way down my crutches yeeted and so did I. Down three flights of stairs.
He ended up deleting me on all dating apps and never messaged me again — even after I’d fallen for him (literally).
So after that, with no thanks to Lizzo, I was not feeling “good as hell”, I learned my lesson to make sure that locations were accessible for me on a date.
And if you’re taking someone with a disability on a date, you should as well!
3. Don’t be a saviour
I have found myself on many dates with people who think they are there to help me. I may be on my last leg, but I certainly don’t need someone’s help or need them constantly shadowing me trying to do everything as if I was incapable.
Often people devalue our abilities and it can be quite frustrating — sometimes even embarrassing — when the person you’re dating assumes we need their help.
Dating is already a vulnerable situation and doing this decreases our self-esteem and makes us feel like we cannot do things without someone’s help. If we need help, we’ll ask. Wait to be asked rather than stepping in like a saviour if you’re not needed in that instance.
The most important thing is to treat them just as you would treat anyone else: with respect.
James Parr is a proud Wiradjuri man, activist, model and writer. Follow him on Instagram.