If you should know anything about me, it has to be the fact that I LOVE dancing. Now, that in no way means that I can, but there are few things that I love more. The festive season brings with it many nights out, and with them come many, many weird men approaching me in clubs. I’d love to think that all of the attention I get is due to my stunning good looks or my sensational dance moves, but people make it all too obvious that it’s only due to my wheelchair.
After an impromptu night out with some friends earlier this week, we sat in McDonalds on Grafton Street and laughed about the night we had just had. A friend then expressed how absolutely shocked he was to see the sheer amount of middle-aged men drunkenly come up to me and prey on me because of my wheelchair. I usually try no to think about it, but since somebody else had expressed their concerns I thought about it and became instantly depressed about the whole thing. It can range from weird looks on the dance floor to men offering to buy me drink because I’m “the prettiest girl in a wheelchair [they’ve] ever seen” (yeah, somebody actually said that to me), but the point is that I can’t remember ever going on a night out without something along those lines happening.
Earlier that night, I had encountered a few different examples of the creepy drunk men that can be found lurking in the clubs of Dublin: I received a good few handshakes and pats on the back, just few of many non-verbal ways of saying “well done for leaving the house, look at you living life, God bless!”, as if I’m the first person they’ve ever seen using a wheelchair. Of course this bothers me, but if I were to get worked up about every creep who paid attention to me because of my wheelchair, I’d never spend more than 5 minutes in a nightclub. I do, however, get upset when these men think they’ve doing me a favour by trying to dance with me.
I’m not great at dealing with unwanted attention, and I usually just turn around and divert my eyes, but that gets a bit difficult when the men try to initiate physical contact. That night, while I was dancing with a small group of my friends, a man kept trying to grab my hand, so my friends immediately to my left and my right took my hands and formed a circle in an attempt to keep this man out. He seemed to lose interest and he wandered off after a while, so thinking it was safe and we were in the clear, my friends let go of my hands and we just continued having fun. The man saw an opening, rushed over to me and kissed me while I wasn’t paying attention to him. I was shocked, and still am, that men think it’s okay to do that. And I know it’s not just a problem that girls who use wheelchairs face, but I feel that the wheelchair instantly makes me more vulnerable to inappropriate advances.
These experiences make me extremely wary, and so when any man makes eye contact with me in a club and walks over, I tend to just jump to the worst conclusion, even though I don’t know his intentions. As I said, I’m bad at dealing with the male gaze and unwanted attention – or any attention, whatsoever.
A week or so ago, I was on a different night out after finishing up with college for the Christmas break. I was having a really great night with my friends until a drunken middle-aged man approached me. He leaned down and tried to talk to me over the music, but I wasn’t in the mood to have my night ruined by some weird ableist comments or flirtations, so I waved him away. He seemed really intent on telling me something, and so he took my friend aside and spoke to her instead. I later asked my friend what kind of nonsense the guy was saying, and she told me that he actually seemed like a really nice guy and told her that his younger brother had recently been in some kind of accident and would have to start using a wheelchair, and that he was worried about his brother’s future and his happiness, but seeing me dancing and laughing and enjoying myself with my friends gave him hope that his brother could be just as happy.
That comment meant so much to me, and I hope that I’ll always think of it whenever I’m out dancing. Especially when I feel anxious about doing so because of the men I’ll meet along the way. Out of all the nights out I’ve had, and all of the drunk men that have approached me, that night and his comment are the only ones worth dwelling on.