The summer before his junior year of high school, Evan Monod (COL ’15) had his first serious girlfriend. Monod has cerebral palsy which affects his balance, so he uses crutches when walking.
“Early into it, she just asked me, ‘So, does everything work?’ I’m like, yeah! Yeah, it works,” Monodsaid. “But I’d never been asked that before. It was really awkward.”
Living with a disability, Monod admits such intimate and even rude questions are not uncommon.
Lydia Brown (COL ‘15) agreed.
“It would be considered inappropriate for me to ask a non-disabled person, ‘So, what’s sex like for you? Have you had it? Do you even know what sex is?’” said Brown, who is autistic.
The prevailing attitude in American society toward the sex lives of the disabled is a mixture of both stigma and lurid curiosity, according to Brown. Among the most commonly searched for terms that led readers to her blog, “Autistic Hoya,” are “Can autistic people have sex?” and “Is it possible for autistic people to have children?”
Brown said that the search queries on her blog speak to a deeper issue regarding disabled people and sexuality.
“Just like anyone else, disabled people can be sexual beings. Disabled people can also be asexual, just as non-disabled folks can be,” Brown said. “But there is a really long history of desexualizing disabled people by assuming we are incompetent, that we do not have agency and that we are incapable of articulating or comprehending desire.”
Brown says that among her disabled friends, just as many will be romantically involved with a non-disabled partner as a disabled one. And in her past romantic relationships, the joys and challenges she and her partner had were not necessarily because she is autistic, she said.
“Just like in any relationship, the same things can come up,” she said.
If both partners are disabled, the greatest challenge may come from competing access needs — for example, if one partner needs to be left alone several hours a day and the other desires much more socializing.
“People act surprised when disabled people are in relationships,” Brown said. “But in reality, the differences between disabled and able-bodied or neurotypical are not so vast,” Brown said.
Brown added that a disability should be treated the same way as other human characteristics like race, ethnicity and age.
“I should be looked at just like anybody else,” she said. “You shouldn’t be fetishizing me because I’m Asian, you shouldn’t be fetishizing me because I’m small and you shouldn’t be fetishizing me because I’m disabled. … If you are, then you are the one with the serious problem, not me,” she said.
But on the Hilltop, the challenges facing disabled students come out of malice but rather a lack of understanding, Monod said.
The greatest relationship challenge he faces is getting “friend-zoned” — essentially being seen as a friend and nothing more.
“I’ve had many first dates here, and none of them have really gone anywhere,” Monod said. “Most of them end with, ‘You’re a great guy, but …’”
“One girl said, ‘Evan, you’re a great guy, but I don’t think I can take care of someone with your needs,’” Monod recalled. “I’m not asking you to marry me! I’m just asking you to get coffee or something. You’re not going to be a nurse — you’re going to be a friend or a girlfriend.”
In looking for a relationship on the Hilltop, Monod doesn’t cite his disability as the greatest obstacle, but it certainly doesn’t make things easier in a hookup culture where physical intimacy often precedes the emotional.
“I’m a liberal, progressive person. But for me personally — I guess I’m old school — but I can’t have physical intimacy before emotional intimacy,” he said.
Monod looks for someone who he will get to know personally, tearing down whatever barriers stand in the way.
“I’m an open person emotionally. Maybe not physically, but emotionally, I am very available,” he said.
“I’m also available,” he quipped.