Humans are innately social creatures. A strong part of each person’s identity stems from how we were nurtured by our parents and how successfully we assimilate into our assigned peer groups. For most people, this is a natural process; however, many disabled people fight a life-long uphill battle towards acceptance let alone full inclusion. But, let me emphasize that this dilemma isn’t simply an issue of discrimination! While a factor, discrimination is but one aspect of a very complicated problem. We won’t address this issue now. What we will address however, is one by-product of social disenfranchisement, human touch.
Yes, I said human touch. Like breathing in and out, most of us take human touch for granted. Most of us, myself included, were lucky enough to have at least one loving, nurturing parent. From our earliest bonding experiences with mom as an infant suckling her for nourishment; to, having her fix our boo-boo’s while consoling us; to, sitting on daddy’s lap, for better or worse our initial sense of worth is in large part defined by the quality of those experiences.
The other component is how we interacted with our siblings and friends. As anyone who has brothers and or sisters can attest, roughhousing is a part of life among siblings. Although roughhousing is borne from sibling rivalry which may initially stem from competition for mom’s attention and affection, nevertheless, we learn lessons from it. What feels good and what hurts. If roughhousing goes too far, we learn boundaries between fun and pain. We also begin to learn compassion. A child can’t be expected to sympathize with his brother writhing in pain until it’s his turn. That may not be the politically correct thing to say but from my experience I believe it to be true.
Heading into our teens, friends and peers greatly influence one’s sense of worth. Puberty is a bumpy, hazardous, transitional bridge from childhood to adulthood. Acne, body hair, body odor, first crush and subsequent first heartbreak, and more provide a veritable minefield for a developing adolescent. Whether in the form of a playful punch in the arm or pat on the back, teenage boys console each other through these masked acts of kindness. On the other hand, as far as expressing physical affection is concerned, teenage girls are culturally allowed to be more affectionate with each other through: hugs, kisses, and pajama party pillow fights. By engaging in these forms of welcome physical contact, one can feel connected to their peers at a time when others, who don’t forge bonds easily, are overwhelmed by this transitional phase.
Now, imagine being an adolescent, having a severe disability, and finding a peer group at a regular school. That was my task. Moreover, having spent my grades K thru eight in primarily schools for the disabled, I was suddenly thrust into a high school where I was the lone wheelchair student. Not only did I have trouble dealing with “regular students” but they seemed likewise hesitant in their encounters with me.
While I was there, my main objective was competing academically. However, on some level, I hoped to find a subgroup or clique that would look beyond my wheelchair and accept me into their fold. Finally, in the late stages of my junior year, a group of guys called the “Cowboys” took a liking to me for some reason. While this was a step in the right direction, what I secretly ached for was female companionship and touch.
Yes, whenever rolling through the quad invariably I would witness a girlfriend and boyfriend engaged in some sort of subconscious bonding ritual. Whether it was holding hands, kissing, or playfully spanking each other’s bottoms I envied their closeness. At the time, I felt myself particularly intrigued by the spanking activity. However, lack of social maturity prevented me from understanding why I secretly yearned for a girl to spank me with a smile. I discovered much later in life, among certain people, spanking by members of the opposite sex, releases “good feel” endorphins which trigger a pleasant, sensual, calming sensation, which given my perpetually high stress level, I was in dire need of.
As it turns out, my biggest obstacle to happiness is my own mind. In the eighth grade, I got up the nerve to tell a girl in my class that I liked her. She not only laughed at me, she said that “boys like me should be castrated soon as they know we’re not normal.” For a number of years after that humiliating episode, I was mired in a logic trap of letting my C.P. and speech disability double team my desire to take a chance whenever a female seemed interested in me.
The two little devils on my left shoulder always muffled the little angel on the right. The guys on my left always told me that girls and women would both laugh at and mock me if I dared to venture outside my crip social stereotype. You know, equal but separate. With each passing year, my little angel increasingly influenced me ever so slightly. However, knowing what to do and having courage to follow through are two different issues. In the next post my first tentative steps towards finally incorporating sensuality into my life at age 36.