My Disability As Seen On Tinder

I’ll call him Max.

“Would you judge me if I had no tattoos?” he asked. I instantly smiled at his first message. He read what I wrote on my profile: “I’m totally going to judge you if you have a live, laugh, love tattoo.” It also meant he read what I wrote two spaces underneath it: “And hey, disability is beautiful.”

I hover around that statement from time to time, not fully standing by it. There are days when I’m convinced that it’s not true at all. Being on Tinder isn’t the best way to check its validity, I know, but I was determined to find a guy who saw me as both intellectually and physically attractive through the most unconventional way for someone with a disability. I use a scooter and I have anorexic-looking arms. In a domain in which men judge you so much on looks, I wanted to prove to others and admittedly to myself that I have dating potential.

I know I do. And yet I possess that basic human desire for amorous affection and attention. I don’t know how men think of me when I’m out and about in the city. I think some may be confused or surprised to see me at a club or even at such a mundane place like a café. People with disabilities do exist in all sorts of areas within society, but oftentimes we’re seen as detached, not fully incorporated into able-bodied people’s lives. I wanted to dismantle this stigma.

I’m quite transparent about my disability on Tinder. I’m aware that among other reasons, I have to be for my safety. There are too many stories of a man turning violent when he alleges that the woman doesn’t reflect her online profile picture in real life. I only have two photos of myself on my scooter. While it’s true that I transfer onto a different seat wherever I am (restaurant, movie theater, etc.), it’s still a bit hard for me to see myself on a scooter I didn’t use for most of my life. I suppose I hesitate because it’s a physical representation and reminder of my deteriorating muscles. There’s this one photo that I recently found that I prefer over the one where it’s clearly evident that I use a scooter. I mainly cringe at the latter because I feel like I look fat in it. I uploaded the photo I preferred along with my selfies before Max and I started talking. He and I gushed about Steinbeck and where we’re from. Soon after he mentioned that we should go to my favorite restaurants. This is exactly what I wanted – a guy to find me, the whole me with my disability, beautiful, as my friends, family, and I already did. I looked at my profile along with the photo of me on my scooter as if I needed to confirm that Max was really talking to me. Then I questioned myself – did it look clear that I have a disability in that photo? From the angle in which my friend took the picture, my legs and my scooter don’t show so someone could say that I look “normal.” I decided to quickly replace the photo with the one where it’s clear that I use a scooter. Immediately afterward, Max stopped replying.

I fully acknowledge that Tinder is mostly used for hookups, which I wasn’t planning on doing. Still, it would be a lie if I said that I didn’t care at all if no guys swiped right on me. Tinder is an addicting game that’s tied to your ego: as soon as that “It’s a Match!” page lit up, so did my ego. I realized though that guys who solely liked me based on my looks despite me using a scooter didn’t make me feel good either. In fact, it made me feel gross. There I was, designing a thoughtful profile of myself and carefully divulging my disability when some guys didn’t even see it at all. On Tinder, my disability is either completely invisible or something that’s too apparent. I don’t know which is worse.

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