Would you go out with a disabled man
10 questions to ask a woman in a wheelchair that you would never dare ask yourself
Laura Gehlhaar, 33, likes to go out, had a heavy tinder phase, is sarcastic and works in a coworking space in Kreuzberg. So far, so Berlin-normal. She has been in a wheelchair for ten years, which is perfectly normal - just often not for people around Laura. To change that, she writes on her blog Mrs. Gehlhaar about her life as a wheelchair user in the big city. About how able-bodied and disabled people get along, or how their disabilities act as an asshole filter when data is collected.
Or she collects the stupidest sayings she gets to hear for a wheelchair bullshit bingo: "Should I push? I once did civilian." Or: "I couldn't do that." By the way, her first book was published in mid-September, the title of which is based on one of these bullshit slogans: Is there anything else you can do?
Laura says she has no problem with her disability — just that people are so biased about her and treat her like a curiosity. And that comes from the fact that very few people with disabilities know - or do not dare to ask them questions. We'll catch up on that here.
VICE: Is the sex different?
Laura: Everything goes with me. And what does different mean? Sex is not "like that" or "like that". It's not just in and out, but a thousand other things. Everyone has to see for themselves what they like and how they can live it out with their partner. As a person with a disability, you inevitably have to deal with your restricted body and know it well. You have to be more creative, try out a lot of things and develop a very good body feeling in the process. That makes the sex better. I don't know if I'm particularly great in bed. But no one has complained so far.
This is Laura | All photos: Schall & Schnabel
Do you say you are in a wheelchair on Tinder?
Clear. I'm not writing an essay about it now. But you can see that in pictures. And underneath a photo in a wheelchair I wrote: "It's almost like sex with my wheelchair: it squeaks, I moan." I had a summer that was a lot of tindering, and a year later I had a Tinder spring. I didn't want to find a life partner, I just wanted to fuck. Of course I got to know a lot of Luschen, but also really cool guys. And at some point there was someone with whom I am still together today.
Were you afraid that someone might just want to sleep with you out of curiosity?
I'm not afraid. But of course something like that happens. Quite often. There is curiosity. Many want to tick their list, try something new. But you can quickly see that in this excessive interest in the disability. Then they want to know everything about my illness.
Is love different when you need help from your partner?
My friend is my friend and not my carer. But you are already pigeonholed. My boyfriend is automatically branded as the caring, the great hero, just because he has a girlfriend with a disability. Sure he's great. But not because he's with me. Of course he'll get something off the shelf for me and is my extended arm. But I also help him. I am also caring and his strong shoulder. We are a team. There is no stronger one.
Do you ever use your wheelchair?
Clear. If there is a huge queue at the post office, I am happy when the woman at the counter waves me over and the others have to wait half an hour. I am also a notorious latecomer. I can push that onto the wheelchair: "Had to wait a long time for the elevator," I say. Or: "The train was too full."
Do you come to every club because the bouncers don't dare to turn you away and do you just roll past the queue in front of Berghain?
Clear. I've done that a couple of times. But now I don't know whether it worked because of the disability bonus or just like that. A trick that always works in club queues: I drive up right to the front and ask — although I already know that very well—: "Sorry, can I get in here as a wheelchair user?" Then they say: "Of course, come in, come!" Always works. But it also happened that I was turned away at the door because of the wheelchair. The bouncer said that no one could guarantee my safety in the club. I consider this security aspect to be an advance. I don't want anyone to patronize me. I can tell that there are still very few disabled people going out from all the thumbs-up sayings I get: "It's great that you go out too! Respect!" The hottest are guys who kneel in front of me understandingly, support their elbows on my leg, according to the motto: Look here, I have no fear of contact. And then, first question: "What happened to you?" I always clap them on the shoulder and say: "In flirting, grade six."
Is it bold to ask what exactly is wrong with you?
No, I'm already open. But if you don't know each other, then that shouldn't be the first question. That's impolite. My health is private. I also don't ask at the beginning of the conversation: How was your bowel movement? But when I am familiar with someone, I declare that I have a muscle disorder. It's normal for people to be interested, but get to know me first. It's similar with disability jokes. If a stranger does this, I find it inappropriate. But I love jokes about illnesses myself. For example: what does a schizophrenic say after sex? [snorts even before she answers] So who was I?
What's more annoying: When people stare at you or when they look away?
Both. Both come from an insecurity that annoys me. This happens because most of them don't know of any disabled people. If they were part of our everyday picture, this uncertainty would not exist. But as soon as you get a diagnosis in Germany that results in a disability, you slip into a system that makes you invisible to the rest of society. You go to a special kindergarten, then to a special school, then to a workshop for the disabled or to a special dormitory. In Germany you don't grow up with handicapped people, you are not confronted with them. That's why I get all these looks: the interested, the staring, the admiring, the pitying. Or people look secretly, like in a traffic accident. Like, I know I shouldn't be staring, but that's so interesting. I know that people have to stare first so that people like me will be saved as normal at some point. But when someone stops in the street to watch me, it's annoying.
Do you mind the smile of strangers - and unsolicited offers of help?
Nope, I think, especially in Berlin, people are allowed to smile more. And I always like offers of help as long as I have the space to decline them. Touching it without being asked, for example, is not possible. But like to ask me. Sometimes I will say, "No thanks," and then the subject is ticked off.
Are there moments when you hate your fate?
No. But there are moments when I am desperate because I am being discriminated against because of my disability. For example when people judge me without knowing me. "The poor must have a sad life," something like that. I used to think: "Shit disability." Now I think: "This is my body. It shaped my personality. I am good as I am." But it pisses me off that disabled people don't have equal rights under the law. An example: Disabled people who are dependent on an assistant in their daily life have to go to the social welfare office. Like Hartz IV recipients, you must disclose your account and must not have more than 2,600 euros on it. If I had such an assistant, I would only be able to keep just under 800 euros of my income. That's why I don't have one, even if my life would be a lot easier if someone would help me with shopping and cleaning.
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