“For women with disabilities, the path to discovering our sexuality is a lonely one,” says Nu Misra, 24, from Delhi.
Describing himself as an activist, Nu, who has an acquired physical disability, says they are simply trying to break the narrative built around people with disabilities – one of pity and praise.
“We have all been enlightened time and time again by a society that refuses to truly recognize and listen to the voices of the disabled,” they say in a conversation with The best India.
The instances of their adolescence made them aware of the “otherness” that people attributed to them.
“I noticed that people’s gaze changed when they looked at me in airports, grocery stores, shopping malls… So I learned a trick to deal with it. I took my glasses off whenever I was in a public place so I wouldn’t notice them staring at me.
Nu adds that while the trick worked perfectly with strangers, their brains started searching for that “look” when they were 18 and started going on dates.
“I was obsessed with having my date accept me for who I was,” they say. It wasn’t until this realization hit that Nu realized that society had created insensitive stereotypes that revolve around people with disabilities and their sexuality.
“I don’t want to be complained about”
As a queer disabled person, Nu’s sexuality has been questioned time and time again. They were often viewed by society or even by their peers as “too disabled” and “too weak” to have sex or engage in sexual intimacy, they say.
They also note that growing up disabled isn’t the easiest thing, especially during adolescence. “People with disabilities are often taught that only a certain type of ability is capable of being attractive, falling in love, getting married or settling down.”
Nu says that because of this worldview, they began to doubt each potential partner’s affection when it came to relationships. Slowly an unhealthy pattern began to emerge.
“I would date the very first person who would accept me for who I was, even if they were grossly incompatible, controlling, condescending and chauvinistic. I once even stayed in an abusive relationship for a year and a half just because I never thought anyone would accept me for who I was.
“It wasn’t until later that I realized I was settling into almost all of my relationships,” they add. “I was content with anyone who accepted me and my disability regardless of whether they were abusive or were actually meant for me.”
And while sometimes it was the partner who was toxic, Nu says other times it was the family.
“Families don’t want their children to date disabled people.”
Having dated able-bodied men throughout his life, Nu would notice how their families quickly became “concerned” about their sons choosing a disabled woman. When Nu shared her concerns with friends who are also disabled, they realized it was a common problem.
“I realized that able-bodied people are terrified of disability,” they say.
“It’s a very common feature,” Nu says, adding that they’ve seen cases where a friend’s boyfriend immediately broke up with her when she started limping because of her disability.
It was even their own case.
“I dated someone whose mother told him I wouldn’t be a suitable partner and that he ‘shouldn’t get into any of this’. She then started comparing me to another family member in a wheelchair, even though she had never met me and didn’t know what my disability was.
These harsh realities, cruel as they are, changed Nu for the better. Today, as they are more informed and more sensitive, wary of the kind of criticism they let in, Nu shares a piece of advice.
“When you’re in a relationship with a disabled person, listen.”
“Don’t assume and make room for your partner’s disability in the relationship. There is a difference between dependence and agency. Help them only when they need it,” they say.
Another thing to keep in mind, Nu says, is that you’re doing your disabled partner a disservice by helping them. “It’s not a transaction. It’s a relationship.”
But as Nu navigates the intricacies of sexuality and dating, they say what they inherently wanted to do was rewrite the script that the company had set out to make. They wanted people with disabilities to tell the story as it is, without the patronizing gaze of society.
So, in 2020, Nu launched a Revival Disability India platform to take the first step towards achieving this.
A sense of belonging
“I believe there is power in the dissent of people with disabilities,” they say, pointing to the trailblazer behind Revival Disability – a community where people with disabilities have a safe space to share and engage with others.
Nu says the very act of forming a collective of people with disabilities in a country where they are extremely invisible and dehumanized was an act of dissent. “I was creating my own space of collective joy, a space that honored my disabled creativity and spoke my language.”
Another reason behind starting this business is Nu’s belief that no one should feel alone.
“I had to navigate my way to my identity on my own. I had a speech impediment and was the only visibly physically disabled child in my class. I never felt like I belonged. ‘one of the educational institutions I went to,’ they say.
So, for anyone who feels different and lost, Revival Disability is a space where they are simply allowed to be and exist, however they choose.
The team now consists of three people and focuses on regular mental health check-ups and sharing circles. The community has grown over the years to become a safe space where many people with disabilities feel part of the bigger world.
As for Nu, they are content to have created something that touches on an issue close to their hearts.
“I decided that if the company didn’t allow us to be at their table, we would bring our own accessible chairs with armrests and lots of cushions.”