My boyfriend and I have been together for about five years. He is able-bodied, and I walk with canes. He’s never been phased by my cerebral palsy (CP) and actually seems to enjoy assisting me throughout our life together, such as carrying my laundry, tying my shoes when there’s no place for me to sit down to tie them myself or dreaming up ways to make activities accessible for the two of us — something that I appreciate and feel is quite nice.
Not wanting it to ever seem like he may have been hiding it, my boyfriend was very up front with his parents about my moderate cerebral palsy after our first few dates. I’m not sure why, but they were immediately devastated that their son would choose to date someone with such a permanent, restricting condition, which they assumed could only ever negatively affect his life. Although we have met a few times over the years, for the most part, I have been kept on the outside of their very close family. They refused to accept or acknowledge my being in their son’s life. I’ve faced discrimination for my disability before, but never had it held in such a constant position, dictating a large aspect of my life.
Only recently have they begun to come around to the idea of our relationship and allowing me to participate in family activities. I’ve only ever wanted them to get to know me as more than my CP. Simply put, here are 12 things I wish they understood about me:
1. I’m in love with their son; he’s my best friend.
2. A disability is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not optional, so I have to live my life.
3. My disability is a part of me, but in a lot of ways, I am just like everyone else, and thus, deserve to be treated as such.
4. But the things that make me different (I’ll never dispute the fact that I am different) have also made me a stronger and a more open-minded person with a unique perspective.
5. I will never be completely bedridden and dependent.
6. My having a disability will not get in the way of their son’s career.
7. My disability is not genetic; I have just as much chance of birthing a child with disabilities as anyone else.
8. If they have questions about my condition, or me in general, they should just ask me.
9. How they have treated us, as well as the at times outrageous assumptions they have made about my abilities, or lack thereof, have hurt me in ways I never expected.
10. However, I am not going away, so we should just work on, at the very least, coexisting.
11. I love the love their family has for each other, and all I’ve ever really wanted is to be a part of it.
12. They have raised two smart, great men with an endless ability for love and compassion, which should make them proud.
I came face-to-face with my boyfriend’s parents this weekend for the first time in about four years, since I was a plus-one at a retreat thrown by his family’s business, with the intention of reintroducing me to his parents. Although they were not the most welcoming, we’ve made progress in that they politely tolerated my presence. Not wanting to rock the boat too soon, I didn’t approach them about these things or their concerns — speaking for myself for the first time — but I’m not giving up. I’ll respectfully bide my time at family events until, hopefully one day soon, we are comfortable enough with each other to have an open and honest conversation.
This is the only thing I can think to do. Fighting and rudeness would only give them a real reason to disapprove of me. And obviously, hiding didn’t work because you can’t get used to someone you never see. I hope my dream of being accepted will come true with time.
Originally published on The Mighty.