When I was asked to write this for Don't Dis My Ability, I had writers block. It came from realising me planning a wedding is just like any other bride to be planning a wedding. Love doesn't discriminate.
I will be a bride in March. Although my parents encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be, I never thought I'd be a bride. I tried dating for many years, but it was hard to meet a man who was ok with my severe skin condition – Ichthyosis.
But in just three months time, I will walk down the aisle in front of friends and family wearing a very traditional dress and declare my love for Adam, a kind-hearted, funny, handsome man who loves and cares for me as much as my parents.
When it was suggested I write about planning my wedding, I experienced writers block. Apart from procrastination, it took me a while to put my finger on it. Then, as I was completing bridal registry cards, I realised the reason.
It's because my experience planning a wedding, and my anticipation for the big day, is probably no different to my engaged friends who don't have disabilities.
Like them, I'm scouring Pinterest for floral inspiration. I'm emailing jewellers on my lunch break, compiling the perfect reception playlist (full of bogan Aussie rock, please!) and ensuring my hens night is phallus-free. I've been trying to exercise (read: buying a lot of active wear) to prepare my bridal body. That's counteracted by our cake maker friend offering Adam (my fiancé) and I sample trial wedding cakes each time we see him. And my fiancé and I are saving frantically. Weddings are expensive! But so exciting.
There are a few adjustments to make me comfortable on the day (lighting and heating in the venue, and a cover up for my arms), and a hairdresser that will make me feel beautiful, but more importantly, Adam and I want the venue to be accessible for our guests. We've got lots of friends with disabilities - and we want to make them feel welcome and comfortable. We are making a statement about marriage equality - in our ceremony - mentioning same sex couples, people of colour and people with disabilities - because sadly, inequality still exists across these groups. Even if our guests didn't have disabilities, I still think it's important to show we value accessibility, by choosing an accessible venue and making a statement about equality.
It’s often assumed loving relationships do not apply to people with disabilities. In my circle of friends, that’s far from the truth. Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog with tips for moving in with your partner. I shared the post on Facebook and the commentary below it made me beam. All of the comments were from my friends with disabilities, expressing their love for their partners and offered advice. They suggested things like creating rosters to share the housework, and writing love letters to surprise your partner. As cliched as it seems, the romance they wrote about was the same tummy flipping, heart bursting, lusty love that my friends without disabilities feel. Their love was diverse, proud and open. It made me so happy.
Outsiders often view getting into a relationship as the holy grail for people with disabilities. They see it as a big achievement, because disability is often portrayed as undesirable, unattractive even. Love is, in my experience, sometimes harder to come by because of disability, but not impossible. Parents hope that 'normal' will be their disabled child finding love and having a family when they grow up. My parents never wanted this to be my ‘normal’ – they encouraged me to find success in other ways, and I did. When I stopped chasing the relationship dream and came to love myself, I found my love.
My writer's block disappeared when I thought of all the things I love about love - they're universal.
Finding someone you love and who loves you back is the ultimate validation.
Love to me is finding a person who doesn't look past disability but sees it as part of my identity. Love between two disabled people or a disabled person and able bodied person is something to celebrate. Not because it's an achievement or that they have somehow overcome the odds but simply because it is beautiful.
Love is not less or more deserved because of disability. Love for us is not different to love for our able bodied friends. It's not something to be surprised about either.
Love is love.
And I can't wait to declare it to Adam in front of my family and friends next year.