Editor’s note: “The only time you can say I’m wheelchair bound is when I’m playing the lead role in Fifty Shades of Grey” was a meme we put out to illustrate our disgust at the phrase “wheelchair bound” used by the non disabled community. Maria R. Palacios agreed that it was one of her biggest peeves. This is her opinion on it. Bravo, Maria! Bravo!
Years ago, I modeled for a photographer in New York. He was working on a project that involved women with disabilities. One of the pictures he took of me required getting tied up to my chair with a rope, hands behind my back and submissively looking at the camera. He called this picture “Wheelchair Bound.”
While my sensual energy does not call for the kinky side of sexual expression, the experience of being tied up to my wheelchair made me realize that such position is the true meaning of “wheelchair bound.” Yet, the term wheelchair bound is casually thrown around as a way of referring to somebody in a wheelchair.
Many nondisabled people might find it difficult to associate a wheelchair with something positive. Many fear the sight and the thought of a wheelchair as part of their lives. Growing up, I remember noticing how people in wheelchairs were always portrayed in movies and telenovelas as either pitiful bitter self-loathing individuals whose only goal in life was to walk again, or as the villains of the story who end up in a wheelchair as the worst possible outcome of their own actions. This pretty much feeds the erroneous assumptions about people in wheelchairs and fuels the negative attitudes towards our realities which, more often than not, are far away from the bitter cripple idea or the evil person whose disability is some form of punishment.
Break the Image of Being Wheelchair Bound
Part of my personal mission as a writer and as a poet is to help forge a positive image of the disabled body and challenge the stereotypes forced upon our differences. The poem below is one I wrote a few years back and its message of sexy empowerment represents viewing disability through the lens of self-love rather than the “wheelchair bound” perspective of things.
My Sexy Disability
My disability is sexy
sexy like Incan sunsets
that paint oceans and skies
and awaken the moon in your eyes
when you’re with me.
My disability is sexy
sexy like the uneven curves
of South American mountains
sexy like rose petals and red lips
fields of eucalyptus and pine
dreams of a derailed spine
and the smell of sex
between my poems.
sexy like coffee and books
cream and sugar to taste.
Go ahead and read my page.
My words are dragonflies and shooting stars
the ridges of my scars
and the Grand Canyon
of my cleavage.
and upper body strength.
I can arm wrestle you but
not in bed.
In bed I am feather and wind
the imperfection of bones
that speak of beauty in quite tones
and don’t get loud
until you love them.
My disability is beautiful
sweet like arroz con leche
like the scent of mint.
I am cinnamon and sin.
I am my own Ave Maria
Catholic girl gone bad
21st century Frida Kahlo
I paint my sexiness with words.
And my sexiness scares you
But I don’t bite
you want me to
because the sexiness of me
is wild beast
it’s north and east
and every other direction.
It is forest and desert
plains and hills
the Amazon Jungle
Wheelchair bound is an oxymoron
To me, my wheelchair is sexy. It is a part of how I move and how I share myself with the world. To call myself wheelchair bound would not be representative of how I see myself as a woman with a disability, my uniqueness, my dancing wheels. To call a wheelchair user wheelchair bound is oxymoronic since the whole purpose of a wheelchair is to offer mobility and independence.
Still, I know there are those who will not necessarily understand this concept, and that also includes some wheelchair users whose relationship with their wheels has not yet reached the love affair stage. Is there such thing? I think so. I really do believe that those of us who reach a point of self acceptance and positive body image will eventually develop a loving relationship with our wheelchairs.
There is nothing more depressing for wheelchair users than experiencing the absence of our wheels. When a wheelchair breaks down, is when we truly are “bound” imprisoned, limited and confined. Yet, social views of disability continue to suggest that people with physical disabilities should envision themselves able-bodied in order to be “whole.” Through my own quest for positive self-identity, I have learned that it is important to be able to imagine ourselves the way we dream of being without necessarily changing the disability aspects of who we are.
No matter what our disability may be, there has been a time in our lives when we have either wished we were not disabled or wondered what life would be like as an able-bodied person. While I think such feelings are part of the process of adapting to the permanence of disability, socially unrealistic expectations of beauty feed the monsters of ablelist oppression which discourage having a positive view of ourselves in our disabled bodies. Our personal journey for self-identity has to include being able to envision ourselves powerful and sexy and desirable without negating our right to claim our differences as positive aspects of who we are.
Being called “wheelchair bound” is not a positive term for our sexy selves.
We each have to find our own way of reconciling with our bodies. Positive body image stems from our ability to do this. Words and thoughts are very powerful conductors of energy. We must take a look at the way we refer to our bodies and the language we use to refer to ourselves. Do we call ourselves demeaning names or use language that implies pity or shame as it relates to our bodies or aspects of our disabilities? Do we ridicule our appearance or make statements that suggest we are inferior to able-bodied people? Do we settle for definitions that suggest we are inferior, imprisoned or unworthy? Do we EVER speak about our bodies with love?
Changing the language we use to refer to ourselves and our disabilities from negative to empowering is important because doing so will also change the way other people refer to us and relate to us. I challenge each one of you to peel off the labels you have been forced to wear through terms like wheelchair bound and other negative language that gets adopted by the cultural evolution of political correctness.
I challenge you to redefine disability through the power of love, to rename your wheelchair from confining and binding to the soaring spirit it is capable of becoming shall you embrace it as such. I challenge you to feel the wind beneath your wheels.
“Wheelchair bound” is not something that accurately defines people in wheelchairs, but rather how we are viewed through the lens of the fear driven myths that imprison us. If you are a wheelchair user who uses the term wheelchair bound for self-definition, may it be because you ARE into sexy kinky expression and you are purposely and willingly tied up to your wheelchair sharing the best of your sensuality with a lover. May you remember that even then, you are still in control of your life and your wheels knowing that wheelchairs are not binding. They are liberating. They are empowering. They are SEXY!
What do you think about the term “wheelchair bound”?
About our contributor:
Maria R. Palacios is a poet, author, spoken word performer, workshop facilitator, polio survivor, public speaker and professional presenter who uses the power of her words to motivate and inspire her audiences. Her work centers around women’s empowerment and she has extensive experience in the field of social justice, disability and feminism, sexuality and self-esteem. Maria R. Palacios is the author of a now out of print feminist collection of poetry, The Female King and has also published multiple works including Criptionary, Disability Humor and Satire, and two empowerment journals for women and young girls. Maria is the founder of Houston’s Annual Women with Disabilities Empowerment Fair and currently serves as the Community Outreach/Information Coordinator for the Houston Center for Independent Living. Her involvement with the Disability Rights Movement takes her back to pre-ADA advocacy as Maria was one of the Capitol “crawlers” in the now epic ADA march of 1990.
You can find Maria on these social platforms.
Leave your comments below. In fact, be audacious and share this article with your friends. Disabled or not, our bodies to belong to us and we should be proud of that. Do you want more articles from Maria? Let us know. Comment below. Twitter.com/goddessonwheels
You can read Maria’s other post about our bodies and their boundaries here.
A special thank you to Priya Bains for sponsoring this post! Woo hoo!
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