That’s nice of you.
Today in Philadelphia, hundreds of people are gathering for the city’s first ever Disability Pride Parade. With this in mind, I am going to share something I have been thinking of for a couple of weeks.
Recently, there was a photo circulating around Facebook. It's a snapshot of a young couple ready for prom. The she's an attractive young woman, as is the young man, decked out in their finest formal wear. So why is this picture circulating around Facebook, asking for shares and likes? Because the young man has Down's Syndrome, and apparently, the fact the fact that this young lady, who is very cute and probably popular, would go to prom with a guy who has Downs is an anomaly.
She took a boy with down-syndrome to the prom with her. How many "likes and shares" for this beautiful picture?
Thousands of armchair activists and PC loving people hit the “Like” button, celebrating this “inclusion.” However, few of them gave a second thought to why they “liked” it and what it really says…
My senior year, I was in love with a guy we’ll call Highspeed. Highspeed did not return my affections and asked another girl to prom. It happens. It happens to a majority of teenage girls. But in my head, the reason he didn’t “like me like that” was because I had arthritis.
So with Highspeed out of the running, I asked a boy named Matt. Now Matt was a boy I had loved my junior year (oh our fickle teenage hearts). I asked him to go “as friends.” Matt had a girlfriend at another school, but her sister went to our school and her sister “told her about me.” Apparently feeling no impending threat of Matt making out with me at prom, she said that he could go “as friends.” At the time, it didn’t really bother me because in all reality, Matt was a placeholder. Even though he was a helluva lot more fun and better looking than Highspeed, I was more concerned with why Highspeed wouldn’t take me to prom than why Matt could.
Until I heard about Ken. I’ve known Kenny since kindergarten. He lived on my block. He knew me before I “got sick.” He knew me when I ran around, climbing trees, riding bikes and chasing boys around the playground. He also watched as I began to walk funny, transfer schools and eventually began using an electric wheelchair. When he saw me in the neighborhood, he still said “Hi” which somehow made me feel like I was still “normal.”
Fast forward to a few weeks before prom, Ken (he stopped being Kenny sometime after Freshman year) and Matt stood on the cement steps outside of the school’s main entrance, smoking their cigarettes and waiting to be let back into the building because they had skipped a class. Being a neighborhood school, everyone knew each other so Matt and Ken were friendly. Making conversation, Ken says to Matt, “I hear you’re going to prom with Deserae.”
“Yeah, just got my Tux,” Matt said proudly, he was a sophomore going to senior prom.
“Well, that’s nice of you,” Ken replied.
That’s nice of you. I have never forgotten that. Luckily, I was too wrapped up in the high school drama of Highspeed and his date (and the fact that she wasn’t me) to worry about Ken’s comment. Plus, what Ken didn’t realize was that Matt knew that he was my stand in and we really were “just friends.”
Prom night, Matt showed up at my door, looking extremely HOT in his black tux and teal cumber bun, wearing Oakley shades and smelling of Drakkar and I must say, I was looking pretty sassy with my fancy up-do, little black velvet dress and platform heels. The hall looked beautiful, with silver stars and royal blue napkins. "A Night to Remember" hung on a banner over the DJ. Matt was fun and as the night went on, even tried to hold my hand, bump and grind and, eventually, kiss me.
Guess I was more of a threat to the girlfriend than she or Kenny thought.
However, due to my habit of wallowing in my own heartache, I spent most of the night watching Highspeed rather than returning Matt’s advances. And somewhere, in the back of my mind, a little voice kept reminding me that Matt was just “being nice” and I didn’t need him to do me any favors.
I have never forgotten Kenny's simple, off-handed comment. And unfortunately, even now, when dating, I sometimes hear that voice in the back of my head, “That’s nice of you.” I wonder how many people still think that, when they see me out with a man, when they see anyone out with a disability dating someone without. I battle that voice. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think. Until something like the Facebook prom photo gets 12,000 Likes and counting and I am reminded that regardless of how far I’ve come in accepting and even embracing my disability, the rest of the world still has a long way to go.