I am a multiply disabled gay dude with lefty-queer feminist politics living in San Francisco. Last year, I made the decision to put my health (my mental health in particular) first. That meant ending a long relationship that had come to an extremely unhealthy place. It was the hardest decision I had made thus far. Before I began my road to recovery, I embraced my single life with vigor: I partied, I was ecstatic, I was charismatic, I dated several people at one time, I didn’t hold my liquor, I was high as a kite, I had uneventful encounters with men, led men on, I smoked cigarettes like I was born with one in my hand–and I knew, fun as all of this was, that the gig wasn’t going to last much longer.
While I was highly aware of what I was doing during this period and have no regrets whatsoever, I wasn’t putting my health first. I needed to come to a stable place in my life after all the noise and drama of the previous four years since my diagnosis. In order to do so, I made the tough decision to pull out of the bar scene for a while. Being single and gay in the city dovetails with being in a bar or club. Fun as the scene is, my path to recovery butted heads with meeting potential paramours in loud, sweaty bars. I chose to be alone and invested time in friendships and my work. I was never a heavy drinker, but drinking and staying out until 2 AM was no longer an option for me. Doing so would not give me the steady sleep pattern that I now know I need in order to control my mental stability. But that was how I met men in order to go out with them–perhaps that is how many of us meet potential paramours. It isn’t an option for me anymore, however, and I am more than okay with that. Tempting as it can be, I am no longer up for a lost weekend. It was hard to pull back from all that fabulous wild abandon, but once I found my way to health, good things happened. I am now published, which is something I thought would not happen for a long time.
I am the most stable I have ever been in my life; I quit smoking recently, and decided to be out as an activist with bipolar disorder. It has been a happy time of great clarity. Eventually, I felt ready to actually start dating again. I joined an online dating website and have had a few fun dates. Meeting for coffee or tea is great, hiking is fine, and going to a movie can be fun (although I don’t like whispering during movies with someone because I am hearing impaired; you do the math). Although I am having fun and have been quite productive in getting my life in order, I have also had to face some great anxiety and fear over disclosing my mental health status. I have always been out and proud about myself, but I did not foresee that coming out as bipolar in my writing would bring up complicated feelings towards controlling how I tell a potential partner I have bipolar disorder.
So, what is it like being multiply disabled and single? I’ll start with being hearing-impaired. I have worn hearing aids since I was five years old, so I have learned how to navigate the ableist nature of society in regards to hearing and deafness. Mainly, my experience as a hearing impaired gay man has dealt with annoyance of barely being able to hear people talk over the music, which can be very exhausting at times. The real fun starts when guys learn that I am hearing impaired.
The interactions I have had tend go in three different directions. Men either react:
1.) Maturely and normally, even somewhat considerately. It’s nice.
2.) Offensively and annoyingly; this often consists of the “can you hear me?” question, either mouthed to me or said at different decibels to test my ability. The idiot does this for his own amusement. It’s not cute, honey.
3.) And then there are the ones who react bizarrely: deaf wannabes, pretenders, and hearing aid fetishists. Some are well meaning. Usually, they begin to automatically start signing to me and I have to break their hearts by telling them I don’t sign. Others are so bold as to ask if they can try my hearing aids on, to see what it would be like to be deaf (I’m not deaf and this doesn’t really make sense). Sure, dude, try on my $3,000+ hearing aids and see if you can hear those EDM beats clearer.
After a lot of practice, I’ve found that I can work with these reactions. Disclosing I’m bipolar to someone after a few dates, however, will be new territory for me. If someone were interested in me and were to Google me, they would most likely come across my two articles where I disclose that I am bipolar. I don’t go into great detail about my history or experiences with it, but it is there and I have no control over them finding it in web search results. This makes me nervous, because disclosing that information to someone you are getting to know on an intimate level is a big deal. Why is it a big deal? Because it can lead to rejection and a reduction of your being to a clinical diagnosis; to be rejected for something that is part of who you are is painful. It hasn’t happened yet, because I have yet to meet someone I am interested in; still, the likelihood of it happening is always in the back of my mind. I realize though that is what it means to be an out activist with bipolar.
When I came out as gay, I did lose some relationships with people I loved and had to face a homophobic society, though that is changing to an extent, some internalized aspects of this do manifest in coming out as bipolar. Still, I have to fight the stigma by being open about it. I have to accept that being honest is scary, but it is still brave. You cannot be brave without being a little scared.
To be honest, being accepted by a potential partner also makes me anxious. Why, you ask? Well, let me spell it out. Someone who is a “fixer” will interpret your dating profile and past history as a “Help Wanted” ad. While help and support is great and necessary in all relationships, for a fixer it is about “fixing” your partner. We can’t be fixed and most of us don’t want to be. I also am wary of fixers because I firmly believe that most of them experience their relationship with disabled partners on dependence. This relationship dynamic is outright dangerous. The media saturates news stories with misconceptions of the mentally ill being violent, sick individuals; in reality, people with disabling mental illness(es) are statistically more likely to be subjected to violence, even by partners or caretakers. Often, those roles become one in the same. Sadly, I know about this situation all too well. I am a survivor of mental illness and I am a survivor of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, and experienced both at the hands of a boyfriend when I was 19. I can spot a “fixer” now, and quickly deflect any attempts to engage.
Before I pulled out of the bar scene, I was briefly seeing a guy and when I was explaining my diagnosis to him he fell asleep. I am pretty sure that was because he was drunk, or I am just the worst, most boring storyteller ever. Despite that lighthearted anecdote those painful experiences in my past are part of the reason I am an activist and why I have to be honest about myself. Perhaps I won’t have to explain myself as much to people after they read this. Even if I do, even if I am rejected, even if I am not, I have to realize that although I am healthy, negotiating my reality with a predominantly ableist, homophobic, and neuro-atypical world is something that has to be done. How else would anything change on the larger scale if it doesn’t on a personal level? Anxiety is part of my process of challenging the stigma of mental illness and the injustice that envelops our world. I see that my transparency about who I am is one way to address this. Putting my health first has led me to this point. Scary and exciting as it is, we can only be transparent with others if we are brave and honest with ourselves. That is the starting point for great change and great ideas. And let’s not forget that the great revolutions of our time have always started in the form of ideas from people who are no longer scared to be anyone else apart from who they are, on their own terms.