Disability, women and love

Junko Asaka speaks candidly about her own experiences of being in love and being a woman with a disability, revealing how she came to terms with her own perceptions of herself. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/toolsforpower/tools25.html

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It is the most natural thing in the world for a human being to love someone. It springs from the most basic human instinct of all - preservation of the species. However, for me being physically disabled, loving someone was always fraught with great fear and pain. Nevertheless, I couldn't deny my natural emotions and have loved many men since I was young. It took me a long time to learn to express my own feelings and live naturally without fear and also to have confidence in being loved myself. Now I have been in love with my boyfriend for nearly three years and realize, if you don't love yourself you can't love anybody else.

When I think about my past life, I realize I was treated negatively from the moment I was born; "What a pity!", "How can she be happy with that body?", "You should never have been born.". As I grew up I completely lost my self-confidence and couldn't love myself at all. When I was twenty years old I became involved with a group of disabled people who were trying to live independent lives. The ten years following I struggled to work through the deep sexual problems I had accumulated through the lack of recognition of myself as a sexual being while growing up. Almost all people with disabilities are confronted with this problem. Many of us develop personality scars because of never having been acknowledged as a true man or woman. We therefore build up great illusions in our minds about marriage and male and female roles.

My disability

I was born with a bone malfunction which was characterized by stunted growth and bone fragility. It is a very rare condition and so far, neither cure nor treatment has been discovered. I have had more than twenty bone fractures and subsequent operations. I spent one fifth of my life in bed wearing a plaster cast up to my chest, during my primary school period. I find it difficult to describe the harshness, both in words and actions, of the doctors who treated me during this time. These awful experiences have left their mark on me.

I'm now involved in "co-counselling", a form of peer counseling and therapy which attempts to clear blocked emotions through reliving stress situations and releasing the blocked energy. I am an ardent believer in this method and active in disseminating it throughout Japan. After such a session, problems come into clearer focus. When I relive past experiences in these sessions, I am astonished by how much I must have suffered when I was young. I have never felt comfortable about my body. On the contrary, it was always the cause of pain and suffering and because of it I was pitied, denied and despised most of the time. I never received compliments. Despite all the complexes I had to cope with, on reaching puberty and entering adolescence I discovered my own potential for sexual relationships. I then entered into relationships not because I loved but because of my need to be accepted. During this time I never felt any satisfaction in love, but I accepted that this was the only path open to me.

Relationship with my first boyfriend

The relationship with my first boyfriend (if I can call him that) started on shaky ground, neither of us daring to communicate verbally with the other. It was not so important for me to attract him mentally, but I always felt great anxiety about my tiny misshapen body being physically attractive to him. It was so important for me to feel accepted by him. We therefore spent a lot of time together exploring eroticism. It was a typical male/female relationship, the woman as sexual object, the man judging her by her appearances. The time I spent with this boyfriend reflected such habits and was very painful to me. I was afraid to ask him to use contraception and of telling him I didn't feel any satisfaction from our relations. The need for my body to be accepted was so intense, it distorted this impulsive young act imagining it to be love.

Recently I read a report about prostitution. It detailed how many girls involved in prostitution had no financial need for doing so, but that they had been sexually abused as children. I think there is a lot of truth in this. Harsh experience paves the way for a woman to allow herself to be treated as a soulless sexual object. When I reflect on my first relationship it saddens me how I was treated merely as an object and that I couldn't assert myself as the woman I am. Out of my many painful memories, there is one story of abuse by medical personnel that I would like to share now.

Behind closed doors

Before starting primary school, I had to have an X-ray examination. A radiologist asked my mother to wait for me outside the room. That was unusual. He then told me to lie down on the cold X-ray machine. He took my underwear off with such authority that I didn't dare protest. That was also unusual. I felt great fear and anxiety. Then he abused me sexually using a metal stick, all the while whistling and looking as if he were enjoying himself. I could neither scream nor tell mother afterwards about the dreadful violence. This affair left me deeply scarred.

This is one great danger we disabled women have to face. On one hand we are denied and insulted as women but on the other hand we can easily be raped. I really wish to point out to people with disabilities that we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by such hard situations. There is no limitation on our ability to love. We can even perhaps achieve a better, deeper and more honest kind of communication through our disabiliyt and learn to live our lives to the fullest. But in the meantime we are very dependent on the sensitivity and humaneness of medical personnel. To enable us to develop more positively we really need medical personnel who are self-confident and mature. I sincerely hope for more of this type in the future.

About my marriage

After I split up with my young lover, I lived together with a disabled man for nearly six years. This relationship was the first step in learning to love myself. However I didn't ever consider marrying him, because I didn't believe that marriage would improve the low status we had in society. But on the other hand I believed in my own mind that if, I married an able-bodied man, this would be my passport into normal society and would lessen the discrimination against me.

In 1983, after I finished my six month course of study in the United States, I told myself, "This life I only live once, so I should live it how I want to." At that time I had a strong desire for marriage and soon after started to live with an able-bodied man. My life with the disabled man finished with his kind words, "You must live as you think best." Later I realized how different living together and marriage really are, and his parting message came to mind.

The proposed marriage with the able-bodied man was opposed violently by his parents and our relationship ended after eight months or so. Now I'm glad that they opposed the marriage. However at that time I was so surprised, disgusted, angry and sad. I began to realize how distorted the current marriage system was with its discrimination and lack of humaneness. Traditionally in Japan, being a good wife required obedience to the husband's family. The love and hope of the couple came second. The capacity to bear children was the woman's greatest asset. I didn't fulfill any of these expectations so I was completely rejected by my fiancé's family. If the marriage system depends on the notion that a man and a woman have to have fixed roles in society, it is extremely difficult for us disabled people to be part of that system.

Even if we had been able to be married without opposition, we would soon have realized that we couldn't have a balanced relationship because of the social inequality of the sexes. For eight months I took on the role of proper housewife and was treated as his wife by all people except for his family. Before we decided to marry, he looked after his guests by himself and I was able to keep up my old habits. However, after deciding to marry, I felt that I was responsible for the care of his guests and should therefore change my lifestyle. Even being called by his name seemed to me to be destroying the sense of my own identity.

Through all these experiences I realize that I am discriminated not only for my disability but also for my being of the female sex. In Japan, we believe that marriage is a passport to join society. However, my desire for marriage has completely disappeared since I became aware of how much our society is based on sex discrimination. Of course, I wouldn't question anyone's attempt to create a balanced relationship for themselves through living together, but as a means of recovering from my pains, it is very comfortable for me to meet my boyfriend just three or four times a week. It took me a long time to come to the realization that only we two can decide how to love each other. Now we are trying with love and trust to live what we have learned. 

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