By Emily Lopex
Photo by Loren Worthington
“It’s a little obvious,” he said. “You don’t have to work in the disability community just because you have a disability.”
My heart sank. I had just told him I interviewed for a position at a Center for Independent Living. I was always his biggest cheerleader, but he was so rarely mine.
His discomfort and pity towards my disability was oppressive. The more I revealed about my disability, the more I apologized. Like the disability was somehow my fault.
I got the job. It didn’t take long for me to see that I am an advocate in every sense of the word, but I struggled to reconcile my disability pride with my love for him. He was an ableist, rejoicing in the “disability superhero” fanfare while making offhanded comments that whittled our worth down to what he perceived we were actually capable of. While I challenged ableism in others, he had a space in my heart no one had ever had access to. I kept hoping for the day he would practice acceptance, but
that day never came.
Keep in mind that the person born with an unshakeable sense of self-confidence is a rarity. For many of us, learning to love ourselves and the cards we’ve been dealt is a life-long process, and not without stumbling.
In June 2014 we had our last conversation, a recounting of everything that had happened between us.
“I think your disability is a flaw about you that you need to get over.”
Those words echoed in my head long after he said them. I grieved them long after he was out of my life.
Within six months, I quit my job and decided to pursue a childhood dream of being a zookeeper. While he wasn’t the main reason I made that choice, I won’t lie and say he wasn’t a factor. He represented every slur, taunt and oppressive thought I had ever experienced. If I finally lived up to his expectations, somehow I’d finally let go of all the hurt I carried. So I denied my purpose and pushed towards this new dream.
I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror in the Herpetology Department, my body drenched in sweat from climbing in and out of reptile enclosures, when the repression shattered within me. I wore no makeup and my hair clung to my face in oily patches, but all I saw was my radiant soul as I realized I couldn’t give in to the negativity and summoned the woman within me who’s never given up, who never let go of the reality that she is worthy.
My disability is not my fault. It wasn’t, and never will be, something I have to apologize for or justify to another person.
I began to press into joy, to let go of what ableism had done to my soul. Ableism is a war worth fighting against. Never again can I stand idly by while society determines our steps and tells our stories.
Not long after that day, I was driving down the freeway to Phoenix, everything I owned loaded in the trunk of my car. Going back to my former CIL position wasn’t an option, but I could, by grace, start anew. Ability360 was the first place I applied.
Something in me has changed, been made new. There is a love out there that I will not have to earn. Although I once never believed that, I do now. And I will not have to qualify my disability in order to experience that love.
A Reader Responds
I have arthrogryposis in my arms and I knew I looked a lot different than other boys. I always talked to girls in my classes as I grew up, but I was always too shy. When a girl actually liked me, I never really truly believed it. In my head I was like “Why me? It’s a trick.” I probably blew a lot of great friendships and possible relationships because I never thought of myself as boyfriend material. I guess in my mind I never tried to be equal to everybody. I always strived to be the best.
I never thought girls would really like me because of my handicap but now as a 40-something, I realize I was wrong the whole time. In my late 20’s, I went all in with a woman and now we are 13 years into an awesome marriage. I always had the focus of success. I have every college degree besides a doctorate, but now I realize my young beautiful family is my greatest achievement.
Emily Lopex has a reputation for being overly assertive and an almost irrational love of the chocolate-frosted donut. Her legislative advocacy journey started at 15, under the guidance of teachers who wanted to curb her enthusiasm for debate (read: arguing openly in class) into something more productive. Currently, Emily is an active participant in the disability community as the Advocacy Support Specialist for Ability360.
Reach Emily at AskEmily@ability360.org with your stories of love and life.