Because I Can’t Stop Talking About It
I wanted to hate the Sundance Channel’s latest reality series, Push Girls, about five paralyzed women living in Hollywood, especially since I’m in the process of finishing a memoir about my life as a quadriplegic. With so many stories of other women in wheelchairs surfacing at the same time, I felt threatened. But after watching two episodes, I am reminded that it is just another show with coerced plot lines and storyboards. I’ll begrudgingly admit, it’s entertaining. But before able-bodied people believe everything they see on TV, here are some truths. Push Girls can be praised for its brave beginnings but let’s not be quick to stereotype the thousands of other wheelchair users living in the real world.
An Able-Bodied Person’s Guide to the Paralyzed:
1. There are two main categories—paraplegics and quadriplegics. Paraplegics are the lucky ones who only lose function in their legs. They have full use of their hands and are usually the ones showing off, doing cool tricks down the steps in their tiny pushchairs. Depending on the injury level, quadriplegics lose function in their legs but also parts of their arms, and sometimes even their breathing abilities. Quads, for the most part, drive electric wheelchairs, not to be confused with rentable scooters found in theme parks.
2. Paralyzed people seem overly confident because we are. We think of ourselves as the highest form of disability, the elite. We don’t have a disease, nor were we born disabled. That’s why we’re so gung ho to show you everything we’re capable of doing at any given second (witness Push Girls’s Tiphany pumping gas like she’s Kim Kardashian in a Carl’s Jr. commercial, or Auti, constantly — and awkwardly — dancing in her wheelchair, proudly donning rims with flashy dollar signs).
3. Only on reality TV do wheelchair people hang out together. In real life, the unspoken rule is that we avoid one another. Handicaps hanging out with other handicaps create a scene, not to mention the tangled logistics. Four or five wheelchairs on one sidewalk or in one room? What a nightmare. Why do you think we get our own roped-off section at sporting events? It’s because we are large and take up too much space.
4. Beautiful people injure their spinal cords too. Yes, some wheelchair people are attractive, which can be confusing to able-bodied narcissists. Get over it.
5. Paralyzed women do not — should not — ever wear high heels, even though it seems sexycrazycool on TV. The realities of squishing your toes into pointy boots are pressure sores and muscle spasms, both very unsexy. Shame on you, sexy Push Girl ads.
6. No one wants to imagine disabled people having sex, but it does happen. Now let me ask you the question I frequently get: Can you have sex?
7. Not all wheelchair people want to “do it themselves.” I gladly accept help with opening doors, preparing food — any opportunity I see fit. Call me lazy but wheelchair life can be difficult. Why make it harder by turning down assistance? It’s only a reminder of, um, oh yeah, I’m disabled.
8. If you think dating is hard as an able-bodied person, imagine it sitting down. There’s no hiding our baggage. Our wheels are up front and in your face. On the bright side, not too many people want a one-night stand with so much responsibility at stake. Thus wheelchairs make for excellent asshole repellent.
9. Being paralyzed does not make you question your sexuality. Thus, Tiphany is a confused lunatic (which is great news for the show!). You’re the same person you were before the injury, just immobile. Sorry to disappoint, but becoming paralyzed neither inhibits nor enhances your personality. If you’re wondering what these people were like before their injury, close your eyes and imagine them standing. Ta-dah!
10. Not everyone is injured in a car accident, and sometimes how someone is injured affects their attitude towards their disability. There are those that have broken their backs/necks diving in shallow water or participating in X-Treme sports. I was injured while performing a stunt show at Sea World, doing something I absolutely love. Others are injured by someone else’s wrongdoing. WARNING: These people rightfully have some resentment and may not be as friendly about sharing their stories. These people also often feel a need to prove something.
11. Paralyzed people are on the edges of their wheelchairs about this reality show. While it’s exciting to have this kind of exposure on the disability, I’m dreading the backlash. So let me request two things: don’t ever call someone in a wheelchair a Push Girl or Boy. And remember that Push Girls is a reality show first. Until the real difficulties of paralyzed living are showcased, like the indignity of having to use a tiny, able-bodied bathroom stall, it should not be taken seriously.