“Honey, don’t look” – the invisibility of being disabled and butch

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Young stylish disabled and butch person with a lip ring and short hair. They have a serious facial expression.

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“Honey, don’t look” – the invisibility of being disabled and butch

Being disabled and butch brings on a strange invisibility of its own—a personal essay about relationships with girlfriends and strangers.

To move through the world as I do is to be invisible, and for the most part, that is a gentle kindness. The world notices my fluttering entrances and refuses to meet my eyes, so I  am left to shuffle through this permeable isolation. In the small space my disability gifts me, I have found a way to be my own person. A delicate balance between my butchness, my whiteness, and my disability acts as a glamour; their eyes pause to contemplate the sight of me, and after a moment of tension, they slide past silently.

My mohawk occasionally garners a comment, but for the most part, I am left unscathed by the world. Men do not harass and catcall me as I walk down the street. Store owners do not follow me or monitor me for shoplifting, irregardless of the trouble I may be actually causing them. It is as if the world did not know how to designate a young, white, visibly gender non-conforming, disabled person, so it just deleted me from the code. I don’t know when it started, with the bright lavender cane or the punk, butch clothes, or the general look of a pained existence, but the only contact I get from the world is the cold sense of disdain.

At some point, I stopped watching their eyes grow cold as they scanned my body for its brokenness – my eyes turned downward, focusing on swinging my cane in time with my steps.


Read moreI have a sexy disabled body and I’m not afraid to use it!


The courage to face the world has bled out of me over the years, drained by lovers and strangers alike. I used to date a girl who would forget how slowly my legs carried me and would walk far ahead, still talking to empty space beside her [ my actual presence less important than the idea of it] . She would rush back to me startled and apologetic each time. I would smile and brush it off with a wire brush, and we would resume this accidental race.

No matter how many of these races we ran, she would always manage to put her foot in her mouth again: “Is it strange I see people with canes and find them attractive now that I am dating you.”

Where do I fit into that?

Does my actual presence matter at all in this? I smile again and brush it off -the wires stained with flecks of my blood at this point.

Once when she was sick, I made the trek to her attic bedroom to care for her. When she had to dash down two flights of stairs to vomit, I stayed put knowing if I went down to help her, I would be unable to get back up to her room. Upon her return, she said, “I gotta say I felt abandoned, that you didn’t come down with me.”

To exist as both butch and disabled means to balance the expectations of masculine strength with the actual weakness of my body. I loathe to even frame it as weak, but women expect a butch to be firm and protecting and constant. Disability is anything but consistent.

“I don’t think you understand how much it takes from me to watch you be in so much pain, so often,” she said one day, as I caught my breath between spasms of agony.

She said it like we are commiserating against the shared enemy of my body, as if I am not my body and all of its brokenness as if I’m not exhausted too.

At some point, after we stopped dating, I started walking with my chin up, no longer worried of abandonment, of how far ahead of me she and the rest of the world were. With a bit more courage sitting in my spine, my face turned up to meet the sun, and in return, I saw a sky of disgust.

For the first time in a long time, I realized I wasn’t being mercifully given space.  I was being pushed to the edges – with looks that tried to banish me, fetishize me, save me all at once. I can feel their eyes on me as I walk, but when I look up, I am met with only the last wisps of contact. Sometimes the isolation pervades me so profoundly that I wonder if I am merely an echo.

Can you see me?

Every seat on the bus is full, and I am one of the only people standing, struggling, and stumbling.

Can you see me?

My knees buckle, but the fear of asking for help remains solid in me.

Can you see me, sir?   Yes, you sir, the one pretending neither of us exists as you sit in priority seating.

Can you look me in the face and see me?

I know it is useless. Men don’t offer me seats unless I look identifiably feminine. Instead, he continues his game of “I Spy: Not You,” and I focus on remaining upright until mercifully I reach my stop.

As I walk down the busy street, I do not have to weave in and out of the crowd. I thought they were kind, giving me room to use my cane, to exist. I did not know how viscerally people avoided me until a few months back. I was walking with my current girlfriend, her arm linked lovingly in mine and gently guiding my clumsy movement, she said to me:

“My dear, you must be Moses because, despite your best efforts to drown in the crowd’s wake, they part for you like the sea.”

“Well, then I guess this must be his staff” I joked, gesturing to my bright purple cane, but I was shaken to the core to realize: even to trample me would acknowledge my presence too much, as if my wrongness is somehow contagious.

That the space I am given is a gift – only to them.

Article by
Nika Deitch

Nika Deitch is a labor and gender studies student at Rutgers University in New Jersey where they live with their 12 housemates and their pets.


"The courage to face the world has bled out of me over the years, drained by lovers and strangers alike."