I am a latino/arab/jewish, white-passing trans man who used a wheelchair when I had cancer a few years ago and had very little energy. At the time of this story, I had not started on HRT, so to the rest of the world, I did not pass at all and cis people perceived me as a woman 99.9% of the time. My partner and I went to Disney World for a vacation a few months after I had surgery to remove my cancer, and I was exhausted for most of the trip. We rented a chair at the park and for the most part had an okay experience using it. At one point, my partner was getting us food while I looked for a table, navigating my chair through a very crowded restaurant. There were people using the tables meant for wheelchair users already, and the other chairs/tables cluttered the space. I was trying to find an empty table in the center of the room, when suddenly I feel someone pushing my chair for me. I turned around and this white woman had her hands on my chair, and was trying to “help” me. Honestly, I don’t remember if she was trying to push me out of the way or actually get me where I wanted to go. I was at a loss for words and had no idea what to say—I knew this was a thing that happens to disabled people all too often, but I was hoping it wouldn’t happen to me at the park. It felt violating, especially since I was away from my partner who usually helped me with my chair and would have stopped the woman if they had seen her. Because we were in a loud restaurant I had trouble figuring out what I could say, and in the end, she had walked away by the time I had the chance to process what had just happened. The worst part about it was the fact that it was in a public place, where other abled people saw this happen and probably even thought it noble. After that, I felt much more hesitant to use/sit in my chair without appearing to “actively” wheel it while away from my partner (e.g. if they were in line somewhere, ordering food, etc). Compared to other instances of non-consensual touching I have experienced, this one still felt just as violating despite its lack of similarity to the groping and assaults I have experienced in the past without a chair. I do not use a wheelchair now since I have been cancer-free for two years, but worry that, if I do use one again or use other mobility devices, I could have another experience just like this one.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex