Out Paralympian Robyn Lambird has spoken frankly about their experience of ableism, saying perceptions of disability often make it “hard to feel empowered and sexy”.
The 24-year-old Australian wheelchair racer will compete in the women’s T34 100m Wheelchair Sprint this month as one of three out non-binary athletes in Tokyo.
They were diagnosed with cerebral palsy when they were nine, but the last thing they want you to do is pity them.
“It’s not always this tragic, depressing thing that the media makes it out to be,” they told Mamamia. “On the whole you hear that disability is something tragic, that you’ve been in some kind of accident and it turns your life upside down.
“That might be the way some people feel, but for a lot of people, it’s just a part of who they are. [For me] it impacts who I am as much as the fact that I’m queer, or that I’m a uni student, or anything else.”
The false sense of victimhood often assigned to those with disabilities leads many in the community to feel desexualised, Lambird said.
It’s something they personally experience whenever they go out with their partner and people assume he’s their carer or brother. “It happens more often than it should,” they admitted.
“I also don’t move as gracefully or as fluidly as some other people, which is often assigned to femininity or sexuality. So, it’s just trying to sort of align my body with the ideas that society has around what is attractive and sexy.”
Robyn Lambird challenges these perceptions through modelling; they were the first person in a wheelchair to be featured in one of Target’s active-wear campaigns, and have also modelled for Tommy Hilfiger, Bonds and ModiBodi.
For them, it’s all about boosting visibility in the media, about showing the world a different vision of sexuality. “We have to be visible, we have to be seen, and that way the community has to care and know that we’re a part of society,” they said.
The athlete is an active presence on Instagram where they regularly remind their followers that their wheelchair doesn’t define or limit them in any way – and certainly not when it comes to being hot.
“Here, queer, and ready to remind you that disabled people are hot,” they said, “and that mobility aids aren’t a sign of tragedy, they are a source of freedom, which is totally sexy!”
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