When I came out 15 years ago, I remember thinking difficult that was for me to admit to myself. My biggest fear at the time (two weeks prior to my 16th birthday) was not my family's reaction to admitting that I was gay, but rather the thought that I was both disabled and queer, and how hard this particular intersection would be to accept. I kept telling myself that this was just another piece that made me abnormal. After coming out to my family, I was very lucky as they accepted me with open arms. In truth, coming out as gay was the easy part.
The hardest part was when I started trying to connect with other queer men. I did what every newly legal queer does: I went to the clubs and tried my hand at the scene. My first thought was: Wow, all these guys are gay! I attempted to immerse myself in the scene, and for a period went almost every weekend trying to connect in whatever way possible with my new brethren. It never really took, and I started to notice that people were apprehensive around me because of the chair. I remember once such incident wherein I was asked to leave the dance floor by a coked-out drag queen, who reasoned that people were bumping into my chair while dancing and thus I should leave. True story. (I'll give you a minute to let the shock settle in, and let you pick up your jaws off the floor.)
I had many guys tell me that I was great, but 'your chair is really scary.' I remember when I finally had the chance to be intimate with a guy. Oh wow, I was so excited. When we were done (which in truth, lasted all of two minutes because I was so excited), my naïve 19-year-old self assumed that this individual and myself were in a relationship. I'll never forget what he said next. He looked at me, smiled sheepishly, and said, "No, no. You see your chair?" I said, yes, confused. He continued, "I came by because I felt bad for you. You were just a pity fuck." That was the moment wherein I realized that this whole thing would be a lot more complicated than I ever thought. That was 10 years ago, and unfortunately that wasn't the last time a dude said something ignorant during sex. I've had other guys ask me if I can feel it, does it work, etc. You know from my other article that sex is possible for cripples and it can be amazing.
I bring all these stories up to highlight that Queers with Disabilities are sorely underrepresented in our culture. Rather than simply lamenting the ignorance I have experienced (you don't know how many times I have serenaded myself to Adele's "Someone Like You" or Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" while devouring a pack of M&Ms. True fact. It's a hot visual indeed. Let that sink in). I want to look at the way in which we can start to include queers with disabilities in our community. First off, I can't blame the community for their ignorance. The majority of the LGBTQ community has no experience with disability; that, coupled with the unrealistic aesthetic that is all too prevalent, means that queers with disabilities are often overlooked. So, how do we change the narrative? More accurately, how do we start the conversation? Let me share with you some ideas that I've had.
It's important to first note that there is a small pocket of academic literature (and when I say small I mean, severely minute) that discusses being queer and disabled. The problem is that this literature is couched in the theoretical and doesn't really address the everyday lived experience of being a Queer Crip. Let me put it to you this way: the hottie in the club whose number I want, most likely hasn't read my thesis. We have to present these issues in a sexy, accessible way:
1. Cripples in Da Club: Many LGBTQ clubs are inaccessible to queers with disabilities. This is most likely due to the fact that they're old, and the cost to renovate can seem rather high. Two things about this: many clubs have a back entrance that Queer Crips can access if they know about it. One way to rectify (hahaha, rectify) this would be to put signage in the club, or on the website. It could be really tongue in cheek, something like: 'Disabled Entrance Thru Rear.' Funny and fair, right? Next, imagine how much revenue a club would generate if cripples could access it easily? I'd pay to be there most definitely because it would mean that my sexuality was validated and accepted by my community. As it stands right now, you can be a Queer Crip, you just can't access the spaces where your community is.
2. PwD in Porn and Gay Themed Media: Gay men in particular watch a lot of porn. I know this because I watch a lot of porn. Gay porn is where many of us learn 'how to be gay' and what our homo-normative ideals are. We are getting to a point wherein almost every body is represented: jocks, cubs, bears, twinks, trans, etc. One body that we have yet to see is the Queer Crip. Now, we all know the reasons for this. Having a Queer Crip in gay porn interrupts our homo-normative ideals of perfection. It also runs the risk of becoming fetish porn. That said, pornography has the opportunity to open doors and change the narrative entirely. This would mean that the Queer Crip teen trying to juggle all these feelings would FINALLY see themselves doing something we have been so often told was inappropriate or unimportant in our lives. It would redefine what is sexually normative for gay men, and slowly make PwD sexually viable. (Colby Keller/Chris Rockway, call me.) We should also be seeing Queer Crips in popular gay themed mags, alongside all the other models getting their sexy on.
3. Queer Crips and Sex Work: Predominantly when we think of cripples and sex work, we often discuss how the sex worker helps to give the disabled individual their sexual freedom. It is often seen as this great opportunity for the PwD to experience sex. While I agree this is valid as I think cripples need more sex positive experiences, I am of the opinion that we could turn sex work on its head. Consider this a moment: people ask me all the time how I have sex? Can I have sex? They often come into sexual encounters scared and uncertain about how to approach me or see me as sexual. To that end, I have always thought it would be amaze-balls if the PwD were the sex worker. This would allow for the client to learn about sex and disability in real time. They could ask questions and get to know the disabled body. It would also remove any sense of 'sexual charity' in the work, as it would empower the person with a disability in their sexuality. Persons with disabilities are also chronically unemployed and this would allow for them to have some income. Of course there are some concerns here, but it would certainly help to open up and start a different narrative around sex and disability, right?
Some in the Queer Crip community have been quick to label the LGBTQ community ableist. I agree there are elements of that indeed. I think though, that this is simply a result of a lack of accessible, sexy exposure to disability. It is my hope that the ideas I have suggested make you think, make you redefine, make you question everything you thought about those of us living at the intersection of queer and crippled. I hope that they can act as a conversation-starter in our community, so that we start considering all the colors in our very unique rainbow.