How many able-bodied gay men would ask out a disabled gay man? That's the question actor Ryan J. Haddad, 23, has struggled with for most of his young adult life.
Ryan has cerebral palsy; he wears braces on his legs and uses a walker. He explores the complicated issues of sex, love and disability in the gay community in a solo show called, Hi, Are You Single? at Dixon Place in New York City on Nov. 18th and 19th this week.
It is a stirring work of theater, replete with both heartrending and deliberately hilarious moments. It is a show that should and needs to be seen.
Full disclosure, I first met Ryan back in our hometown of Parma, Ohio, when he was nine years old and I was 16. He had been cast as a young Ebenezer Scrooge in my high school's production of A Christmas Carol. At that age, he was, of course, adorable, but also a stunning performer. A while after I graduated from college, we became friends on Facebook, but I only got a glimpse of what he was doing with his life.
So I was surprised when a post popped up in my Facebook newsfeed advertising his new show, and a risqué one to boot. The sweet elementary school kid I had known was now openly and vividly discussing his sex life on a stage far away from suburban Ohio. Of course, I had to see it!
I don't live in the United States currently, so Ryan sent me a video of one of his live performances. It was a shocking watch at times. Not because of the sexual content - Ryan begins the show lying half-naked in a bed and stroking himself over his boxers as he flirts with a man via webcam - but because of the often ignorant and painful responses he gets from the men he tries to connect with.
Hi, Are You Single? is an autobiographical account of Ryan's dating experiences as a gay, disabled man. His goal is to challenge the societal stereotype that all disabled people are asexual. This assumption, he makes explicitly clear in the show, is ridiculously false. But getting other gay men to realize that or give him a chance is a hurdle.
A potential hook up rejects Ryan after he reveals he has cerebral palsy. When he goes to a gay club for the first time in NYC, a man he tries to flirt with bursts into tears when he sees Ryan using his walker. Other guys he fools around with make it a point to never let Ryan forget about his disability. One tells him, "With all your problems, you'd be lucky to take whatever you can get!"
"I was going into these bars where gay men were supposed to go to be accepted, and I was being made to feel like I had four horns coming out of my head!" he tells the audience during the show. And even though I am watching a video replay, I gasp along with the rest at each anecdote he recounts.
But despite the heavy subject matter, Hi, Are You Single? is not a depressing show.
Ryan has no time for pity parties. For nearly every awkward or disappointing dating encounter Ryan shares, he surprises the audience with an equally hilarious punch line. His self-reflective commentary is rooted in the best of queer theory (although, he says he only briefly studied it). But probably unlike the queer studies classes you took in college, God! This show is funny!
This is truly a testament to Ryan's acting and writing talent. But Ryan's ability to find humor in such lonely, painful situations is also because he has been living this reality all his life.
As a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, he produced a short documentary film, in which he straight up asked gay men whether they would ever date someone with a disability. Once again, some of the responses are so blunt and bigoted that it's startling, and all of it is said right to Ryan's face.
This solo show is an extension of the senior project he did for his theater degree, and he further perfected it under the mentorship of famed performance artist and gay activist Tim Miller.
It doesn't finish with a fairytale ending. As Ryan admits, he still doesn't have all the answers when it comes to dating while gay and disabled. Nor should he. He is, after all, only 23. But it does end on a message of hope and comes complete with a twist that I won't spoil here. So I sincerely hope that Huff Post readers in NYC will head to Dixon Place this week to see it. Then maybe after, you'll work up the nerve to ask Ryan out on a date. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Hi, Are You Single? runs this Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Thursday, Nov. 19 at Dixon Place at 7:30pm. Check out the trailer: