Everybody loves a good origin story, right? We love that moment the hero learned who they really were - the struggles that they went through to get where they are today. Somehow, they become more human, and we can connect with their experience that much more and cheer them in their ultimate adventure. I want to share with you part of my origin story, and two people who have helped me connect to become a Queer Cripple. Let me give you a glimpse of where my story started. With these pieces in place, I hope you will begin to understand my identity a little better.
First, I want you to picture a little boy sitting in his wheelchair, one that is far too big for his tiny disabled body. It is a weekend morning in 1990; maybe a Saturday or Sunday, and the little boy is filled to the brim with an excitement that he almost can’t contain. This time he’s coming, and I can’t even wait, he thinks. He has been waiting for this all week; he has been building up this moment in his young, impressionable mind, holding out hope that this time he’ll follow through with it. The trilling of the phone cuts through the hustle and bustle as he gets ready; packing his toys, his toothbrush and all the disability supplies he needs for the weekend. He hears his mom on the phone - he listens as her voice gets louder, and he can see the hurt in her face. She reluctantly passes the phone to the boy. On the other end of the line is the boy’s father. The boy answers with pure, genuine, unfiltered joy. He listens as his father tells him that he can’t take him this time; that it is too difficult. His father promises him that next time, he’ll be there. The little boy clings to this promise, even though he has heard it so many times before now. He holds the phone close to his ear, sinking deeper and deeper into his chair with every single breath.
The little boy hangs up the receiver and is completely shattered. All of his excitement is gone, and all he is left with is a deep, palpable pain that stays with him. He tries not to let it show - he knows that he must stay strong. He can’t understand why his father isn’t taking him. He feels deep down that it is because he is in this chair. He knows that is the reason. A seed was planted then. The boy learned what disappointment and rejection really felt like.
All of those feelings have followed me into adulthood as I have grown into my Queer Cripple identity. Each and every time a guy breaks plans, doesn’t call me back, ghosts me on app because my disability scared him away or fucks me and disappears without a trace, I am brought back to this moment when my father broke my heart. It is a familiar pang that never gets old, but is strangely comfortable all the same. My father taught me that I was different and that my path to acceptance would be full of this pain. My father taught me to swallow away my pain as a gay disabled man, and to pretend that the rejection didn’t bother me. My father left me with the belief that I am “too much”. Every time I ask a guy how long he can stay before he agrees to hook up, it is the voice of that little boy asking if he is too much, asking if you see him, and if you really want him.
Now, picture that same boy. He had an amazing male role model in his life, too. His Dad (stepfather) was there after every single heart-wrenching phone call to be there with him, and reassured him that everything would be okay. The boy’s Dad made sure that his disability was a part of his experience, and he accepted it without question or hesitation. The boy’s wheelchair didn’t scare or spook him; the boy’s broken body wasn’t too hard for his Dad to work with. They had an unspoken bond that only grew stronger over time. He was there with the boy through surgeries, physiotherapies that hurt, birthdays and bad news. The boy’s Dad was simply there - disability or not.
Each of these vignettes; each of these versions of this little boy in the chair have informed who I am today. I am thankful that part of my story was learning what hurt was at an early age; from a man I desperately wanted to know, and who I wanted to know me, so that when it happened to me later in life, during some of my most intimate moments, I wasn’t really all that surprised. Even though it still burns when a guy I like runs away (or doesn’t show up at all) because he can’t handle me and he is too scared or proud to just tell me that, I know what to expect, and how that will manifest itself in me. My father, whether he realized it or not, gave me an arsenal of tools on how to deal with rejection as a Queer Crippled man.
I am thankful for my Dad. He taught me that relationships don’t always look as you expect them to. When he joined our family, taking on the responsibility of caring for a disabled child as his own, he showed me that you have to take risks, and you have to try new things without knowing what the outcome will be. This principle has helped me every single time I met with someone, or hooked up with the hot guy who would ultimately disappear on me. He has shown me that you have to take a leap of faith sometimes. He also given me hope that even though it hasn’t happened just yet, there might still be a man who will step into my life unexpectedly who could change everything. Who could really see me, disability and all.
Both of these men have, each in their own way, put me on the path I am now. I wouldn’t be as bold and vulnerable as I am now, and I wouldn’t have the experiences to tell my story with such conviction and truth. They have given me the pain, the power and the privilege to call myself a Queer Cripple; battling against ableism within the LGBTQ+ community, and while I may not wear a cape or a mask (okay, sometimes), or have Marvel or DC Comics executives banging on my door for the movie rights (maybe, though) my quest has just begun.
* This story originally appeared on AndrewGurza.com
*The author has chosen the term “Queer Cripple” as their identifying language, and uses that terminology as their own.