Bob Leahy: Andrew, thanks for this opportunity to chat. Tell us first about yourself, will you? Who is Andrew?
Andrew Morrison-Gurza: I’m a disability awareness consultant doing work to talk about the lived experience of having a disability within the gay community. I just finished my Masters and I think I’m pretty awesome (laughs).
(laughs). How do you spend most of your time? Are you in a wheelchair? What’s a typical day look like for you?
Well, I get up and I get in my chair and I’m in my chair from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.
For people who don’t know you, your disability is the result of what?
I have cerebral palsy and that means I was born three months early and I had brain damage at birth and as a result of that my motor control centres don’t work as well as they should, so I can’t walk. Everything else works great.
I guess that’s a good lead-in to Bedding Andrew then. Bedding Andrew has a lot to do with disability and sex, right, or is it more to do with your life?
It’s a four-minute short and it talks about my experience as a queer man with a disability. So it talks about what it feels like to engage my sexuality. I talk mostly about my first sexual experience and how excited I was and then how quickly I was hurt by what the person I was with said and how I realized my disability would play a part in my sex life.
You’re just a normal guy, you have a sex drive just as much as the next guy, right?
Probably a little bit higher (laughs)
So how does that work in the practicalities of the dating world?
I mean I can date like anyone else, go and have a coffee and go from there. Not always though, the world of online dating and hook-ups has kind of changed that routine for everybody. Hook-ups are fairly common. It’s not something I’m proud of or not proud of. It’s just what it is.
So how do you deal with your online profile, so that people aren’t surprised when they come in and find you in a wheelchair, for instance?
I’m pretty upfront about it. One of my profiles says something like “Want to have a date on wheels” or something like that I don’t want to hide anything from people because I don’t think that’s very fair.
Absolutely. And how do people react? You said in OurAgenda.ca that you have had some rejections, that some people can’t handle your handicap.
I wouldn’t say I’ve had a lot of rejections. I wouldn’t say that because of my chair it’s been such a hard time. No, no. I think it’s awkward in the queer community and you walk in to someone’s house and you’re expected to know immediately what you are going to do. . . .
So I suppose you have to have a discussion what you can do and can’t do, right?
Yes. I talked in another blog about one of the reasons that sex with a person with a disability is so good is that you are forced to have that conversation beforehand and say “this is what will actually work for me and this is what may not work for me.” So you storyboard your sex, so that there is no “Oh my god, I wasn’t ready for this” kind of thing. I think it’s not fair to expect that people will walk in and know that you may need help to get out of your chair, may need help to get undressed.
But not many people are talking about the nitty-gritty of meeting people when you’re handicapped and what needs to be communicated between the two of you. Why are you the only person I see discussing this topic?
I don’t think I’m the only person, but there’s not a lot of us. Well, here’s the thing. There are a lot of us but we’re discussing it within our own community. But there is no strong group of queer disabled people within, say, Toronto that are advocating for this. But I think we’re afraid to have the conversation because sex is already taboo, disability is already taboo - so when you bring the two things together it can seem a little bit scary. And when you add the gay thing in . . . I mean there is an expectation with queer men that you are supposed to look and act and be a certain way. Disability kind of disrupts all that.
Do you try then Andrew– try and conform to societal norms of what looks hot?
I used to try. I mean I think you try, whether you know it or not. But I’m trying now to embrace that I’m different and I think my difference is an asset rather than an obstacle.
So has that leap been a gradual process?
Well, I came out to my family when I was 15 and then I really started accessing my sexuality when I was 19 and . . it’s been hard because the first time you start to see other gay men you get wrapped up in the scene and what you are supposed to be and I spent all my late 20’s trying to figure out how am I going to fit in to this group. And when I hit 30 I realized I don’t give a fuck whether I’m going to fit in or not. I need to be happy with myself and about myself.
I’m getting the picture. But do you ever miss having the opportunities that other gay men might have? I’m thinking of going to the baths or going upstairs to the Black Eagle? I mean sex-on-premises venues are not really built for guys in wheelchairs.
I think it would be really good if The Back Eagle was more accessible. I know some people there and they are working on making the place more accessible. But I can’t blame them. They just have to be given the tools to make the conversation happen.
What about bathhouses? They seem to be totally non-accessible.
I was in Steamworks – I got in through the back. But depending on what you want to do in there, accessibility is kind of a problem, but again I think they would just need more exposure to the issue. If they had exposure to disability in a sexy way, maybe they would think about it more.
Slap me down if this question is problematic then, but do some people have a fetish for people with disabilities, people in wheelchairs?
It’s funny you mention that. Yes, there is definitely a fetish; it’s called being a "devotee" and it’s somebody who is sexually attracted to somebody with a disability. There is a lot of contention about that term, though as some people are worried about the power dynamic. As someone with a disability, I used to shy away from devotees, but then I thought that’s crazy. If my disability is only one of the things that attracts me to you, that’s great, but if it’s the only thing it’s a problem. I mean I like guys with red hair and muscles – that could be considered a fetish, so I don’t think it’s fair to demonize these devotee guys.
I get it. Now Andrew, I want to cover something you’ve talked about as a HIV-negative person and that is the linkage between someone dealing with a severe physical disability and someone who is HIV-positive. Tell me what you see those two have in common.
I think the big think is around stigma, things like disclosure, things like feelings that you don’t fit, things like feeling you are diseased, that you don’t have a place in the community. But I think stigma is really what links us together and I think the two communities could really work together if we accept that in some ways, disability and HIV issues are very, very similar.
And so this is why you approached PositiveLite.com to have a conversation about that right? And I suspect that there are many people with HIV out there who are experiencing disability.
The trouble with “disability” politics is that it is such a broad term it depends on who is defining disability though, really.
So does being handicapped play out in internal conversations you might have about, say, HIV and condom use. I’m thinking that sometimes, in other situations where there are power imbalances. .
Well yes, I mean I always play safe, because I think it’s the right thing to do. And it’s just not me that I worry about, I’m also thinking about my caregivers. I’m not the only one dealing with my body
Well, you get in to some fairly intimate situations with the people who look after you, Are there any issues about suppressing what I’ll call any sexual overtone arising in the care you receive or is that not an issue.
To be honest when I was younger, a young man of 17 or 18 and people, were washing you of course the body responds to stimuli. But you get to a point where care is just there and you learn to compartmentalize – that sex is one thing and care is another. If it’s care, it’s just care. To be honest, I think that other is mostly people’s fantasy or in porn.
OK. Let’s talk about your documentary “Bedding Andrew” again. One thing I’ve noticed is that you laugh a lot in it. Is that you being you – or were you nervous or . . .
Well, I was pretty comfortable with the filmmaker. We were just hanging out . .
And goofing off.
Yeah. I wasn’t trying to put on airs, be ready for the camera or anything. I generally like to make jokes, like to laugh. I’m pretty relaxed. .
(laughs) I think you would be a fun guy to go out with, you know. You’d be a fun date.
I would be a good date. (laughs) Yep. Put my phone number and email at the bottom of this.
Talking about the movie, though, whose idea was it?
Well my friend Blair Fukumura I, he saw an ad about wanting short films for the Toronto Inside Out LGBT film festival and their satellite show Videofag for works recorded on an iPhone or iPad. We had two days to do it, so my friend bought over an iPad and we did the film on that.
So did you discuss the concept ahead of time or was this literally “let's film a conversation about sex with Andrew and see what happens?”
We literally started talking and having a conversation about my life and he wanted to learn more about my experiences.
Why did you choose to be in bed?
Well, we wanted to sexualize disability a little bit and make it fun and I think most people see people in disability in their chairs a lot. And they see the chairs as the emblem of disability and so by having me in bed it does help people to understand that I am a sexual being and have a sexuality that is valid, so that’s partly why we did it
It’s your version of John and Yoko’s Bed Peace that was filmed in Toronto and Montreal, I think. You know what I’m talking about?
Yes, I’m an avid Beatles fan.
So what do you want people to get out of the documentary?
I hope that it sparks conversation. I’ve heard people say it was great, I’ve heard people say they didn’t like it, but either way it’s starting a discussion we don’t have in queer culture. So I think that’s most important to me and if the film can help to do that, that’s fantastic.
I think it does. And I think your articles do and what we are doing now does. For me, it’s rather a new conversation. Have you got much press coverage personally before?
Well, Xtra featured me once in 2013... It was called “Queer, Disabled and Desirable” or something. In Fab magazine (see left) i was one of the Fab boys of the month once. The community has been very welcoming to me about having the conversation. They just need someone to give them the tools to have that conversation and that’s what I’m doing.
So what has happened with the film so far?
Well the venue for the Videofag festival was not an accessible space so we decided at that point to drop the film from that because we thought it wasn’t fair and so the director Blair and I talked about it some more and he said there were other film festivals that would want to take it on. So we submitted it to Ireland, we submitted it to Scotland, and Chicago - we just got accepted for their film festival. So while we couldn’t play it in Toronto, it’s getting more play all over the world. Which is fantastic. So we’d like to do another film on disability which is more about being queer in the community but I think this is a great start and we are going to expand on that because people think it’s great but they want to see more. Still including me, but I want to talk to other people in the community, queers with other disabilities.
One more question them Andrew, you’ve been great. Do you think your disability has shaped your personality very much?
It’s funny you should bring this up because I’m writing about this later. Yes, it has definitely shaped 100% who I am. There are days when I think “man I really don’t want to deal with this today.” .At the same time, I’m really grateful for it because it has opened my eyes to a different world. Without my disability I wouldn’t be able to do the advocacy work than I’m doing. My disability really and truly is a gift. I don’t think I would change it. There are days that I really think it sucks, but for the most part, I’m really thankful for it. It’s an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
Andrew, it’s common to hear that about HIV too. You know, this has been a really good chat. We owe you a big thanks for doing it. Lets’ talk more another time. Thank you!