Head out to any gay bar, open any gay magazine or watch any gay themed media, and what do you see: the perfect gay male body - 8-packs, biceps, huge cocks. As queer men, we have been conditioned to believe that this perfect hyper-sexualized image is the ideal – down to fuck at all costs.
In our community, our bodies have been tagged and categorized: jock, bear, muscular, etc. One body that we have yet to embrace or even understand as gay men is that of the Queer Cripple, and that is where I would like to start my discussion.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and started using a wheelchair from the time I was four years old. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my disability never truly bothered me too much. I knew that I wasn’t like my peers, but my disability was my normal. Even after coming out at age 15 (after thinking that if I came out, the really sexy lacrosse player at my high school would magically fall for me…le sigh), my family accepted me with open arms.
When I turned 19, I moved away from home to go to University. I was psyched; I was young, gay and free.I started frequenting the local gay watering hole (there’s a joke in there somewhere) hoping to meet the man of my dreams (okay, okay, man of the moment is more accurate).
In doing research for this piece, I read that people who are in accidents and then become a part of the disability communit, can have quite the shock when trying to adjust to their newfound status. I must say that when I entered gay spaces as a Queer Cripple for the very first time (after my initial revelation that “all these guys like guys”), I felt a similar sense of shock. I had guys backing away when I came towards them to dance. That was one of the very first moments that I realized I wasn’t the same as my queer peers, and this worried me.
Trying to navigate queer culture as a Person with a disability has not been an easy road for me, or others in my position. The Disabled Body is not at all represented in our culture – we have yet to see a gay man with disabilities in our media, at our clubs or on our porn sites. I have a few ideas as to why, which I would like to unpack:
1. Our Bodies defy Homo-Normative ideals of Perfection:
This one is not particularly only the case for Queer Cripples. There are many of us in the LGBTQ community who wished we looked like Colby Keller or Seth Fornea (can they do a scene together, please…) but never will.
The major issue for a Queer Cripple, is that I will never be able to ‘work off my disability’ at the gym, or change clothes to hide my wheelchair. A wheelchair user may never have a six-pack, eight-pack or the like because they don’t have strong torso muscles. A queer cripple may never have mouth-watering calves because they can’t walk. What we see then, is that the Queer Disabled body will never conform to the homo-normative ideals that we as gay men have been taught to uphold to the highest standards.
I remember one night I had brought this guy home from a club, and we were planning on hooking up. In the middle of what was supposed to be a hot moment, he stopped me and said: “Wow, you don’t look like other men that I’ve been with”. I was secretly hoping that it was a compliment. It wasn’t.
He continued, “Wow, you don’t move like other guys at all”. In that moment, I remember being taken aback, trying to figure out what to say in response that made me seem unaffected, unscathed. I can’t remember what witty retort I rattled off, but I remember feeling completely unattractive to this person because I wasn’t what he had expected. My body could never match that, and he was discovering this in real time. At the same time, I was being told, “I don’t know how to categorize your body…”
2. My Body is a source of Fear:
When we consider disability, many people think that it is one of the worst things that could possibly happen to them. All too often, I start discussing my disability and I’m met with a barrage of responses that usually start with, “I’m so sorry to hear that” or “Oh man, that’s too bad”. I think that gay men are scared of the disabled body because it would represent the worst possible outcome in their lives, and the loss of their freedoms as gay men.
At one point during my 20s, I had a giant crush on this guy I met at a club. He offered to buy me a drink one night, and I just about jumped out of my chair (trust me, that would’ve been quite the sight). He had a great smile; his whole body was muscle, le swoon. We started hanging out, and every few weeks he’d text me and ask me out to the bar. In my attempt to find love, sex and all the above (plus, he was effing gorgeous, what gay man wouldn’t jump at that?), I obliged.
Two or three months into this pattern, I mustered the courage to tell him the truth. I remember we were sitting on benches while he grabbed a smoke (you know those guys who make being a badass look incredible? Yeah, he was that guy) and I said something like: “Listen man, I really like you, did you wanna go out sometime?” You have to realize that this took a lot of courage on my part, because I knew that dating with a disability is a new experience for many people. I’ll never forget the almost palpable silence before he answered. I sat there, with every second passing, waiting for my Little Mermaid moment, where he said yes and my disability melted away. It never came. He looked at me and said: “I can’t man. Your wheelchair scares the shit out of me.”
I remember swallowing as hard as I could, saying “okay” and high-tailing it for the nearest accessible cab (which, in reality, meant waiting for about 45 minutes for one to show up). I was absolutely crushed because I knew that my disability was something that I would never be able to alter.
3. Queer Persons with Disabilities have no one to look up to:
I feel that one of the main reasons why the queer disabled body isn’t more accepted is due to the fact that we, as Queer Cripples, have no one to emulate. There is a paltry amount of literature on the subject, and there is nothing in mainstream queer culture. I am hoping to change that, but Queers with Disabilities need resources and role models to show them that their bodies have value. Moreover, the larger LGBTQ community needs to have some frame of reference so that they may understand disability. If there were more mainstream representations of queer men who simply happened to have a disability (one must be careful not to fetishize the experience), I believe things would change.
Impact on Queer Crips and the Opportunity within the Queer Crippled Body…
All of these issues have an impact on the Queer Person with a Disability. Often times when I look at my body versus my gay male counterparts, I have felt that I am not sexy or worthy of love or affection. I have felt that because of my disability, I will always be an anomaly in our community, always a novelty or pity fuck.
While this lack of representation of the Queer Disabled body is problematic, I choose to look at this as an opportunity to change the narrative on body image in our community.
The Queer Disabled man is like a rare beast in our culture (rawr) and should be treated as such. Queer Cripples have had to adapt to a culture that has no framework to embrace them; this means they have learned new ways of doing things and doing… others. That means that while the Queer Crip’s body may defy all we have come to expect of gay men, it also opens the (back) door to many new possibilities about what we see as sexually appealing.
It is my hope that this has given you a glimpse into the world of the Queer Cripple and the issues that we encounter when trying to navigate the body beautiful world of Queer Men that has yet to understand us. I hope that that this allows for everyone in the community to consider the Queer Crippled Body as an opportunity for, rather than an obstacle to, pleasure.
About the author: Andrew is a Disability Awareness Consultant with an MA of Legal Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, specializing in Persons with Disabilities and the Law. He also advocates within the LGBTQ communities representing Queers with Disabilities. It is his goal to interrupt our homo-normative, body beautiful queer culture and introduce disability into the mix to ensure that Queer Persons with Disabilities are represented across all mediums. His aim is to 'make disability accessible to everyone'. He has also represented Queers with Disabilities on the popular MTV Canada television program, "1 Girl 5 Gays". He is a featured blogger on Huffington Post Gay Voices and The Good Men Project.
You can follow Andrew on twitter @amgurza1 or www.andrewmorrisongurza.com
This article previously appeared on OurAgenda.ca here.