I think that every queer person knows the feeling of the act of “coming out” all too well. We have all felt that tinge of anticipation mixed with fear, the fear of not knowing what the outcome will be. Not knowing whether we will be accepted after we tell our truth. As queer people, we also know that the act of coming out is not ever a singular event. It happens over and over again, in different situations, with different people, and each time we have to confront the reality that things may change for us in that moment; we may lose our family, friends, or even our homes. The act of “coming out” is the most definitive and dangerous thing that we take on as queer people today, and we each should be commended and applauded for the courage it takes to get to that place.
For myself, the act of coming out as both queer and cripple has been an interesting journey. In most situations, I own that self-proclaimed title with pride. I use it in my work around sexuality and disability. I speak about this identity in lecture halls and university classrooms, showing my audience that these two identities can exist together and that they must be given space. I openly bill myself as the sexiest queer cripple out there today, on hook up sites and blogs, and even for HuffPost. Usually, this identity doesn’t scare me, it makes me beam with happiness. Recently, though, I had to come out again, as both queer and crippled, and this time I was scared, really scared to do so.
A few months ago, I moved into a new building. I was so very excited by this because I was finally getting the opportunity to move downtown, and be that much closer to the queer scene (read: let’s be real, I was excited to be that much closer to opportunity for boys to touch my joystick). Given the harsh reality that disabled people are often waiting years to move into accessible units with attendant care attached (I waited 4.5 years), this move really meant alot to me, and I was excited to see what would come of it.
Along with all the changes of learning the area, learning the transit routes, and all the other things one might come to expect with a move such as this, I had one added change that I had to contend with: brand new attendant care personnel. This is one of the biggest changes ― these are the people you see everyday, the ones who take care of your personal needs (read: they wipe your ass when you need it). It’s weird to say, but they become almost like an extended family to you. I was excited to meet them, and wanted to build a good rapport.
I remember having lunch with one of the new staff, and as they were feeding me, in an effort to make small talk and connect with me, they asked: “So, do you have a girlfriend.” In this moment, I could have been upfront and honest and said, “No, I’m queer.” Instead, I sheepishly half smiled, and just said, “Nope. No girlfriend.” I felt like I had to protect my queerness in this instance, but I also felt very ashamed. That somehow, if I was honest, this care worker would see me as “less than,” and the rapport that I needed to build would never happen. After saying it, I quickly changed the subject, that familiar pang of uncertainty taking hold in the pit of my stomach. This happened continuously over the course of a few weeks, and each time I deflected ― fearing that my care would somehow change if I came out.
Then it finally came to a head a week or so ago. I was being showered by another care worker at around 8 a.m., sitting naked, “balls out” (literally!) in my commode chair. I was at my most vulnerable here. The attendant was trying to make small talk with me, as he usually did; talking about the weather, politics, etc. As we were doing this, he said something like, “Oh, we have to make you smell good for all the girls.” At this very moment, something inside me snapped. I was angry that he was misunderstanding who I was, and without even a second thought I said, “Not for the girls, for the boys.” He paused and looked at me. I remember feeling really unsure here. What was he thinking?
He could leave me there, if he really wanted to, and I would have no recourse or options. That terrified me. It was a defining moment for me as a queer man with disabilities, because I was genuinely concerned that I might lose my most basic care needs. He finally chuckled and said, “You’re joking, right? You can’t be gay.” I looked him straight in the eyes, trying to see at which point I could level with him, and calmly but firmly stated, “Nope. No joke, I’m queer.” After that, he changed the subject, and I took a deep breath. I was both relieved and disturbed. We finished what needed to be done, and while both of us were much quieter afterward, nothing too drastic happened. But, I wondered, what if it had?
I was proud of myself for standing my ground and being true to who I am in that moment. It also proved to me that I should never hide away from who I am, even if it is scary, daunting and uncomfortable to do so. No matter who I’m with, or where I am, I will always be a queer cripple - no matter what. There is work to be done in creating safe space for Queer People, and one of the spaces that we must consider are supported care environments and independent living spaces for the disabled community. We need workshops and trainings that shed light on this, so that young queer cripples can come into their own identities and never feel ashamed to be themselves in their own homes.