Everyone always wants to know about my sex life as a person with a disability. It seems to be this unwavering point of curiosity and fascination that captivates people. Whenever I am talking about it with someone, whether it's in a personal or professional capacity, they always get the same look on their faces, and that look always conveys the same message, every single time. It's unmistakable -- their heads cock to one side, they look at my wheelchair, then back at me, their eyes widen and eventually, after some extremely awkward pauses, someone will blurt out: "How can you do it?" This query is typically followed up by further disbelief that having sex as a wheelchair user is even a possibility, and a barrage of questions about my ability level in the boudoir. These questions have just become commonplace, and so I usually answer them with some double-entendre about the size of my joystick and leave it at that.
If I am honest though, these types of inquiries bother me quite a bit; not because of the questions themselves, as I think they are important opportunities for an education. What gets under my skin the most is that these are the only types of questions that I am asked about my sexuality as a man with disabilities. I am only ever questioned as to the practical nature; the mechanical, the bare bones technicalities that make up the act itself. I am never asked about the other parts of my sexuality -- the emotionality that comes along with it. When you lead with these questions, there is an automatic implication that I can't have sex, and that it is simply impossible. By asking only these, you erase my reality, you deny yourself the possibility to learn from me, and better yet, play with me.
There is a whole other level to sex and disability that you have missed by only focusing on the functionality of it all, and I would like to share with you the answer to the question that I wish you would ask me as a queer man with disabilities:
"How Does Sex and Disability Feel?"
You may think that the answer to this question is rather simple; that I will respond as we think everyone should and tell you that sex is amazing. If you think I'd answer that way, you wouldn't be the least bit wrong, because sex as a man with disabilities is amazing, but... there is so much more to it than that. There is an entire undercurrent beneath this question that explores what sex and disability means. Every taste, touch and tingle carries with it its own flurry of feelings that so often remain undiscovered.
Sex and disability as a queer man feels amazingly terrifying, because every second feels like a dream. I'll be with someone enjoying the moment, and I'll also be laying there in awe of the fact that this person has picked me to have this experience with. Sex and disability feels uncertain because you are constantly wondering why. Why are they here? Why do they want this? Why do they want me? These questions are never far off in my mind, swirling alongside the passion and playfulness.
Sex and disability feels scary. I have given up counting the times that I have held my breath after I've let a man in my apartment. I watch him come in, and I watch him look at the realities of disability that fill the space; commode chairs, ceiling tracks, portable lift devices that have been specially designed to meet my needs. I watch his eyes checking for the tiniest hint of doubt in them, ready to give him an out should he need it. I sit there in those milliseconds that tick by like millennia, hoping that he doesn't leave, that he won't want to go away from here, from me, from what is yet to come.
Sex and disability feels awkward. When you are trying your hardest to hit that note that makes this "normal" for you both, trying desperately to mimic the moves you saw in your favorite porn film to please him, only to realize halfway through that you will never be able to do so. In that moment the awkwardness of your disability takes hold, and you worry that he'll soon discover you "aren't like the others," and leave as a result of his homo-normative ideals that even he can't understand.
Sex and disability feels free. I love having sex as a queer disabled man because of how it makes me feel. Being a queer man with disabilities, fighting for representation in a culture that can be quick to erase you, means that these moments where I can really be seen -- all my curves, contortions, contractures and crippled parts let loose -- is important. It feels amazing to know that all these desires that I push down to the core of my being, if only because I can't regularly access them, are finally let out. As I am with you, and you with me, I am the closest I have been to myself in quite sometime. It is here that I am free to explore the parts of myself that I rarely get to see, and that is altogether liberating.
Sex and disability feels hurtful. After the clothes have been picked up off the floor, the passions have cooled and the afterglow is just about to set in, there comes a brief moment in time where the novelty of being with a disabled dude wears off. Both of you realize that things will need to switch gears; he'll either have to dress you or put you in your chair. When that moment comes to pass for me, I try and direct him in what needs to be done while still showing him post-coital affections. Have you ever seen a guy in a chair try to make out with someone as that person is trying to help them put their shirt on? It's definitely hilarious to watch. As all that is happening, sometimes this will slip out of their mouths. They'll have helped you dress, and you'll be ready to kiss them in the hopes that you can leave a lasting impression so strong they'll want to come back, and then it will happen: "Taking care of you isn't so bad," or "That was better than I imagined it" (actual things guys have said). The words sting your ears as you hear them, burning a hole in your heart, as all the vulnerability that you have shared with this person falls flat and you learn that they will never understand what this has meant to you.
Sex and disability feels lonely. Every moment you are with them, enjoying their body and letting them learn all about yours, is important. I never want these seconds to end because I am never sure if or when I'll get to have them with someone again. I know deep inside that access to my sexuality the way that I want and deserve is a rarity. I know that I must make the most of this, so that when the door closes behind them and all the pleasantries fade away, giving way to the worry that my reality as a wheelchair user was too much for them to handle, I have the memory to sustain me until I have to start the process all over again.
Sex and disability feels real. Having sex as a queer man with disabilities, or with a queer man with disabilities is one of the most honest moments you can have. All of the pretenses are stripped away, and all that is left is truth. No matter how hard I try, my disability will not leave me. It will be by my side, as I lay beside you. I can't become someone else who will meet the "gay hook up" checklist requirements that we all have in the back of our heads, because my disability won't let me. It is in this interaction with me that you will come to understand what life with a disability is really like, and I will come to learn whether or not you are actually okay with that. All of your politically correct assurances that "the wheelchair doesn't bother you" will be put to the test. Will you pass? Will I pass as someone you really see as sexy and seated?
Sex and disability as a queer man with disabilities feels powerful. While I don't have the ability to give you what you have come to expect from MSM sex, my disability has provided me the opportunity to make you realize that you never wanted any of that in the first place. My disability opens the door for you to be yourself with me; the geeky, nerdy, awkward non-masculine self that you have suppressed in an attempt to impress -- all of that is welcome here. As a man with disabilities, I can introduce you to the best sex you're not yet having, a sexuality that challenges anything you thought you knew. That feels pretty damn good.
So, as you are about to tilt your head and squint your eyes, preparing to ask me the same question that has been posed over and over again, one that I will answer with the same rehearsed inflection and pause for nervous laughter, I invite you to ask me one with a little more depth. Ask me a question that validates my experiences, my emotions and my realities, one that will reveal the truth about sexuality and disability. Ask me that, and see what kind of answer you'll get.