As a Disability Awareness Consultant and Founder of Deliciously Disabled Consulting, I spend the majority of my professional life building a career on the premise that Queers with Disabilities deserve representation in our intersectional acronym, each letter with its own importance and history attached to it. I have become a self-professed advocate, and try as hard as I might, I have begun to see myself as a ‘reluctant activist’, working tirelessly to shine the spotlight on the deliciousness within disability, and the differences that make each of us unique. I love this job that I have made for myself (after spending years in search of a 9-5 position that was accessible to me, but that is a completely different post altogether), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In doing this work, I began to adopt a culture of social justice. I made a point of learning all the lingo, and agreeing with many different viewpoints so that I could begin to understand issues that members of different communities dealt with on a daily basis. As a queer crippled man, I considered myself to be open-minded and liberal in my personal politic, given the oppression and discrimination that I have faced just attempting to be seen, included and understood as a queer cripple. When someone rejects me based on my disabled identity, I always tell myself that I never want to feel this way again, and that no one deserves to be treated this way. I know what that pain feels like, and I would never actively wish this on anyone else.
The other day, I was sitting with my very best friend. You know that one friend who is the only person who has the guts to tell you the whole truth, call you out on all your bullshit and love you anyway? We were laying on my pull out couch, my crip body stretched out in the dead turtle position and spastic on one side, her curled up on the other. We were reminiscing, laughing and reconnecting; talking about work, our futures and the like.
At some point during our conversation, the topic turned to boys (a topic that I think many of us can discuss with ease). I grew a big shit-eating grin on my face, ‘cause I knew we’d gossip at length about girth and penis size like we did in our twenties, long before we had to worry about the prospect of settling down and actually giving a fuck about someone else.
During our impromptu slumber party, my friend turned to me and said, “Describe your perfect man for me, Andrew.” I started to rattle off elements of the perfect specimen in my head. In between the giggles, I said that I wanted a man with red hair, a big dick, and a great smile. My friend continued, “Okay, when you think of this person, do you see them as being abled or disabled?” Without skipping a beat I said, “Able-bodied”. Even I was flabbergasted at how quickly I’d admitted that. My friend paused and said calmly, “Why is that? Why is their being able so important to you?”
I began stuttering, back-pedalling, rationalizing, trying desperately to couch my true feelings, telling her that it was because my partner being able was simply ‘easier’. I could have them lift me into bed if we had sex, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the logistics of sex and disability with another disabled person. Again, I was completely floored with how honest and easy that was to say. After saying it to her, we both kind of sat there in silence. I was grappling with the realization that my internalized ableism was so deeply rooted – that terrified me. What did it mean? I felt a deep sense of shame because, how dare I ask my community of lgbtq+ lovers to look at me for all that I am; “deliciously disabled”, the beautiful boy in the chair; queer, crippled and cocky, and I wouldn’t even do the same because I was scared that their disability would get in the way?! Gross. I also admitted that I liked having the sexual capital of disability and queerness as my own (this I know to be a complete lie, because there are so many fabulous queer cripples out there).
Would people see my crippled partner and I together, and nod expectantly, thinking, “Of course he is with a disabled man. How cute!” I was/am terrified of becoming that crip-cliché. I’ll be honest, there is as small part of me that thinks that by dating an able-bodied man, I am somehow more normal and I have ‘done it right’. If an able-bodied guy can love me, am I not more valid in my community? I’ve had visions and daydreams of my able-bodied boyfriend next to me, smiling and happy, but he never once was a wheelchair user.
As I pondered all this, worried that in some way all my activism was a fraud, my friend told me something that I haven’t been able to shake. She said, “Why are you clinging to normal, when you’ve defied it all your life (I may be paraphrasing here, I was entering a food coma as she said this, but it’s pretty accurate)?” That is a question that I’ll continue to ponder as I do this work, but I am proud that even this queer cripple got called out, and was given the opportunity to recalibrate everything he thought he knew. I often say that I’ll never be out of work, because ableism is alive and well. I guess I didn’t know how true that is.