Recently, I helped create a piece of theatre around sex, disability and queerness. It was a tough process where the participants and principal actors were asked to dig into their lives around the intersection of sex, disability and queerness, and share their stories in a theatrical way. It was a harrowing and difficult month-long creation process that brought up a lot of feelings for me.
My arc in the show was talking about the work I do as a Disability Awareness Consultant, namely presenting to audiences about sex, disability and queerness. In one scene, I am presenting a pretend presentation to the play audience, and as I am talking, I get so frustrated during the presentation that I storm out of the play, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen next.
When we were workshopping this part, the director asked me: “Andrew, what do you feel when you go up there to present about this stuff?” Initially, when he asked me this, I turned on my professional cadence, and told him that I loved presenting to people, and that it was my calling and what I had chosen to do. It was what I wanted. He looked at me, smiled wryly and said, “Okay. But, how do you feel about it, Andrew? Honestly.” I tried again to put this feeling away, and continued to protest that I loved my work; I loved what I had built for myself, and that I got to share a message with people. As I started saying it a second time, though, I stopped myself. I looked at the director square in the face, and with a glimmer of tears in my eyes, I said: “I’m tired.”
That was the first time in over five years of being self-employed and self-made as a disabled speaker working in sexuality and disability that I ever admitted that to anyone. As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I felt ashamed and angry. Why was I saying this? Was I saying that I didn’t want to do this anymore? The words kept coming:
I don’t want to present to able-bodied people anymore, so that they can learn about sex and disability through me. I don’t want to play up disability for these people who won’t see me as sexy anyway.
And, sometimes, that’s the truth.
Working in sexuality, disability and queerness is one of the hardest things I have ever done. While I am proud of the people I have met, the presentations that I have given, and the name I have built for myself in this niche market, there are absolutely days where I can’t do it. Days where instead of showing you Powerpoint presentations about how great sex, disability and queerness is, I want to scream out to the group and say, “Does anyone find me sexy?! Would any of you fuck me? Honestly?!” There are days where I have finished a talk, smiled at people, networked, and then I go home alone and bawl my eyes out.
It isn’t easy to turn your stories, things that actually happened to you, into slides for people to make notes about. It isn’t easy to sit there in my wheelchair, staring at all these able-bodied faces of people who probably wouldn’t give me a second look if we met at a bar or on an app. It isn’t easy advocating for real money to tell your stories, when most places want to pay you nothing for your lived experiences.
I tell you this, not because I am going to stop doing what I am doing, but I am telling you all this so that you can begin to understand that when you hire a disabled person to tell their story of rejection, of pain, of hurt; you are asking them to relive the ableism, asking them to confront their fears around it again and again. I tell you this because I want you to understand that making a name for yourself as a disabled advocate - is hard - especially for those of us who have decided to share our feelings around sex and disability. We don’t get paid enough and we certainly don’t get laid enough to do what we do.
So the next time someone with a disability presents about sex, disability, queerness, or any facet of their lived experience for you, know this: we’re tired, we’re angry, we’re horny, and it took every ounce of strength for us not to leave the room. Maybe buy us a drink and flirt with us after...that’d be nice. And maybe instead of just taking notes, take down my number.