As a disabled queer man who uses a wheelchair and loves sex and getting naked with men, I have had to navigate the coming out process a number of times and in a number of different ways.
I first came out as gay when I was 16. At that time, I was struggling with the fact that I used a wheelchair and I was terrified that by opening up about my sexuality, I would only be adding another burden to my life as a disabled person.
After searching for a term that felt like it fit me more authentically, I came out as “queer” when I was 27. I didn’t feel comfortable using “gay” anymore. Because of my disability, I am not muscular, “masc4masc” or any of the things that are so often culturally associated with that word. Using the term “queer” felt safe. It meant that I didn’t have to subscribe to a narrative that conjured particular images or ideas that my disability didn’t or couldn’t fulfill.
At 30, I came out as a “queer cripple.” This was during my “Fuck you! I‘m disabled and if you can’t deal with it, get the fuck out” phase. I knew what people thought about disabled people and sex, and I wanted to take those misconceptions, turn them inside out and wear them like a badge of honor. If I reclaimed the word “cripple” and said it first, maybe the ableism and prejudice I encountered on a daily basis wouldn’t hurt as much, right?
Throughout my life, I’ve had to reveal my different identities to the personal care workers who help me with daily tasks like showering and using the bathroom. Each time I came out to one of them, I hoped my honesty wouldn’t offend them, as I am dependent upon their help. There were many times I hid who I am from them, so I wouldn’t lose my care.
I had made the decision to employ male sex workers almost two years ago... I was exhausted by being asked if my genitals worked and being sent messages telling me that I looked 'too cute to be disabled' or that I 'looked retarded ― nobody wants you.'
I’ve also had to come out to members of the disability community. To my surprise and dismay, coming out to them has often been the hardest. I’ve been told that all I needed was an able-bodied girl in my life and everything would be all right. Each of these coming out stories has shaped my queer disabled identity in significant ways, but I believe my most recent coming out experience has been the most transformative and powerful in my journey as a queer cripple: I told my mom I hire sex workers.
I had made the decision to employ male sex workers almost two years ago. I was exhausted by the ableism I was dealing with when looking for a hookup. I was exhausted by being asked if my genitals worked and being sent messages telling me that I looked “too cute to be disabled” or that I “looked retarded ― nobody wants you.” The hurt these exchanges caused was having a devastatingly negative effect on me and I didn’t know what to do about it. I was angry that I couldn’t access my body the way I wanted and I was angry that other queer men didn’t see my body as sexually viable.
One day, I visited a gay male escort website and started looking around. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, but I knew that I needed to try something new.
I contacted a few of the men on the website and asked if they had ever been with a disabled client before. Some said they had and many others said they hadn’t. I finally found an escort that I really liked ― he had brown hair, beautiful blue eyes and a chest full of hair (my weakness). I reached out to him and said I’d like to book a session. He agreed. We began seeing each other regularly.
Our first session was marked by nervousness as each of us tried to navigate how to approach my disability. He didn’t want to hurt me and he told me later he was worried about not meeting my expectations. I was doing my best to make the disability-related parts ― getting me into bed, putting on my special sling while telling him how to move me ― easy for him. I remember spending that first night terrified that he would tell me he couldn’t do it and he’d leave, just like so many had before him.
He’s stuck around, though, and we have fallen into a comfortable rhythm with each other. We share our bodies, our vulnerabilities and many laughs together. We’ve built a trust that I don’t have with anyone else, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. He’s helped me connect my queerness and my disability in ways that I can’t even describe, and for that I am incredibly thankful.
As my adventure in this new world was unfolding, I was hiding these experiences from my mom and it was killing me. She has seen me ― and my body ― at my best and at my worst and we’ve always been incredibly open and honest with each other about everything. But I didn’t dare admit that I had been hiring an escort. Part of me felt a huge shame about what I was doing and I didn’t want her to feel that shame, too. I also didn’t want her to worry that her son ― a physically vulnerable man ― had gone down a dark path or wonder what this choice might mean for me and my future. So, I didn’t tell her about what I had been (very happily) doing... until just a couple of weeks ago.
It was a Tuesday evening and my mom and I were in the middle of one of our daily chats on the phone. I don’t remember what we were talking about ― it was something totally inconsequential ― and suddenly, I just went for it and blurted out, “You know mom, I hire sex workers.”
Terrified of her response, I remember audibly gasping after I said it. She waited about 10 seconds before speaking and in that time I played out every possible response. She would be angry. She would denounce me. She would be ashamed of me. And then, after that brief pause (during which I felt as though 100 years had gone by), she said something I will not ever forget: “I think that’s great.”
I felt a huge wave of relief instantly wash over me. I took a deep breath. When I get scared or excited or have any kind of emotion at all, all of my muscles tense up (thanks, cerebral palsy). But at that moment they immediately relaxed and I sunk comfortably into the crevices of my wheelchair. I suddenly felt freer than I could remember ever feeling before. I could completely be myself with my mom: a wheelchair user; queer; disabled; a man who hires sex workers to get his needs met.
Telling my mom about this part of my life has helped me to embrace and celebrate the agency I have over my body, my time and my money, and it’s allowed me to shift the ways I looked at intimacy, sex and love.
I know now that I can truly share every part of my disabled, queer life with her and that means everything to me. What’s more, we can now build an even stronger friendship as two individuals ― and not just play out our respective 'mom and son' roles.
One of the most powerful comments my mom made after our chat was, “Andrew, sex is not bad.”
It is such a simple statement but an incredibly powerful one to hear from someone you respect and love and want to make proud. She also told me, “You can just have sex ― it doesn’t need to be tied to love.” Because so much of the sex and disability narrative is linked to romance ― and to finding someone to love you “past your disability” (ugh!) ― her affirmation and support of me being a purely sexual, queer cripple, when and however I want, felt amazing.
Most importantly, I think coming out to my mom about hiring sex workers has strengthened our relationship. I know now that I can truly share every part of my disabled, queer life with her and that means everything to me. What’s more, we can now build an even stronger friendship as two individuals ― and not just play out our respective “mom and son” roles.
Coming out is never easy. There’s always the very real threat of being rejected and hurt, and if you are disabled, you could lose a whole lot more too. But the more we tell our stories and share what we are going through ― and why we have made the decisions we’ve made ― the more we break down barriers between the people we love and the world at large.
Unfortunately, in 2019, hiring a sex worker is still heavily stigmatized in our society, but it really shouldn’t be. What happens between two consenting adults should be their business ― and their business alone. For people like me ― a queer cripple with a healthy sexual appetite ― it allows me to access my body and sexuality in a way that makes me feel powerful, sexy and important ― all things that we don’t usually associate with disability.
I’m lucky to have a mom who accepts me ― all of me. I know that not everyone is as fortunate as I am in that respect but maybe, just maybe by sharing my story and revealing who I am, I will have given someone else the courage to talk to their loved ones and be more open.
If I was able to do that, it was totally worth it!
Andrew Gurza is a disability awareness consultant and cripple content creator whose writing has been featured in Daily Xtra, Gay Times UK, HuffPost, The Advocate, Everyday Feminism, Mashable, Out.com and several anthologies. He is also the host of the “DisabilityAfterDark: The Podcast Shining a Bright Light on Sex and Disability,” available on all podcast platforms. You can follow the podcast @disaftdarkpod. He is also the creator of the viral hashtag #DisabledPeopleAreHot. You can find out more about Andrew by going to www.andrewgurza.com and connecting with him on Twitter and Instagram @theandrewgurza.