Man in wheelchair grinning at camera

NAVIGATING THE STAGE DURING A COLLEGE DRAG SHOW WAS A WATERSHED MOMENT IN CHAMPIONING THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF DISABILITY FOR ANDREW GURZA, BUT ON A PATH TO SEXUAL EXPRESSION, SMASHING STEREOTYPES AND ADVOCATING AGAINST ABLEISM, IT WAS JUST ONE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE.

Speaking with journalist Pete Timbs and disability advocate Tristram Peters on the Growing Bold With Sexuality podcast, the Canadian disability awareness consultant and content creator who lives with cerebral palsy spoke of discrimination, not only from outside the gay community, but within.

“I was in a campus drag show, and they (gay community) weren’t super accepting,” Andrew said.

“I had to beg them to put a ramp in because they said they weren’t going to, and I said, ‘well, no… that’s discrimination, you have to do that’.

“I would say my interactions with the gay male community have been… I don’t know. I don’t feel super comfortable, I often feel like I’m othered, so, I think they have a lot of work to do to combat and deal with their own ableism.”

While the ramp was a catalyst for those such as Andrew, it’s not about that one feature, it’s about entering an equal space, through design or acceptance, which would make a person with disability feel comfortable.

And if anyone is content and confident in searching for comfort, expression and belonging, it is Andrew, who has been breaking through those barriers after realising his path as a five-year-old attracted to the masculine voice of a fox from a Robin Hood cartoon.

“And when I was eight or nine, I was in a swimming class with teenagers and they all had their shorts on, and I thought, ‘I think I like this’,” he said.

“But I didn’t actually come out as gay until I was 15-16. I have been coming out subsequently as a disabled person and a queer person, and different versions of myself since then.”

HOW ADVOCATES LIKE ANDREW ARE MAKING AN IMPACT FOR AUSTRALIAN NDIS PARTICIPANTS

Tackling taboos through stories of awkwardly ending college trysts, engaging sex workers, standing up to abuse and challenging mythologies Andrew ensures he’s seen and heard.

His transparency around engaging sex workers has been a hot topic in Australia, particularly after a Federal Court ruling in May granted a participant’s request to use NDIS funding to access specialised sex worker services.

Andrew has been accessing a main sex worker for three years through the Canadian system, and it’s through the likes of him advocating for the same in Australia, that participants here can now look to utilise the services of specialised sex workers through the NDIS.

Add in the emergence of sex toys designed for disability, more awareness, acceptance, and the likes of Andrew uninhibited in his confidence in sexualising himself, the conversation is advancing.

Challenging ableism as part of his advocacy in Canada and beyond, Andrew’s candid shirtless, or leather-clad approach aims to normalise sexual expression.

His Disability After Dark Podcast normalises sex and disability, debunks misconceptions and stereotypes, and highlights subjects such as abuse in the process.

“You’re sitting in a chair, your genitals must not work,” said Andrew of just one of the generalisations he’s faced.

“Another myth that we encounter is, ‘you must not want sex, you should be focusing on access and ramps; those things’. But (focusing) on access to good sex, you should be allowed to do that.

“I’ve even had people say, ‘oh, if I have sex with you, I’ll catch your disability’, which is just so outdated and wrong.

“I recently spoke of a time I was abused by an attendant also. They were inappropriate and trapped me in bed for hours, and I talked about that because I don’t think people realise that abuse and violence against disabled people happens all the time.

“I also talk about hook-ups I’ve had and shown I’ve had threesomes. Sharing funny stories I’ve encountered trying to access my sexuality is fun, and those kinds of stories are really valuable.”

While coming from a supportive family, Andrew said a lack of wider support had been a detriment, as had a lack of knowledge and conversation, particularly through a lack of disabled sex education and conversation in schools.

“We don’t see wheelchair users in the classroom teaching other wheelchair users or other students about sex,” he said. We don’t see that as normalised, so, there’s questions people have, but because we have also been taught that it’s not appropriate to be rude to a disabled person, or talk to a disabled person about personal stuff, nobody has the answers.

While Andrew continues to raise awareness in search of a collaborative approach to answering those questions, he believes society has made progress.

GREAT STRIDES ARE BEING MADE IN THE WORLD OF DISABILITY THROUGH CONVERSATION AND TRANSPARENCY AROUND SUBJECTS LIKE SEX

Referencing attitude in the Grow Bold Podcast, Andrew said it was also about educating the wider society on ableism, while starting the conversation around creating truly accessible, inclusive spaces.

“I think we’re making progress, but I think we need to change a lot of attitudes first before we do anything else,” he said.

“We’re making buildings accessible, but we’re failing to consider, especially in queer spaces and gay spaces, how a disabled person might feel if they’re in that space.

“We have to work on teaching these communities, particularly in my case, the gay community, how to interact with a disabled person without hurting them, and how to deal with their own ableism. One day, all of us are going to live with some form of disability or some form of impairment, and we’re going to want to start having those conversations now.”

Through his sexual expression, disability advocacy and confidence in being a face of taboo topics, Andrew wants to have those conversations while  embracing “growing bold” and being the role model for younger people he didn’t have during his formative years.

“I didn’t really have someone going through what I was going through who looked like me, and so I do wish I was that person,” Andrew said.

“So, now when I do my work, I try to be the person that I needed when I was 15. Growing bold to me means not giving a s#*t, it means telling your truth, but I think a lot of disabled people, because of ableism and the ways we’ve been silenced by society, we don’t often say what’s on our mind.

“Be bold to yourself, tell your disability truth, and tell your story. Don’t worry about what people think… just tell your story, because we need more of that in the world generally, especially in the disability space.”

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO OUR GROWING BOLD WITH SEXUALITY PODCAST. 

TO LISTEN TO OTHER GREAT EPISODES FROM OUR GROWING BOLD WITH DISABILITY PODCAST SERIES, CLICK HERE.

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