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In this episode, we’ll discover what it’s like to be, as Andrew calls himself, a queer cripple and how he’s attempting to change our homo normative and beautiful body culture.
Andrew Gurza is a disability awareness consultant and crippled content creator and has cerebral palsy. In his work, he seeks to explore how the lived experience of disability feels, as it interplays with intersectional communities.
We also learn about his project DisabilityAfterDark aimed at talking about sexuality and disability. There is so much fear, discomfort misinformation around sex and disability out there today Andrew Gurza wants to shine a big bright light on how sexuality and disability feels for real – uncensored.
Produced by: Black Me Out Productions
Growing Bold with Sexuality
Pete and Tristram: Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care, a podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people with disability care about most. To help us live bolder, healthier, better connected lives. I’m journalist Pete Timbs and I’m Tristram Peters. I work for Disability Service Directory, Clickability, and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.
PETE: Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold and sexuality. And our guest is Andrew Gurza, who is a disability awareness consultant and crippled content creator and has cerebral palsy. In this episode, we’ll discover what it’s like to be, as Andrew calls himself, a queer cripple and how he’s attempting to change our homo normative and beautiful body culture. Andrew, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability.
ANDREW: Thank you for having me.
TRISTRAM: So, Andrew, let’s start at the beginning. You are Canadian. What’s it like growing up in Canada with Cerebral Palsy?
ANDREW: Ah, cold. I don’t know what part of Australia you are in, but I’m not in the warmth of Australia, and I have my sister actually lives there and I’m super jealous because I want to go there all the time, but it’s, you know, it’s cold. Luckily, we have free health in Canada and I’m quite happy about that. But it’s, I would say it’s not vastly different for anyone else living with CP anywhere else.
PETE: So, what’s the Canadian education system like and how does the government accept people with disability over there?
ANDREW: The Canadian government has; we have a clause in our charter of rights and freedoms that says you can’t be discriminated against for being disabled. But we don’t, we’re working on getting a Canadians with Disabilities Act. We don’t have a national act yet. It’s coming. It’s been tabled by our Parliament, I think. But it’s not, it’s not universally into law yet, so we do our best. But there’s a lot of discrimination that happens still because just of ableism, and I think laws are great, but attitudes need to change too.
TRISTRAM: And this obviously influenced you becoming a disability awareness consultant. Can you explain to us what that is exactly?
ANDREW: Yeah, disability consultants tend to mean like they tend to be people who look at physical access and I wanted to do something that looked at emotional access, like,” What does it mean, what does it feel like to be a disabled person?” What are the emotions that go into being disabled? And I really have crafted my career around telling stories about what it feels like to be disabled because most people don’t really understand that part of it. They understand I need to put an elevator in, I need to put a ramp in, but they don’t quite get the emotional side of it. And so that’s where I tend to thrive. And that’s the kind of stuff I like to do.
PETE: Yeah, you do have, one of your brands is called Disability after Dark. And it’s kind of aimed at talking about sexuality and disability through your podcast, and you’ve got some blogs and you do presentations. Why is this Disability after Dark brand such an important thing for you?
ANDREW: Um, it’s a really fun podcast that looks at, we’ve been looking at sexuality and disability for the last three years. And we are branching out now in to look at just telling disability stories. I think the title Disability after Dark was first meant to be a playful
“oh what do disabled people do after dark? Like sexy. But it’s taken on such a such a deeper meaning because it’s actually allowing us to uncover stories within the disability communities that we don’t generally hear. And so that part’s really exciting.
PETE: So, what are some of those stories?
ANDREW: Um, we’ve talked about, I’ve shared my first experiences with sex workers. I’ve had people on who were in polyamorous disabled relationships. I’ve talked about times that I was abused by care staff, really sharing stories that that people don’t often think about when they think about disabled people that need to be heard.
TRISTRAM: And so, in terms of your own story as well, so you identify as a queer, crippled man. When did you become aware that you were attracted to the same sex?
ANDREW: I think when I saw, do you remember the cartoon fox from Robinhood like forever ago? When I was a kid I was really, I was like all of a sudden
“oh, that Fox has an accent that I think I’m attracted to.” Okay. I was, like, five or six, I didn’t know what it meant. Oh, that feels weird. And then I think when I was eight or nine, I was in a swimming class with, like, teenagers, and they all had their shorts on. And I thought I think I like this. So, I knew from a very young age I knew from a very early age that I was attracted to men. Um, but I didn’t actually come out as gay until I was 15. 16. And then I have been coming out subsequently as a disabled person and as a queer person. And as, as you know, different versions of myself since then.
PETE: So, is it harder to come out as a gay man when you do have cerebral palsy?
ANDREW: Um, I think for me I was very lucky, my family was very supportive. The minute I told my mom she, and you will know this because you are Aussies, she rented Priscilla Queen of the Desert and made me sit down and watch it. And she was like if you want to be this kind of gay man, we can do it. And I remember at the time saying to her like, Mom, I’m not that kind of gay, that’s not what I do. And then, ironically enough, four years later when I went off to uni, I was in the campus drag show and I called her and I said, Well, I guess you’re right. I’m heading to the drag show. So, I mean, I was very lucky that I got to come out to a family that was very accepting, but I did worry about
“Oh, man, I’m already disabled. And I already have so much stuff against me. And I’m going to be gay to. Like crap. So yes, I did feel very conflicted about coming out. And how would that change my relationship to my disability? And how would how would other people perceive me? And there was a lot of stuff I think, internalized ableism that I had around my disability that I uncovered when I started coming out.
TRISTRAM: And it turns out that show that you mentioned you didn’t you obviously were beautifully accepted by the gay community in Canada. Do you think that’s because of them being a minority as well accepting and all that sort of thing? There’s just a deeper understanding of difference?
ANDREW: Well, not really. They weren’t super accepting. I’m going to challenge that. They actually weren’t. When I did the drag show, I had to beg them to put a ramp in because they said we’re not going to get a ramp for you to do the drag show. And I said, Well, no, that’s discrimination. You have to do that. And I would say my interactions with the gay male community have been, you know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I feel super comfortable within the community because I haven’t actually been treated super kindly every time I enter a gay male space, 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.
PETE: Is this part of the sort of the body beautiful culture that what I spoke about in the intro, that homo normative thing that you’re trying to change. Do you think?
ANDREW: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think that most gay men are really, that I see not everybody, but a lot of the ones that we that are put front and centre are the ones who have a very certain aesthetic and a very certain body type. And a certain way of being, and in a homo normative culture if you’re not down to having a sexual encounter right away then somehow you are invalid and with my body looking completely outside the norm, being unable to go to the gym all the time, unable to hold myself to a very specific aesthetic, I often get overlooked or not looked at it at all. So I’m trying really hard to be like,
“Hey, I can be in a wheelchair and I can, you know, have just as much of the sexuality as you can and be just as flirty and be just as like, outgoing as you are, and that’s okay too.”
TRISTRAM: And I have to say that one of my favourite topics of your podcasts, you speak about the things not say to a crippled during sex. Um, can you say what some of those are?
ANDREW: I sure can. I don’t know remember what they all are, I can remember what all of them were and what I said as I recorded that one so long ago. But just be mindful of the fact that I’m a person and, like, if you don’t ask me where my nurse is, don’t ask me when my attendant care worker is going to come back like, don’t overdo it. Remember, there’s a person involved in this experience with you. Um, don’t infantilized the person in bed. A lot of the times when I am with an able-bodied person in bed, they will say things like
“oh you have such a nice heart.” And it’s like, what do you know about my heart? I want to have sex with you right now. How do you know? You don’t know if I’m a good person or not. I literally want to have sex with you right now. What? I think people forget that there’s a human here. I also think that they forget that if I’m having sex with a non-disabled person, you’re not my saviour just cause we’re hooking up.
PETE: Now that was one of the topics in Disability after Dark, you shine a light on a lot of different topics in your podcast. What are some of topics that you do address that the you really wanted, that you thought needed to be addressed?
ANDREW: Ah, one of the ones I just did recently, that came out this week was the time I was abused by my attendant. Like the time that one of my attendant care workers was inappropriate with me and trapped me in bed for a couple hours. And I talked about kind of what that experience was like, because I think people don’t realize that abuse against disabled people and violence against disabled people happens all the time. And I thought it was really it was really valuable to share that story. Um and then, you know, in the earlier episodes that I did years and years ago being able to prove that, like, I’ve had hook-ups outside, being able to show that like I’ve had threesomes being able to share funny stories that I’ve encountered trying to access my sexuality, those kind of things are really fun. And that those kinds of stories are really valuable.
TRISTRAM: In terms of stories, I’m a power chair user myself and I always encounter all these mythologies and fears around sex and disability and all these assumptions that we’ve touched on a little bit. But what are some of those mythologies that exist around sex and disability?
ANDREW: Well, I kind of alluded to one that your genitals must not work. That’s number one.
TRISTRAM: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: You’re sitting in a chair, your genitals must not work, which we all know is not true. But I also feel bad about that because there are some people with disabilities where because their disabilities their genitals don’t work the normative way and, you know, that doesn’t mean they can’t engage in pleasure. If it didn’t, I’d still be a valid person, and my sexuality would still be valid. And then another myth that we encounter is
“Oh, you must not want to have sex. You should be focusing on access in a whole other way that is, like about ramps and buttons and all those things” and that’s nice. But access to, like, a good fuck is also like, you should be allowed to do that?
PETE: What sort of fears do people have when they’re engaging sexually with a person with disability.
ANDREW: Some of the fears they have, the fears they have are that they are going to say something inappropriate, which is funny cause them being afraid of it means they tend to do that anyway. They’re going to be afraid they’ve been hurt me. They’re not going to know what do, they’re not going to know how to lift me. I’ve had people say,” Oh, if I have sex with you, I’ll catch your disability,” which is just so outdated, so wrong. Yeah, yeah, and like, that’s just not correct. And I think the mythology comes down to a lack of education and a lack of knowledge and because disabled sex education is not taught in schools. I mean at least in when I was in school it wasn’t. And as far as I know It’s not prioritized now even. We don’t see wheelchair users in the classroom teaching other wheelchair users or other students about sex. We don’t see that as normalized. So, all of these questions people have and 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 answers to this.
PETE: You’ve also said, you know, in some previous comments and stuff that
“you’ve never had a conventional relationship”. Why is that and what do you classify as a conventional relationship?
ANDREW: I’ve never had a long-term partner to date. I’ve never had, like a boyfriend. I’ve never had that long-term person, which I’m OK with. But I’m have I guess you could say my primary sex worker and I, the person that I see most often is a sex worker. We’ve been having sessions now for almost three years. So, I mean, in a way, I think that’s a relationship, but it just doesn’t meet conventional models. And so, I’ve reached a point in my journey as a 36-year-old man with Cerebral Palsy where I don’t want to date. I don’t want to necessarily get into a long-term relationship. Sometimes I do have nights when I wish I had a boyfriend for this, that would be nice but at the same time, like that doesn’t interest me because I know that it’s not gonna happen. I know there’s all this ableism that I have to encounter with that just to get even a second date. So, it’s just exhausting. And it’s not that I have given up, I’ve just reached a point now where I’m happy with the relationships that I can cultivate in other ways.
TRISTRAM: You touched on the fact that there aren’t enough teachers or role models with lived experiences with disability. Do you wish you had a role model like yourself when you were young?
ANDREW: I do. I mean the role models that I had when I was young were, and I don’t know if you would know any of these people, but I had well, you’d know one. I had Christopher Reeves. He was a big role model because when I was coming up he had just had his accident when I was like 10. He had just had his accident and he was somebody that I could at least look to emulate. Oh, he’s famous and in a power chair. Wow! And then from a Canadian context, I had someone named Rick Hanson who is also like a wheelchair user. He’s the man that went around the world in his wheelchair. So, I had those two as people to look, too, but I didn’t really have someone going through what I was going through who looked like me. And so I do wish that I was that person. So now when I do my work, I try to be the person that I needed when I was 15.
PETE: So, what would you tell someone with disability who is queer, and they’re afraid to come out? What would you say to that person?
ANDREW: I would say, feel that fear. Be afraid. That’s okay. And it’s valid and it’s very real. And it’s okay to feel that, and I know what you’re feeling. And also, I would tell them that this is not the first time you’re going to come out. You’re going to come out a number of times because I’ve come out as gay, I then came out as queer. I then constantly when I’m in the gay community, I have to come out about what my disabled needs are. The coming out process is something that we’ve tied so specifically to just being queer that it’s I think it’s a misnomer, because we have to do it, especially as disabled people, we have to do it all the time. And I think if you explain to the person that may be afraid to come out, then this is only one of, like, a million times you’re going to do this. So, you know, dive right in and give it a shot. It will be okay. There will be other times too perfect how it’s done. Give it a shot like I think that would lessen the fear for them.
TRISTRAM: Do you think we as a society, both in Canada and Australia, are we making progress? I’m sure it’s slow, but we’re making progress, aren’t we?
ANDREW: I mean, I would like to think we are. I think we need to change a lot of attitudes first before we do anything else. I think we’re running to make buildings accessible when we were failing to look at, especially queer spaces and gay spaces, we are failing to consider how a disabled person might feel if they’re in the space. If I don’t feel like you’re looking at me, you’re paying attention to me or you’re acting all weird because I’m a power chair user and when I’m in the space then I don’t feel like the space is necessarily accessible to me. So we have to do work on teaching these communities, particularly in my case, the gay male community, how to interact with a disabled person without hurting them and how to deal with their own ableism around that and show them that it’s OK because you know that 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 these conversations now.
PETE: Yeah, it’s a great message. Now Andrew, as you know our podcast is called Grow Bold with Disability and we always ask our guests one question at the end, and that is what does growing bold mean to you?
ANDREW: That’s a great question. What does Growing Bold mean to me? It means not giving a shit. It means just telling your truth. And I think a lot of disabled people because of ableism and because of the ways we’ve been silenced by society, we don’t often say what’s on our mind. And so, to answer that question, I would say boldly be yourself. Tell your disability truth. Tell your story. Make sure people hear you, talk about what’s important to you as a disabled person. Let people know and don’t worry about what people think. Don’t worry about how it’s going to impact everyone. Just tell your story because we need more of that within the world generally, and we need more of that, especially within the disability space.
TRISTRAM: Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today on the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care. And listeners can find out more about Disability after Dark and, of course, more about Andrew in the links provided in this episode short notes. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us.
ANDREW: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it for being here.
PETE: This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia, and the Australia Capital Territory. Feros Care is a people care organization committed to helping people leave bolder lives. We call it growing bold and for over 25 years Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more head to Feroscare.com.au
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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.