Sex Heroes is an ongoing HuffPost Q&A series by Voices Editorial Director Noah Michelson that explores the lives and experiences of individuals who are challenging, and thereby changing, mainstream culture’s understanding of sex and sexuality.
Andrew Gurza has dedicated his life to sharing his unique experiences as a “queer cripple.”
The 33-year-old disability awareness consultant, who has cerebral palsy, is the creator of DisabilityAfterDark, a brand that includes podcasts, blogs and presentations about sex, sexuality and disability. According to his website, DisabilityAfterDark offers “a unique glimpse into sex and disability that shines a light on the intersectionality of sex and disability, the fun found in sex and disability, and the vulnerability of sex and disability that we very rarely talk about.”
Gurza’s unflinching approach to these topics, which are often considered taboo (if they’re discussed at all), makes his work enormously compelling, thoroughly necessary and unlike anything anyone else is currently undertaking. The consultant, who is non-ambulatory and a wheelchair user, recently chatted with HuffPost about why he refers to himself as a “queer cripple,” the biggest challenges he faces when it comes to sex and what he wants everyone to know about having sex with someone with a disability.
Tell me why you’ve chosen the terms “queer” and “cripple” to describe yourself. I’ve seen some people especially upset about your use of “cripple.”
I have chosen the words “queer” and “cripple” as my chosen descriptors with very specific intent and purpose. First, I use “queer” in part because I never really felt like I fit into the “gay community” as it were. My body and experiences didn’t fit that mold at all. I also didn’t like how many stereotypical assumptions of MSM [male-seeking-male] sexuality was ascribed to the word “gay.” “Queer” encompasses, for me at least, that I don’t need to adhere to any of those stereotypes that force so many “gay” men into these narrow homonormative boxes. “Queer” says, “Fuck your boxes, I am doing this my way.”
“Cripple” is a whole different monster entirely. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the shock value in that word, but it does go so much deeper than that. “Cripple,” when I use it, allows me to take ownership of everyone’s misconceptions of disability; it allows me to preemptively say, “I know what you may think about disability. I know that you’re scared of me; I know you think I’m different from you, and guess what? I am.” I’m owning that as best as I can when I use that word. It is a term of personal empowerment for me. I wouldn’t use it to describe another disabled person without their consent, but for me it helps me navigate the experience of disability with an honesty that I think is really important.
To the people who have been upset, I say this: “Until you experience disability the way I do, you have no right to police my language.”
The pieces you write and the discussions you have about your sex life are really unlike anything I’ve read or heard before. What made you decide to be so open and honest about such personal matters?
If I really think about it, I made the choice to be so open because I had never seen anything like that out there. Whenever we talk about sex and disability ― if we dare ― it is in this painfully sanitized way that tends to tell you nothing about the person with a disability, their sex or what they actually want ― it doesn’t shed any light on how it really feels, and I wanted to take a stab at that. It has also been a cathartic experience for me, writing about this stuff. It allows me to get it out, to tell someone my true feelings.
Is there anything you consider too personal to write about?
When it comes to disability, queerness and intersectionality, I don’t think so. This topic is still so shrouded in “mystery” ― which is actually just a fuckton of ableism ― that I think we need those raw, uncomfortable stories to shake things up. People always ask me, “What is sex and disability like?” That question is precisely why we need this intensely personal narrative.
What kind of responses have you gotten?
I have gotten a breadth of responses from people ranging from praise and thanks to strongly worded letters and emails denouncing my work and what I write about. In either case, it means I’ve hit a nerve. The fact that I got people talking about it and thinking about it ― even if they dislike what I am saying ― means that my goal of bringing a real-life discussion of sex, sexuality, queerness and disability to the forefront of our community’s conscience has worked. I’m OK with that.
Why is sex such an important subject for you?
It’s important because with respect to disability and sex, especially as it intersects with queerness, the subject is all but nonexistent. That sucks. What if LGBTQ+ people had nothing to read that represented them? That’s how so many queer disabled people feel. They want to read about their experiences too, and I want to be one person to provide them that chance. It may also be important to me because I like sex. So, there’s that.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face regarding sex?
Some of my biggest challenges are: 1) Getting to have sex at all. Finding someone who wants to get naked with the “Queer Cripple” has been surprisingly difficult. I talk, write, podcast and present a lot on the subject of sex, disability and queerness, but I don’t actually get to have that much. Any takers? 2) One of the other biggest challenges I have with sex is finding an emotional connection on the rare occasions that I do have sex. I want sex that means something, and I sometimes feel upset that in my quest to be your No. 1 Queer Cripple, I’ll engage in sex that is devoid of feeling because I think to myself, “No one else has been here in months, I had better take what I can get.” 3) It’s challenging to feel sexy, queer and disabled when you constantly have to prove to other people you are sexually viable and worth a good fuck.
You also write about the emotional and psychological side of sex and sexuality as a queer disabled man.
My writing on the psychological side of sex, disability and queerness helps me to answer the question “How does sex and disability feel?” Tapping into the psychological stuff also helps to flesh out the worldview of disabled sex in a way that we don’t ever see. I also think when non-disabled people read that stuff, it helps them see sex and disability as more than just two people in chairs getting it on. It shows them that these experiences mean something. And, writing this stuff undoubtedly helps me work through my own shit. Definitely.
What are the biggest misconceptions about sex when it comes to being a queer person with a disability?
The biggest misconceptions are: 1. I can’t have it ― wrong. 2. I don’t want it ― Ha! I would say I have a higher sex drive than most. 3. Specifically in terms of queerness, a lot of LGBTQ+ men assume I must be passive, or a boring lay. They have a lot to learn. There are so many more, but those are some highlights.
What do you want someone who doesn’t have a disability to know about having sex with a person who does have a disability?
I want them to know that it is OK to not have all the answers. It’s OK to have questions, and it’s OK to ask. It’s all about how you ask, though. If you wanna get to know me and/or get naked, please don’t start with: “So, does your dick work?” Ugh. Also, don’t ask me, “How did you end up in a chair?” as that assumes that I was once “able,” and therefore closer to your definition of normal. But, you can ask: “Hi. I see you have a disability” ― or “You disclosed [you have a disability]” for individuals with invisible disabilities ― “I think you’re really cute, and I had some questions about your disability. May I ask them as I undress you at your place?” That response is totally acceptable. In all seriousness, I want non-disabled people to know that my disability informs a lot of who I am, so please acknowledge it before we have sex. I’ve had guys tell me before we met up that my disability was “not an issue” only to discover that it really was too much for them. That blows ― and not in the good way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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