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Disabled LGBTQ Activists Are Redefining Sex and Sexuality

Last year, thousands of sexy pics of hotties who happened to be disabled flooded Twitter after the hashtag #DisabledAreHot went viral. The man behind the hashtag, Disability After Dark podcaster Andrew Gurza, couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Gurza, who identifies as “a queer cripple,” is disabled, male-identified, white, and part of the vanguard of disabled LGBTQ people garnering attention on social media platforms, as the subjects of lusty thirst. He’s also reclaiming space in the bedroom and the queer community, pushing for more representation in porn and erotica, and sparking public discussions about sex and sexuality for those of all abilities.

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“I think [#DisabledAreHot] went viral because people wanted to see disabled people taking their agency back,” Gurza reflects now. “And…people wanted a space where they can be sexualized positively. People were excited by this new chance to see disability in a different light.”

“I think folks have a lot of ideas that are wrong about disability and sex, but the notion that we don’t have sex or aren’t sexy enough to be having it is absolutely bananas,” adds A. Andrews, the queer and nonbinary disabled author of A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, a new nonfiction graphic novel.

Gurza corrects that mistaken idea, exclaiming, “Sex and disability is hot! Sex and disability is some of the best sex you’ll ever have. Being queer and disabled is a powerful thing and I love it.”

“I think able-bodied people are afraid of people with disabilities’ sexuality because it gives us power,” says Eva Sweeney (below), a queer sex educator who has cerebral palsy, is nonverbal, and uses a wheelchair and letter board.

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Sweeney, who runs the educational site Cripping Up Sex with Eva, explains, “Many able-bodied people want us to be complacent and ‘easy to take care [of].’ But when you own your sexuality, you are more likely to own other areas of your life as well. So that’s a big reason why I think the topic of sex and disability has been taboo.”

Gurza likes to bring attention to the work of other disabled folks, so it’s characteristic when he stops to rave about Sweeney.

“The work she’s doing around sexuality and disability is so important,” he says. “I will stan for her all the time. I think that the subject has been so taboo because disability is taboo. Historically, disabled people have been seen as othered or less than or worse off than. So people are very, very afraid to broach it and when you bring the two subjects together, people just get scared and people don’t know how to consider that disabled people can be sexy and sexual and enjoy their lives as sexy disabled people.”

“The bottom line is that everybody’s got a body,” Andrews says. “Some able-bodied folks are having or want to have sex with disabled folks. Some able-bodied folks will become disabled or navigate a disabling illness at some point in their lifetime.”

Sweeney teaches Disability and Sex 101 classes and says she addresses, “the basics like: What if you need to bring an aide on a date? Or how to talk to your partner about your disability. These topics might seem basic, but as people with disabilities, we don’t get any good information on how to navigate our sexuality and dating life.”

“Communication and informed consent is the most important part of intimacy, period,” Andrews argues. “Working to explore what we want—and don’t want—and communicating that to our partners not only keeps us and our partners safe, but it helps us to feel more present and connected with one another.”

“I think disability allows for me to look at pleasure in a whole different way and to…[talk] about consent differently,” Gurza says. “When I say ‘Yes,’ to somebody as a disabled person, it means allowing them into my world and it means allowing them into my experience of disability. And that’s powerful. I think just disability can help us look at pleasure in completely different ways.”

“I think the more in tune we are with how messy and embarrassing [sex] is to people, in general, the more we can give ourselves a little bit of a break,” adds Andrews (below). “Sex is messy! Bodies are weird…. Communicating your needs—regardless of what they are—in sexual situations can totally feel embarrassing but it can also offer opportunity for intimacy and connection. Some of the things we find most embarrassing, like incontinence or STI status, are so unbelievably common for all bodies—disabled or not. ”

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Self-pleasure is also important, Sweeney points out. When reviewing sex toys and writing about their accessibility, she looks “at the shape of the toy—can you wedge it between your legs, is it curved, does is have a long or easy-grip handle? I also look at the buttons. Are they easy to press...is the toy flexible...is it heavy or lightweight?”

“The most common question I am asked is ‘What’s the best sex toy for someone with a disability?’” Sweeney says. “And the answer is, unfortunately, there is no one toy that fits everyone’s needs because everyone is different—it just takes experimenting to find the toy that will work best for you.”

Gurza says he loves that even after three years, Disability After Dark brings “a new level of understanding to disability” in each episode. But his favorite thing to do is the “minisodes” he produces once a month, where listeners share “stories and letters and ideas; anything about sex and disability.”

In addition, Gurza says, “I recently did a live episode with my friend Jay Austin, who’s a porn star out of Palm Springs, and we talked about sex and disability together and I asked him what would happen if he became disabled. That was a fun one and it made me realize I want to do more live shows.”

Sweeney says that the LGBTQ community needs to pay more attention to disabled queer people and reach out to the disability community for advice about how to become more accommodating.

“Confront your own ableism,” Gurza says, addressing the LGBTQ community. “Realize that many of us in the queer community are ableist. We need to get over that. Look at the way you prioritize certain bodies and remove other bodies. Look into proper accessibility at your clubs and your parties. Start donating to causes outside of just the HIV [epidemic]. I would love to see fundraisers for disability accessibility.... Start looking at the way we immediately exclude the disabled community and figure out why and start changing those things to be more inclusive. And just realize, LGBTQ community, that you have an ableism problem.... From there we can start having a conversation.”

“It’s a conversation we really need to be having that we just aren’t,” Andrews says, adding that A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability is “a culmination of all the things the disability community has taught and continues to teach me every day. I want it to serve as a starting point. Ultimately, I think I just wanted to demystify the false idea that sex isn’t for us.”

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