Everybody thinks they know what it means to be a man. We all think we know that being a man means being strong, powerful and having an unforgiving sensuality that just won’t quit. We all know that being a man means you are the provider, the breadwinner, and you are self-reliant and sufficient, right? (I mean, c’mon, hasn’t every action/romantic comedy male lead been written this way for the past 50 years? Also, if I were to see a man like that in real-life, I would automatically fall to my knees. Do with that image what you like.) Imagine that, try as hard as you might, you were unable to meet the male milestones? How then would this shape who you are, and who everyone else thinks you should be?
When you live as a Person with a Physical Disability (e.g. Cripple*), your sense of masculinity is constantly challenged. When you need help to do everything from get out of bed to wiping your own ass, your ideas about what it means to be a man, undergo a drastic shift. Usually, in these care situations you are attended to by women. While I have always been very appreciative of the help, it has caused me to worry that I will lose my maleness. I will never forget one such incident where I was putting on my condom catheter (I know, sexy, right?) and my attendant said, “Okay, get hard”, as if I could do so on command (the only way this would ever occur would be if Ben Affleck or Channing Tatum were behind her). I have never felt more emasculated and emotionally castrated in my whole life. All I could think was, “if I were a normal man, this would never happen.”
When your body is constantly, and only, viewed as something to be washed cleaned and tended to, the independence and self-sufficiency that we expect of a man is not present. How do you retain your masculinity when a 55-year-old woman is between your legs humming Christian hymns while washing your balls (I’ll let that image sit for a second)?
As a Queer Cripple who inhabits both the world of disability, and that of MSM sexuality, my maleness is a constant question mark. The gay male scene expects men to be “down to fuck” at all costs, and when you roll up in your wheelchair, unable to emulate those corporeal ideologies, that expectation goes out the window. I constantly have to prove my manliness, by answering questions about whether or not I can get a boner (unfortunately, these questions usually come about, when I am trying to do that very thing), or if I even want sex (Note: I wish that I could respond to all those questions with: “Come here and I’ll show you”, but sometimes that isn’t always the best).
It can also be particularly trying when everywhere you look, your disability is not represented in a culture that is supposed to embrace difference. I will never have washboard abs, and I will never be able to fuck you like the porn stars (I am sure that many of you are reading this and thinking, “Yo, I am abled bodied and I can’t do that either”. Very true, but for some reason the wheelchair makes this all the more apparent.) The amount of times I have had to contend with the fear surrounding my disability as it relates to my queerness is always rising, simply because I disrupt what a queer man is supposed to be.
I could sit here and continue to lament how my difference has depleted me of all that it means to be a man, but what good would that do? Instead, I want to talk about how my Queer Cripple identity has shaped me into a better man than any of those tired tropes, and why I celebrate that instead:
Make-Your-Own-Man: When I was in my youth, I tried really desperately to find a role model with whom I could connect my queer identity to. I can’t even remember how many times I picked out certain clothing or picked up words like “bro” or “dude” in an attempt to come off as more masculine, which I thought would deflect from my disability. (Okay, I thought the more masculine I was, the more I’d get laid.) First, anyone that tried to engage with me during this period, I am very sorry – I most likely looked redonculous, true fact. Secondly, my disability has taught me that not having a role model to connect to when I was younger (or even now) means that I do not have to try to conform to any outdated stereotype.
I don’t have to be “down to fuck”, I don’t have to be tied to these molds that weren’t made for me, and while that is awfully daunting (really scary, in fact), it is also liberating. I can create my own manhood, one that allows my wheelchair to be a part of it, and my Queer Crippled worldview has given me that.
Attentive, Empathetic and Sensual: How many times have you turned on, well, any media really, and heard: “I just wish he would listen to me”? Pretty sure that every female top-40 pop hit of late deals with this issue exactly. Well, guess what – having to direct my care and be very direct with people to get my most basic needs met, has taught me to listen to what’s going on in every situation and be attentive to detail. I think that my disability has helped me to connect to an emotional side of masculinity, that is very rarely tapped into (read: sad songs make me cry openly on buses).
For all you men out there, who are worried I might not measure up in the sack, worry not. (Note: there have been many pivotal moments in the bedroom, where I worried extensively that I wasn’t good enough; that I wasn’t doing it the way “real men” do it.) I may not be able to contort my body into 10 different positions or throw you up against a wall, but I can show you the beauties and intricacies of intimacy in a way that you never thought possible. Cripples have to be adaptable to say the least, and this means that I can remind lovers and other men of what it is to be queer without all the expectation and or physical theatrics (that said, if you want to ride on my Hoyer lift while naked, feel free to do just that).
I mean, when was the last time that you just laid there with your lover, enjoying the fact you were there together, instead of reenacting what you saw in that porno that time? My disability and my queerness has enhanced my sensuality, and has infused it with different ways of connecting with men that truly taps into them as people, rather than just sex partners. (I’ll let the images of me ravishing you, cripple and all, settle in.)
Lastly, my Queer Cripple identity as it relates to my masculinity, has helped me to realize that I have the power to help other crippled men. Through my struggles and constant navigation of “what it means to be a man, bro or dude”, I can pave the way so that we can usher in a new breed of men, the likes of which has yet to be understood.
So, the next time you’re out with me on a date, and you feel yourself thinking and ultimately uttering, “I’ve never been with a guy (insert: man, bro, dude, queer as required) like you before, this is amazing”, I’ll just turn my wheelchair toward you, smile and say, “you’re welcome.”
Andrew Morrison-Gurza is a Disability Awareness Consultant with an MA of Legal Studies specializing in Persons with Disabilities. Andrew also has the experience of living as a Person with a Disability. Through his work, Andrew aims to give everyone the opportunity and most importantly, the permission to start the conversation by discussing his day to day lived experience and making disability accessible to everyone. You can find out more about his work on his website (http://www.andrewmorrisongurza.com/) and follow him on twitter (@amgurza1)