Q&As

The Boy In The Chair

Andrew Gurza, who has cerebral palsy, has made it his life's mission to help end the taboos around sex and disability.

Talking about sex feels taboo for many of us, but for Andrew Guzra, the man behind the popular podcast Disability After Dark, talking about sex is just part of the job. From his self-proclaimed bachelor pad, Andrew creates and produces his own podcast series that deals with the intersection of his marginalized identities, and his work is catching on in a big way.

Andrew, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, talks and writes openly about dating, sex, and relationships as someone with a disability. Andrew also identifies as a queer man, and frequently discusses the intersection of his queer identity and his disability. Along with his podcast, he’s shared his work on the subject in The Huffington Post, The Advocate, and The Good Men Project, as well as his personal blog.

Photo: Yuli Scheidt

“My relationship to Cerebral Palsy is always changing,” he explains to me in an interview. “Some days I love it, other days, not so much, but it is a part of me, always. My Cerebral Palsy impacts everything I do.”

For his day job, Andrew freelances as a disability awareness consultant. He’s twice been a keynote speaker for Illinois State University, and does speaking events at schools across the U.S. Andrew is also active in Toronto’s queer scene, where he does outreach for the intersection of the LGBTQ and disabled communities.

Originally from King City, Ontario, Canada, the 32-year-old now resides in The Distillery District of Toronto, Canada, one of the hippest parts of the city. Nestled in east end of Toronto, Andrew lives and works among a hub of cafes, independent small businesses, and even a world-renowned chocolate shop. Working from the comforts of his home also alleviates issues of accessibility.

Like many people with Cerebral Palsy, Andrew has lived with it since birth. The working definition of Cerebral Palsy describes it as a “neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development,” that subsequently impacts body movement and muscle coordination.

But for people who live with Cerebral Palsy, there is no one-size-fits-all experience.“It’s not a disease or condition,” Andrew notes. “In my view, it is a disability.”

Cerebral Palsy generally appears at birth, but can develop later in life. For some people, it may impact balance, coordination, or posture. For others, fluctuating muscle contractions such as trembling or writhing are more likely symptoms. The type of assistance needed varies widely; some people who live with Cerebral Palsy require little aid, while others require near constant care. Across the board, Cerebral Palsy is a chronic condition that people can manage, but cannot cure.

For Andrew, living with Cerebral Palsy does not define his life. More than that, it does not define or supercede other aspects of his identity, including his sexuality. Andrew shared insights into his work on the intersection of disability and sexuality with Folks, with an edited interview appearing below.

#deliciouslydisabled

What inspired you to create Disability After Dark?

I had been doing disability advocacy work for years on my own with various brands I created, and I wanted to create a brand that played with the idea of taboo.  DisabilityAfterDark does just that. I wanted something that was almost dirty and inappropriate, but not quite.

How has Disability After Dark developed over time? What are your plans for the future?

I have been running AndrewGurza.com and DisabilityAfterDark since July 2016.  I have been working as a Disability Awareness Consultant on my own for over five years. My plans are to just keep producing what I refer to as “Cripple Content” for disabled people, by disabled people. Keep growing and get more speaking and writing opportunities.  Turn #CrippleContent into a well-known disability hashtag on social media.

I am also starting a side project called “Cripple Content Creations” to help disabled entrepreneurs brand their work. I want to give them the leg up and the help that I didn’t have and had to carve out. Basically, I work to ensure that disability has a place in our landscape in a fresh and exciting way.  

Have your family and friends been supportive of your work?

People seem to like it; they’ve told me it speaks to them. My podcast alone has over 2,500 downloads!

What was your “coming out” experience like?

My coming out story is pretty funny. I was two weeks shy of my 16th birthday back in 1999, and I knew I was queer, but I was scared to say anything. I didn’t want to add another issue onto my stuff.

I remember sitting in my mom’s kitchen, and she said, “What’s wrong?  Are you gay or something?”   I just said, meekly, “Yeah.”   

From then on, we watched Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and I knew everything would be okay. But I have had to come out in many different ways – whether it be disability or queerness – over the years. You never really stop coming out as a Queer Cripple, if I’m honest.

I’ll never forget the long pause before he said, “I can’t [date you].  Your disability scares me to death.”

What was dating like as a young man who was both queer and living with Cerebral Palsy?

There were many challenges growing up as Queer and having Cerebral Palsy.   I’ll never forget this one night at a bar in my college town. I was crushing hard on this guy that I met a few weeks prior.  He was gorgeous; beautiful brown eyes, great smile, all the things I thought I wanted.  At the end of the night, we were standing outside, and I was trying to ask him out… or at least I wanted to.

I finally said, “did you wanna go on a date sometime?”  

I’ll never forget the long pause before he said, “I can’t.  Your disability scares me to death.” I was crushed.   

That kind of stuff happened and still happens to me quite a lot.   I would say in some ways, even at 32, I am still in some ways, growing up as Queer and Crippled.

Why do you think it’s important for people to talk about sex and disability?

I think it’s important for so many reasons: we don’t ever hear about it and representation matters. It’s also important because one day disability may occur to any of us, and we need the anchors to show us it will be okay.  That’s why it is so important!

Why do you think people struggle to talk about disabilities and sexuality?

I think people struggle because we have had the idea engrained in our culture that disability is inherently bad or wrong. Once you compound that with the idea of sex; the original sin, all hell breaks loose.  It’s easier and safer for people to think sex and disability doesn’t occur, but I also wonder how those same people might feel if their sexuality was erased?

How does it feel being in the queer community as someone with a disability? Do traditionally queer spaces feel accessible?

I definitely do not feel included enough or at all represented in LGBTQ+ culture. I feel that many queer spaces are inaccessible both physically and emotionally.  Queer spaces need to put disability at the forefront of what they do. Until then, they will remain inaccessible.

Disability may occur to any of us, and we need the anchors to show us it will be okay.

How have dates or partners reacted to your disability as an adult?

I tend to get similar reactions from dates: this quiet fear that they are afraid to voice, or this overconfidence which later becomes fear. They don’t want to offend me or say the wrong thing, but they tend to do just that.  If dates or partners would just be honest about their anxieties, I think things might go a lot smoother.

I have a plethora of bad experiences that I could talk about that center around people’s fear of disability…  I had a guy at a bar once feel me up to check and see if I was paralyzed or not, so yeah, that sucked.  

How does your disability play into how you feel during a date?

By that same token, I am always worrying about how my disability plays into a date or sex.  I’m never not thinking about it, you know?

Well, there haven’t really been too many good times, by way of dating just yet.  People are still really scared to date the disabled person, and it can be really exhausting to encounter that.   I’ve enjoyed dating with men on dating apps because it allows me to remove accessibility as a factor.   I’ve had a lot of men tell me on the apps that they’ve never seen someone so “real”, so I guess that’s nice.  I like that my disability helps me access vulnerability.

 

Photo: Yuli Scheidt

How do your identities play into one another?

My identities inform and interplay with each other, always. I am awkward and weird about both my identities… My brand is kind of built on the fact that I like being awkward and crippled. That’s why I am a queer cripple, if that makes sense.  

When you were in school, were disabilities or LGBTQ issues ever discussed in sex ed?

When I was in school, queerness and disability was never, ever discussed. Not ever in sex ed. I think it is critically important that disability representation happens in sex education.  This would show that disabled people have sexual value.  

Why is it important for people with disabilities to be seen as having sexual value? What sort of positive impact could it have on society at large if society’s stigmas about sex and disability changed?

It’s important for the disabled community to be seen as having sexual value, as it is for any group, but I think it is particularly important because people with disabilities are still, in 2017, seen as non-sexual.  Sex and disability, especially in LGBTQ+ spaces, is still “taboo” and “wrong.” I think that if the stigmas around sex and disability changed, our overall issues surrounding body image might disappear.  I also believe that we’d all be having a lot more sex!