I'm sitting in a condo in Toronto's east end. Across from me is Andrew Gurza. Gurza is shirtless with a leather harness around his chest. As he reaches to adjust the position of his wheelchair I catch a glimpse of a tattoo just below his collarbone. The tattoo reads Queer Cripple.
Sprawled out on the bed next to him is a dominatrix named Lady Pim. Pim is in a corset and stockings. She holds a small leather glove. Periodically as we chat Pim uses the glove to playfully smack Gurza on the knee. The third time she does this Gurza and I lock eyes. His mouth gives way to an impish smile. "I already have brain damage," he says. "There is nothing else she could do to hurt me." Everyone in the room starts to laugh. We don't stop laughing for what feels like a solid five minutes.
The joke is indicative of Gurza's brutally honest approach to disability awareness. Gurza isn't interested in making inspiration porn or pity pieces. Instead he speaks with bluntness and humour about his cerebral palsy and his day to day life. Sometimes that means sharing raunchy stories about face fucking, wheelbarrow sex, and his exploration of the kink scene. Other times it's talking about how an irritable bowel syndrome flare up messed up a whole week of plans. Gurza's outspoken demeanour has won him a devoted following on social media, where he spends an equal amount of time making connections and pushing buttons. His latest project is the hashtag campaign #DisabledPeopleAreHot. Since he created the hashtag earlier this month, thousands of users from across the globe - both with visible and invisible disabilities - have shared selfies and photos with the goal of reframing the conversation on how we think about impairment. It has been a huge achievement for the disability advocate, who said he's been overjoyed with both the chance to start a conversation and the level of attention that conversation has brought him.
The photoshoot alongside Lady Pim, a friend and colleague Gurza met because they both host sex positive podcasts, was another effort to bring attention to his work and open up dialogue about disability and sex. I chatted casually with Gurza about his hashtag, queer intimacy, and challenging assumptions about what disabled people can do.
VICE: Can you talk to be about why you started the #DisabledPeopleAreHot hashtag?
Andrew Gurza: A couple weeks ago I was bored and on Twitter. I typed in the sentence Disabled People are Hot in the search bar just to see what would happen. Nothing came up. So I posted a photo naked except for a hat covering my genitals. The caption was I'm not afraid of your body, why are you afraid of mine? #DisabledPeopleAreHot...afterwards I put out a request for pictures of people feeling sexy, feeling good, and feeling happy being disabled. I asked them to use the hashtag. By the morning my mentions had exploded. They were full of people from all over the world posting photos with their mobility devices and/or with their invisible disabilities. Each photo was tagged #DisabledPeopleAreHot. There were a bunch of articles about it. I did interviews. Almost 200 people posted new photos from across the world this morning. It's incredible.
Why has the hashtag been so important for you?
It's important for two reasons:
One. For disabled people to see themselves as sexual and sensual. To be given permission to do that is hugely important. We're often denied the right to be sexual whenever we want to be. This hashtag is saying: Hey, you want to feel slutty today? You want to feel good about your body? Here is a place to do that!
Two. It's showing non-disabled people that we are here. We exist and we've been sexy the whole time. Here is picture proof of it. It's showing them that it's OK to sexualize disabled people as long as disabled people have agency over that sexualization. And that's what the hashtag does. It allows people to put themselves out there in a sexy way. On their terms.
You've joked that the only reason you do any work is because you're trying to get laid. I've always admired how open you've been about your desires and needs. What do you get out of sharing?
My whole job as a disability consultant started out of the need to share. I was lonely, I didn't have community, and I had stories to tell. I wanted to talk about all the times I had been trying to access my sexuality and been told 'no.' I wanted to talk about all the times I had been told 'no' because of who I am. So sharing those stories - including how I talk about sex - is part of how I make money. But more than that I want to be that person for other people. I want to be visible and disabled for people who need to see themselves. I want to show we can thrive. I didn't have a role model like that growing up. I don't have a role model like that now. I am that role model for myself and for a number of other people. I may be in a wheelchair-and sure I can't do some things-but I sure as hell can suck dick. I can be sexy, create viral campaigns, and be honest about who I am.
So many conversations we have about disability turn into sob stories. Why do you think that is?
Because we focus on disabled people who became disabled. It's usually talking about how sad it is someone is in a wheelchair after a tragic accident. And, sure, that can be sad. But it doesn't mean you can't have a fulfilling life. I'd like to see more Hollywood stories about people who were born disabled. I'd like to see more of that content shared. This whole idea of becoming disabled isn't something iI understand. Disability is just part of who I am. I live like this everyday. There are days where it's tough. There are days where it's shitty. There are days where you have to cancel plans and let your disabled body do what it's going to do. But that doesn't mean your life is sad. It doesn't mean that everything is tragic. It just means you deal with life in the best way you can.
How do you navigate your needs and desires in your sex life?
I'm having really good sex right now because I work predominantly with sex workers to get my needs met. Over the last two years I've been hiring escorts because I got tired of dealing with ableism from our queer male community. Just trying to meet somebody can be exhausting because they can't get over the fact I'm a wheelchair user. They can't get over the fact that I need help. I wanted to get off with the guy who would never talk to me in real life. I remember going on the escort site and finding the most muscular, masculine, dude. I asked if he had ever worked with a disabled client before. He hadn't. But we worked together and figured out how to do it. Since then I've worked with other escorts and it's always been a really positive experience. I get to have sex on my terms. I don't have to worry about the feelings of anybody. I can just suck someone's dick, say thank you, and then we're done. There is something really powerful about that as a disabled person. I love that power because it reverses the roles. I'm not just this sad disabled person crying about sex. I'm making a conscious choice to get my sex the way I want and then get on with it.
That sounds kind of hot.
Hot can mean a lot of things. Last week I was with a worker for an hour. We just cuddled and watched Family Guy. I mean, I sucked his dick for an hour afterwards but we also had moments where we just hung out...some of my favourite moments with sex workers are teaching them about my sling. Teaching them how to get in and out of my chair. Teaching them to dress me and redress me. It's not necessarily sex. The sex stuff is hot because it's sex. What's hotter to me is the intimacy and connection. I don't get that from my caregivers or the people who take care of me. They're helpful but it's not their job to be intimate. So when I get to just be with someone in my space as a disabled man, with all my different shit, and have them just touch me in a way that's sensual? That's hotter than anything else.
There are people who get uncomfortable when you talk about your sexualty. How would you respond to them?
If we keep talking about sexuality and disability in ways that are comfortable for non-disabled audiences we're not going to get anywhere. What the hashtag does - what all my work does - is pushes people to sit in their discomfort for a minute. That's where the meat of the thing is. That's where we can really start to enact change. With everything I do whether it's sucking dick or having an interview I like to make people a little uncomfortable then interrogate why. Why should me being who I am make anyone uncomfortable? Now you have to deal with that.
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