Abled people don’t like talking about disabled people having sex. But by denying their sexuality, they infantilize people with disabilities and rob them of one of the most fundamental parts of being human.
Andrew Gurza, a disability consultant from Toronto, Canada, wants to change the attitudes about disabled sex. His life’s work is educating people about disabled sexuality, starting with the bare minimum: showing that disabled people enjoy sex just like abled people. He does this by talking about his own sexuality as a disabled person as well as giving space for other disabled people to share their stories, on his podcast and in his speaking engagements.
Gurza’s podcast DisabilityAfterDark covers all things disabled and queer. There are few platforms out there for disability and sex, or people talking about the intersections of the two. There’s sexualityanddisability.org, a resource for disabled women’s sexuality, which is great. But Gurza’s podcast is the only podcast discussing the intersections of queerness and disability, and he does it through a very personal lens. He talks about everything from ableism in the sex positive community to his interest in puppy play. Now, he’s expanding his brand by crowdfunding a new line of fully accessible sex toys. I spoke with Gurza about hosting the first disabled sex party, sex toys and depictions of disabled folk’s sexualities in media like this year’s Shape of Water.
Talk to me about Disability After Dark – why’d you start it?
We work around sexuality, disability and specifically queerness. My goal is to talk about sex and disability that isn’t pandering to non-disabled people. This is a reality for people, this is who I am. I try to engage emotionally with my audience. I’m very, very real because my disability forces me to be authentic. Even if I don’t want to be, I have to be. To talk about this stuff, real times, it’s important.
We are starting to talk about sexuality and disability more today but it’s done in a very safe, ableist way. ‘Oh they have sex, good for them that’s all I wanna know.’ My goal is to talk about how it really is.
The nitty gritty reality
Tell me about your plans for an accessible sex toy. What prompted you?
The idea wasn’t mine. My sister lives in Australia and works for a marketing company. She asked me one day what’s the one thing a disabled person needs? I said more accessible grabbers, for cups and stuff. She said to me, well you work in sex and disability so what about a sex toy?
So I started reaching out and I realized there have been toys that have been adapted for the disabled community but there haven’t been toys that were created from scratch by a disabled person, for a disabled person. The goal of this toy is to bring that onto the market. We want to expand to all types of disability but we’re starting with physical disabilities alone because it’s one of the most prominent [categories] and it’s my experience. I can help shape something from where I know.
And what kind of toy(s) are you thinking?
We’re working with RMIT Australia. Right now, we’re doing research. We want to find out from the community, what kinds of toys work for you? Then we’ll develop prototypes. We’re working with disabled people, occupational therapists, sexuality experts. We don’t want to just make a dildo attachment to make it more ‘accessible.’
Tell me about Deliciously Disabled, the sex party
I don’t know if I want to organize one again. I want to help other places around the world have parties like that but organizing it was extremely difficult. It showed the level of discomfort around disability. The coverage was ‘oh my god, these disabled people are gonna have an orgy in Toronto.’ We got coverage all around the world but it was very ableist coverage. Nobody knew how to handle it. ‘Oh, you’re gonna have a sex party? You gonna fuck in your wheelchairs?’ These were literally the questions people were asking us on the air, on the radio.
What was the party like?
First of all, only one person at the party had sex. It wasn’t me, it was someone else. So it wasn’t this big orgy. It was literally a space for disabled people to feel comfortable and have their sexuality celebrated. I wish that sex parties were billed in that way—you don’t have to fuck someone to get in the door. You can actually be a person and be a little awkward and that’s okay too. The way our party was billed by the media was the minute you walk in the door, people were having sex. That is not what happened. It was literally a bunch of disabled people in a space, trying to figure out how to be sexual, and me going around as the host thanking everyone for coming.
What was the reaction from the disabled community like, to the party?
When we first launched, some people in the disabled community were upset at the whole thing. ‘How dare you do this? This is demeaning to our community.’ So a lot of backlash from within my community, which was surprising. I got an email from somebody who called us heathens, said I was disgusting, suggesting I go to rehab hospitals.
Places like BBC wanted to come film the event. We told them no, this wasn’t for them to exploit us. This wasn’t a joke, it was a real thing we were trying to do. We were really trying to create change.
It’s something I’m very proud of but when we tried to launch the second one, interest seemed to die. I had a falling out with the person I organized it with so I moved away from that brand. But now, with these sex toys, I’m hoping to bring the brand back.
But I’m very proud of that party.
Jumping back to this year, let’s talk about The Shape of Water. You reviewed it in your podcast and you had some issues with their portrayal of disabled sexuality?
Disabled people were telling me how great it was. When I watched it for myself to review – and I had heard some of the backlash – it was all kinds of problematic. They talk down to this character who is mute like she can’t understand. I did appreciate that the character has an active sexuality—I mean she masturbates in the first few minutes of the film.
What I had trouble with is that this character falls in love with fish man within 20 minutes of the film. There’s no lead up to why they should be in love, they barely know each other, they barely communicate and yet they’re in love. [The film] used this disability trope to show that they were both othered and that’s really problematic. I mean the fish wasn’t even attractive! Yet here she is fucking him in the bathroom.
Why couldn’t she have fucked the CIA detective guy? He was hot! I mean he ended up being a misogynistic weirdo but he was hot. There was the guy who gave her pie all the time. He ended up being a racist. But still. There were people in the film she could have been with who weren’t creepos or fish men.