by Larry Roberts


I've just joined Disgaytalk, BENT's e-mail list, and I feel an instant intimacy with guys I have never met in person but want to meet. It's a little bit like being young and gay again, when I was madly attracted to guys in junior high but knew I couldn't touch them. Heck, I couldn't even let them know I was attracted to them.

That kind of longing for connection, a familiar feeling, is a longing unfulfilled. I've wanted to know a lot of gay men with disabilities, but I had pretty much given up, convinced that it would never happen. Once I resigned myself to never getting what I wanted, I decided it was no big deal anyway. I told myself I was oversensitive.

Young gay boys are told not to be too sensitive in the same way that kids with disabilities are taught not to take people's discomfort with them seriously. My survival, my happiness, I've decided, depends on resisting that advice: I decided to be sensitive; I am committed to taking people's discomfort very seriously. I have vowed to examine the ways we are separated from each other and the reasons we are intentionally kept apart. These things fascinate me. I refuse to dismiss them.

Maybe other guys relate.

Jumbled together in my thinking are elements clearly unique to my way of looking at the world, my own head-games, the results of my own emotional scars and problems. Mixed up with these are things not mine alone, things like homophobia, heterosexism, ableism, sexual repression, erotic denial, fear of difference, shame, isolation, and social loathing of the different.

Many people (though not as many as before) reject the idea that queerness can be a state of being, an identity that can be lived and celebrated. But far too many people still reject the idea that disability is an ordinary human reality, a common way of being that can be lived and celebrated.

Sometimes I feel like I am about to zoom down from the top of a steep ramp, unsure if I'll be able to stop, unsure if I wanted to get to the bottom in the first place? Do I really have a choice? Is it OK to want something so badly that you'll risk sounding foolish by saying it out loud?

I don't care any more. I'm going to say it anyway: I want to meet guys like me. Why should I settle for hit or miss? Why should I downplay my need, something others are allowed to feel without question, the desire for connection that society celebrates?

That steep ramp does not scare me any more.

We are the first generation of gay men with disabilities willing and able to articulate the fact of our double identity. What fear held us back before now, I wonder? Was it a lack of language, the inability to describe what we were? Was it the absence of an appropriate social space where we could enact our own rituals?

Some might claim that competing political imperatives and demands forced us to choose which of our two identities was more important to us. Medicalized definitions of disability and sexuality doubtless influenced our lack of aptitude for consciousness and pride.

And what about interpersonal dynamics? I am convinced that our desire to belong, our fear of rejection, the desire to be "nice," to not make waves, persuaded many of us to avoid confrontation and thus delay self-definition.

But maybe I'm wrong about everything I just described. And if I am wrong, I don't want to risk being seen as weird by other gay men with disabilities. Maybe, after all, I am the only one who longs for connection in this visceral way. Maybe this is not how the "real" gay men with disabilities feel.

It's painful how deeply I need to be around other disabled gay guys. I need that connection, but I'm also scared to be met with blank looks, scratched heads, or an "Oh, please, honey, get over it!"

Is anyone else as confused as I am by the oppression we face? I understand its structural nature. What I don't get is why people are so weirded-out in the first place. Since I feel perfectly normal I don't get why other people don't "get it."

I am a man with a disability—always have been, always will beso this is the norm for me. My anger, I finally realized, arises from this internal sense of "ordinariness." I really love guys. What's the big deal? Who wouldn't? They are sexy. My partner is the love of my life. Sex with guys is amazing.

And what's the big deal about walking? I don't mind crawling when I need to. A wheelchair is great. It's a natural part of my ordinary day. I am really into my body; I am used to my Cerebral Palsy. It's my physical reality.

At one point I thought I was unique, special, and different from a lot of other people. Now I think I am just another human being, as boring as the next guy. And if, despite our differences, we are all pretty ordinary, the question I ask is, Why do people treat us so badly? That's been my question all along.

I have CP—I was born with it, I never knew anything else. I always felt part of the mainstream and enjoyed a good life, simple as that. And then the most amazing thing happened: I realized I loved guys. I was head over heels and I loved the feeling. I remember the first rush of recognition, with its adolescent intensity. It felt good in a way I had never felt before. I was happy. I was thrilled. I thought about guys every day.

The memory is sweet, and maybe that sweetness is the thing no one wants gay men with disabilities to remember.

But I want to remember. In fact, I insist on remembering. And here is what I imagine: we have gathered together to tell one another our stories; some of us have prepared food, others are building a fire. We form a circle. And the talking begins in earnest.

©2003 Larry Roberts


Don't wait.
Let us know what you think of this BENT feature.


Poet and writer Larry Roberts
is the program director at a Center for Independent Living in Ithaca, NY. An anti-oppression activist on many fronts, he works in the movement against forced psychiatric treatment. Larry and his partner, Ross Haarstad, have been together for more than sixteen years.

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2003