Aging with a disability, my body grows increasingly fragile. A
recent bout with skin breakdown put me out of commission for three
weeks as I lay with my hip propped up waiting for the epidermis
to heal. At times like those it's easy for depression to grow
suicidal. Instead, I turn my depression sideways, turn it toward
practical solutions, so that I can do what I need to do in order
to remain healthy.
Sitting in my wheelchair I become terribly uncomfortable at times.
The wrinkles in my pants cause pain and the creases under my butt
multiply the potential for pressure sores. My hips are weaker and
my skin is susceptible to bruising. My ankles constantly ache from
the metal screws that keep them stationary, and my feet swell inside
clothing appropriate for the occasion is one way I try to cope.
I have fashionable jeans, shorts and slacks. I shower daily and
look clean and respectable at work. I wear Hawaiian shirts for summer,
jeans shirts for winter, and long shorts to barbecues. I even own
a suit for the inevitable funeral. Shoes are no problem. As a quadriplegic,
I've had the same four pairs for twenty-three years: loafers, slippers,
sandals and sneakers. Despite my best efforts, clothes hang off
my body and bunch up in the most uncomfortable places. I'm forever
struggling to straighten my collar and keep my jeans from sliding
off my butt when I sit up to relieve pressure. My tie slips to one
side. My underwear rides up my crotch and squeezes my balls, pulling
on my catheter and tubing. In winter I sacrifice the warmth of a
coat because its bulkiness makes me wobble in my wheelchair and
interferes with driving.
During the workday there's no cure for my clothing ills; on my own
time, I've found a solution: I'm a nudist. By now I have lost all
inhibitions about it, but getting to that stage took some work.
Before my injury the only time I was naked was in the shower or
when I was a kid skinny-dipping at scout camp.
The automobile accident that severed my spinal cord was severe enough
to have broken most major bones. After intensive care I was subjected
to several surgeries to repair my badly damaged body. In rehab for
a year, doctors, nurses, and aides worked over my naked and battered
frame; I was exposed and helpless under all of those prodding and
poking hands. When I wore anything at all it was nothing more than
a cotton hospital gown or pullover. In the past twenty-three years,
without exaggeration, hundreds of eyes have seen all of me.
Post-injury my first experience wearing real clothes amounted to
no more than a tee-shirt, sweat pants without underwear, and sneakers.
I had no wardrobe to speak of and constantly struggled to find clothes
to fit my disabled figure. With my little five-foot, ninety-five
pound frame in oversized clothes I was finally rehabilitated enough
to go to college, but I felt lost, a disabled gay man without a
life. For four years I suffered the torment of watching guys sunning
themselves in the university oval. I was living with a girl who
did all my personal care, but I wasn't out to her. Schoolwork and
cable TV filled my days. Although I was getting an education and
planning a career, I had no privacy to be the man I wanted to be.
Eventually I found an apartment where I could live independently
with minimum intrusion from the caregivers who became an essential
part of my daily routine. That freedom changed my life once again.
Ever since I've been solely responsible for managing my staff of
attendants. I try to hire competent and confidential people, but
that does not mean I talk about my queerness with all of them. Although
about half those who work for me are gay, they are employees and
I figure my personal life is none of their business. I hire both
male and female attendants and never make sexual advances. My survival
depends on their respect and I'm not desperate enough to endanger
that for lust.
By the time I moved into my own place it was 1988, when gay liberation
had grown more vocal. The availability of websites and chat rooms
helped me to test the waters of my own gayness. For the first time
since my injury I had the privacy I needed to explore my body and
rediscover my erogenous zones. I learned how to satisfy myself through
self-stimulation and experimented with a number of sexual aids.
For the first few years of my newly independent life I would be
dressed by my morning attendant in whatever attire was appropriate
for my activities that day and would wear that same outfit until
my evening attendant arrived.
In 1991, still in college, I hired mostly students. My male helpers
were straight and I never revealed my sexuality. At the beginning
of fall semester I went to the campus GLBT office and posted an
advertisement on the community bulletin board for a gay attendant.
I was excited a few days later when a guy answered my ad.
After dinner that evening I tried to read but I was unable to concentrate.
Jim, the prospective attendant, was due at 7:00 PM. A knock on my
door about 6:45 startled meI'm impressed with punctually.
I yelled for him to come in. He held out his hand to introduce himself
and I returned the courtesy. Jim was an average-looking college
student, just the kind of guy I had in mind, since I did not want
to advertise my own gayness by hiring someone "obviously" gay. During
our interview I was impressed with his maturity. After explaining
my bowel routine in graphic detail, my schedule, and what I was
willing to pay, he said without hesitation that he could do the
job if I could be patient during his learning curve. I scheduled
him for training with my outgoing attendant. Within a few weeks
Jim had my morning routine down to a tee.
Having a gay attendant was another new beginning for me. At last
I could relate to someone honestly and express my true self. There
was never a question of any sexual tension between us. We discussed
the changing times and Jim educated me about the young gay scene
that was emerging from the shadows.
Jim worked on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and was always
on time. I talked to him about the many people who had come and
gone in my life, about all those who had seen me naked since my
accident. I told him I'd become adjusted to it by now, that it had
become part of my survival game. One day he asked if I had ever
considered not wearing clothes at all. I replied that I'd thought
about it but had never sat naked in my wheelchair for recreation.
He said he would be willing to help me get undressed in the evenings
and there would be no charge for the few minutes of assistance.
started coming by almost daily to take my clothes off at the end
of the day. Studying and watching TV naked
I felt liberated. Despite
the heartache of loneliness, being naked at home encouraged me to
explore my body even more. I wasn't afraid to caress my paralyzed
legs and search for sensations in my torso and genitals. As I discovered
new realms of disability and queerness, living without clothes became
an essential part of my life, something natural and normal. Thanks
to Jim a whole new world opened for me. With succeeding attendants,
I continue to be a nudist.
My first priority at the end of every workday is to get out of my
clothes. Unless I have weekend plans, I wear nothing but a smile.
When the weather is warm, I wear an XXXL tank top or tee-shirt;
when I'm sitting in my wheelchair, people can't tell I'm not wearing
shorts. My apartment is in a college town adjacent to a gay neighborhood
where I do most of my business. The guys who help me at various
shops tease me and say they wish they could get away with what I
do. Some have been privileged to observe all my bodyart.
I like to drive naked and occasionally at night I take my top off
and feel the hot summer breeze on my naked body. That's the only
time I break the law!
At a local gay men's gym and swim club I am fortunate to be able
to sit in the sun and let the warmth of the rays bathe my soul and
ease the aches that ravage me. When guys talk about not having tan
lines, I point out that I have only oneat the base of my penis
where the tape holds the catheter. At first the other guys at the
club were taken aback by my appearance. They were not accustomed
to seeing a disabled man unashamed to expose his body, especially
not a disabled guy bold enough to flaunt piercings in nipples and
scrotum, and several tattoos. By now I've had many interesting conversations
about my choice of bodyart. It's clear that I like other guys with
tats and metal. I have yet to capture a guy with a Prince Albert
piercing, but it is only a matter of time.
The club is disability-friendly, a modern building with all facilities
on one level. If I call from my cell phone in the parking lot one
of the houseboys will open the front door for me. I learned about
the club through one of my morning attendants who told me that a
new bathhouse was opening in town. A good-looking college kid, he
knew the hot spots. Having been turned off by the bar scene, I said,
Thanks but no thanks. He replied, "No, it's not like the bars. The
guys are all ages and sizes. You should check it out." Am I glad
I took his advice! From early spring until the last vestiges of
summer I can brown my body without worrying if other guys are looking
at me. I like hanging around naked guys and buzzing to techno music.
With all the diversity at the club my wheelchair fits right in.
During winter, when I'm trapped inside by inclement weather, I turn
the thermostat to maximum. I don't care about the gas bill or conserving
energy. The apartment stays toasty and when I look out the window
at the blowing snow I think to myself, spring is just around the
corner. As a severely disabled gay man, I have few freedoms left
in my life. Not being bound by clothes is one of them. Nudity not
only frees my body, it frees my spirit. I'm proud of my achievements
since becoming disabled. The life I lead is no less honorable than
that of the next guy. I'm just a gay man suffering a spinal cord
injury, trapped in a wheelchair, who's found a way get some pleasure
out of life.
© 2005 Mike Shumate
Header design by Tom Metz
Let us know what
you think of this BENT feature.
is a concept by which I measure my pain. He lives in my heart
and I feel happy and sane. If all the people in this world could
feel free like me, the wars of ignorance would cease to be.
Peace and love for us all!
A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2005