Andrew Morrison-Gurza’s calendar should be full of ‘sexy’ parties.
“I think I’m a pretty sexy guy,” he says. “I get Facebook invites all the time that say stuff like ‘Come to this sexy dance party.’”
But he almost never goes. Morrison-Gurza, 31, was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. The enticing invites he receives aren’t geared towards gay men with disabilities. Every time he’s attempted to bring up the issue of accessibility with the organizers, he’s hit a wall. And it doesn’t feel good.
“They just gasp and go ‘Oh, no, we can’t, it costs too much, we never thought about that,’” he says. “My emotional response is that they didn’t include me and it hurts.”
One of the biggest hurdles for people living with a disability is that talking about sex makes people uncomfortable. Tim Rose, co-founder of the Rose Centre for Love, Sex, and Disability, says this community deals with a lot of misunderstanding and stigma in the romance and dating area. Rose, who was also born with cerebral palsy and relies on an electric wheelchair to move around, married a partner who does not live with a disability. But some people don’t find this plausible.
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“My wife has been called my mother on four separate occasions,” he says. “We started the Centre because we wanted to put something positive out there, which showed that relationships for couples with disabilities could not only occur but could be very successful.”
When Rose looked for more information on sex and relationships for disabled people, he found very little. Because many in the community had very little knowledge, it brought about serious implications for their safety, self-esteem and sexual health. The Rose Centre tries to fill this void in sexual education by answering questions from people with disabilities regarding sex and relationships.
“We have people connect with us at our events and through email who say I’m in my 50s and I never knew this was an option for me,” he says. “We know people with disabilities in their 50s and 60s who had never even been on date.”
Rose is happy to note one positive step towards the visibility of this issue in the form of an upcoming event called Deliciously Disabled. On its provocative flyer, Andrew Morrison-Gurza sits in a wheelchair grinning. A baseball cap emblazoned with the word ‘cripple’ covers his genitals, and a tagline at the bottom states: “Lingerie, costumes, club wear and nudity are allowed.” On August 14, Buddies in Bad Times theatre will host the city’s first fully accessible sex party. Sponsored by Toronto sex club Oasis Aqualounge, everything is welcome at this party; from costumes and sex toys to personal attendants, wheelchairs and mobility devices.
“People are encouraged to express themselves sexually, but nobody is expected to do anything they don’t want to do or are uncomfortable doing,” says Fatima Mechtab, event coordinator and director of marketing at Oasis. “Some people might be dancing; some might have drinks at the bar. It’s going to be a little bit of everything.”
The party will also feature a DJ with a disability, explains Morrison-Gurza, and consent monitors will walk around to make sure everyone’s safe. The cost of admission is $20 and accompanying attendant care workers pay no cover charge. There is much to take in at the event, with celebrity artist Brent Ray Fraser putting on a show and doing live painting, and the possibility of a sex toy workshop and burlesque show. But the real reason this party is so unique is that it’s being thrown by people with disabilities, who properly understand the needs of attendees.
“We’re really trying to think of everything,” Morrison-Gurza says. “There will be a special lift installed for people with disabilities to get in and out of their chairs so if they wanted to get on a bed, or get on a couch or on the floor or something they could do that. It isn’t just about the space; it’s about being able to get undressed, being able to be comfortable and being able to move. There’s so much more to understanding what access really means.”
The push towards breaking down sex and disability taboos did not start with Canada. In the Netherlands, the government provides a subsidy to disabled people who want to hire sex workers, and some reports estimate that sex services can be accessed at the state’s expense up to 12 times a year. The issue was first raised by Raad van State, the government’s top advisory agency, as early as 1992. In 2013, a 29-year-old man with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy started a campaign in England that made similar demands.
The following year saw the launch of another British campaign, Undressing Disability, after surveys showed that sex education for people living with disabilities was so limited that it left many teenagers engaging in risky behaviour. Silence is a problem because young men and women with severe physical disabilities do not find themselves in the same everyday situations in which other teens learn about sex. They may also lack the ability and privacy to experiment with their own bodies. One sexual health worker discovered that one girl became pregnant because she didn’t know that what she was doing was having sex. Even in the case of a well-publicized, high-profile event such as Deliciously Disabled, there’s still much confusion and judgment surrounding the party and its purpose.
“The media got hold of this party and blew it up into what they called a disabled orgy,” Mechtab says. “But that’s not the case at all. It’s just a party, and you can have sex at this party. It’s for everyone, not just for people in wheelchairs. We’re looking to get in some American Sign Language interpreters too.”
What Morrison-Gurza noticed most in organizing this event was that the idea of sexuality and disability is something the public was fine with in theory, but when he put his face to the event and it became a reality for people, the response was often fear and derision.
“Some people were like ‘this is gross, why is this happening?’” he says. “People dubbed it an orgy, and made fun of it by saying, ‘Oh wow all those disabled people are having sex, good for them.’ One Toronto radio host called me and asked me how I had sex – live on the air. I just couldn’t believe that this was the kind of stuff people were asking but it shows how scared we are to engage in conversations about sex and disability.”
Morrison-Gurza, who also hosts a show called Deliciously Disabled for internet radio, says many people he talks to still can’t get past the fact that disabled people may have sexual needs. He wishes they would get over it.
“We just really need to move past the shock and awe factor when it comes to sex and disability,” he says. “I keep blogging and keep talking about it because I think maybe eventually someone will notice me. With this party I’m really excited about putting people with disabilities at the front of the line and saying ‘This party’s for you. We see you’re disabled and that’s ok. We’re not going to turn you away.’”
This article has been updated with additional attribution.