It seems one can find almost anything on the Internet nowadays, with the exception of a serious discussion about sexuality and disabilities; let me assure you, I have looked. It has been increasingly important to me (and certainly others in my plight) to find such information.
I was born with cerebral palsy (CP), along with the ability to ask questions apparently nobody is supposed to ask.
Like most kids who grow up gay, I felt different on the inside; in my particular case, I was different on the outside too. Different from other children, and especially other boys. As an adult I’ve struggled to fit in with other people, especially men.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, I heard my disability hardly mentioned. My parents and teachers encouraged me to see myself as “normal,” but this silence grew deafening with every passing year.
The church was good — but odd — to me. Not only did able-bodied people seem to have it “all together,” but church-people appeared completely smooth and really the opposite of me (whatever I was). If my disability was a moot point, then sexuality was nonexistent.
Even to this day it’s as though society has deemed that disabled people are just asexual. This is how I’ve experienced it, anyway.
Growing up, I had many doctor’s appointments. These clinical events involved disrobing to be examined by mostly young male nurses, and this heightened my curiosity about my sexuality. I wondered what the other boys (most of whom I didn’t really know) experienced sexually; at least on some level, awakening to sexuality, I was like them.
Looking back, I see a general lack of understanding regarding how even to approach someone with a physical disability. My mother always said that my pediatric nurse would tell her, “He likes to be touched.” However, I received very little physical interaction with anyone for most my life, whether from fellow classmates or adults. Some people even believed my CP was contagious!
I became a recluse who struggled with body image and shame in my preteen years; when I first started noticing other guys sexually, these issues only intensified. I started coveting the “normal” male physique in many complicated ways.
I’d attempted some “off and on” tries at working out. It seemed like a good plan, but many of my muscles had atrophied and would not strengthen no matter how much I worked them. Also, seeing other dudes at the gym not only heightened my insecurities about my twisted body but also intensified the lust I already had for other men.
Entering my twenties, I began learning two painful life lessons simultaneously: that the church and greater society didn’t know what to do with disabled people, and also that the church and greater society didn’t know what to do with gay people wanting to live according to traditional Christian marriage standards.
What bits of advice I did hear came in the form of oversimplification. Disabled people were seen as “immature,” and anyone who didn’t act on their same-sex desires was just going through a “phase” that would ultimately end in acceptance of said desires and a same-sex partner.
But neither of these oversimplifications applied to my convictions and personality. This was in the late 90’s when “pray the gay away” was all the rage, and apparently so was “pray the cerebral palsy away.”
I met many well-meaning people (giving them the benefit of a doubt) who took faith healing to a dangerous extreme. Many times I got backed into a corner (figuratively and sometimes literally) by people who held to this belief with the zealousness of a true crusader. I felt pushed, perhaps subconsciously at times, to keep silent about my disability and sexuality.
From my twenties to thirties I kept busy constantly working to fight discrimination in work, education, and social settings. I wasn’t sure how I expected others to treat me, and I honestly wasn’t sure how even to treat myself. I’m not going to say there weren’t any resources for celibate gay Christians with disabilities, but I certainly never came across any.
The silence on the subject gave me the perfect out not to have to come out and face the “disabled gay monster” in my closet.
Though the concept of “Side B” community is still new to me, I already feel at home here and will continue to feel so for a long time. In this community I have finally found the space to work out my complex struggles with both my sexuality and my disability, as well as how both struggles change when held up to the light of the Gospel and the support of Christian brothers.
One of my mentors who also had CP used to remind me:
“Everyone has a disability; you and I just happen to have one that can be seen.”
So I ask you, dear reader, what “unseen disabilities” do you struggle with? I also ask myself which ones I continue to hide from others and, perhaps more profoundly, from myself. How and when do we discuss these hidden disabilities, and with whom? Perhaps these questions and others like them are gentle reminders to seek the Lord’s guidance in all matters, especially these.