He stood at the foot of my bed, his beautiful body still sweaty and worked up from the session we just had together. He was taking my legs and guiding them into a pair of pants that we’d thrown on the seat of my wheelchair earlier that evening.
I couldn’t stop watching him as he touched my legs; he looked so focused and kind of adorable, making sure that he was doing it exactly right. I took a deep breath and fully relaxed into this, smiling as I replayed all the little moments of intimacy we’d just shared — until I could no longer ignore the question that had been quietly simmering inside of me.
“Hey there,” I said, watching him work the crease out of my pants as he pulled them up and kissed me. “Was that okay for you? I mean, was I any good?”
I’ll never forget the deafening silence as I waited for his answer. I just lay there, waiting to hear what he would say, terrified of the answer.
Centuries seemed to pass before he finally said, with an unmistakable air of condescension in his tone, “Of course. You were . . . great.”
As he said those words, his face transformed into a big, bright over-the-top smile, confirming for me that he wasn’t telling truth, but rather trying to protect my feelings.
Once I was back in my wheelchair and dressed, we said our goodbyes and I closed the door behind him, wondering why he hadn’t answered my question honestly.
His reaction made me seriously question whether or not I, as a disabled queer man, was actually any good in bed. Was I? Did I have anything to offer as a sexual partner with a disability? Or did I just suck (and, not in the good way)?
Every time I’ve had sexual partners, I thought they were enjoying themselves with me, as I did whatever I could to provide pleasure, even when my disabled body had other ideas. They made all the appropriate noises and reactions that one would expect from enjoyable sex, but as I looked back on the memories more critically, I recalled some facial expressions and plastered smiles that might suggest otherwise.
What made it worse is that these thoughts have always been a part of my sexual narrative thanks to ableism.
Ableism can take several forms, whether it’s the discrimination or condescension that able-bodied people direct towards disabled people, or the internalized shame and anger a person might feel about their own disability.
And then there’s “sexual ableism,” when someone says something weird just as you’re about to play, or when someone you are into rejects you because you are a wheelchair user, or when you yourself don’t feel sexy because you are disabled.
I experience all of these things regularly as a Queer Cripple when I try to access my sexuality. Sexual ableism is constantly prodding at me, reminding me that even though I can mimic the sex acts of my able-bodied counterparts, I’ll never quite be as good as the “real thing” and my lovers know it.
I always worry that the second we’re done, they’ll run to their friends and laugh about just how shitty that hook-up with the disabled guy was. Seriously, I have nightmares about it.
No one has really told me about my sexual performance as a queer disabled man. This lack of feedback has left me a big, nervous wreck during sex, as I try to hit marks when I don’t really know what it is I am aiming for.
I believe the reason why people don’t critique me is two-fold; in our society, we have been conditioned to see disabled people as angelic, sweet creatures who can do no wrong no matter what, because they are “sick” or “less than.”
Moreover, we have come to understand the disabled person, and the disabled body, as the embodiment of all that is “innocent” and “good.” This means that if I did something my lover absolutely did not like, they might not tell me for fear of offending me or being seen as rude to me because I am disabled.
I also think people may not want to speak up about what they actually want when we’re messing around because sexual ableism sends the message that their time with me isn’t about their desires at all, but rather making sure they help the “poor disabled soul” experience sexuality.
Unfortunately, this leads to a kind of “sexual saviour” complex, whereby my lover may feel they have done their good deed for the day by getting me off.
I don’t have a long-term partner to work through my insecurities and questions with and I’m still searching for the queer unicorn that is the ever-elusive “friend with benefits,” so I am constantly left wondering about my sexual skill and worth.
As a disabled person, people have often assumed that I have issues understanding the world around me. They have talked down to me, given me easy passes on exams and tests, the list goes on. When it comes to sex and pleasure, I worry that the same might be true: are my lovers and hookups giving me an easy A?
The truth is, I am dying for an honest, straightforward critique of my sexual abilities. I want to know what I did that was amazing and made your toes curl, as well as the things that I might need more practise on.
By not communicating their needs, or sugarcoating their responses in heaps of ableism, my lovers are doing me a disservice of sorts.
The bedroom is where so many of us learn about sex in real-time; it’s where we hone our greatest skills and develop all the moves that help us become a master of the make-out session.
I don’t want an easy pass or top marks in the bedroom because my lover pitied me, or wanted to be polite simply because I am disabled. I want any smiles my lovers have after sex to be genuine; and if they have any hesitations or dislikes, I’d like the chance to work on those areas together until we get it just right.