G is for Gay… or bisexual, or lesbian, or trans* (LGBT). Disabled people, just like everyone else, are all different sexual orientations and gender identities.
Charlie Willis is a young disabled man living in Brighton. This National Coming Out Day he talks about multiple comings out – telling people about being bisexual and his impairment.
G is for Gay is part of Scope’s A-Z of sex and disability.
Coming out is about self-acceptance and being able to trust those around you. Every LGBT person has to assess whether it is safe and sensible to come out at any given moment. It is a conscious choice for me to come out about my bisexuality. I feel more control about as and when I come out as bisexual.
I don’t have that option about “coming out” as disabled because of the visible nature of my impairment. Once people get to know me, friends or otherwise, I can be very honest and open about my cerebral palsy. However, sometimes sharing the reasons why I walk the way that I do isn’t something that I feel comfortable with.
Recently, an acquaintance of mine decided to quiz me about my disability and the way that it affected the choices that I made in my life.
“What is your disability? We have spent the night talking, and you haven’t told me,” she said.
While sharing personal experiences can help to change attitudes, everyone has the right not to disclose things about themselves. People who aren’t disabled often think that they have a right to know everything about us, especially if they can see our impairments. I very much doubt that this person would have quizzed me about my sexuality.
My disability doesn’t define me
Being disabled and being bisexual are two huge parts of my identity. Society treats me differently because of these different facets of who I am.
My disability doesn’t define me, but it does inform and affect how I operate and move in the world. My sexuality is the same. My disability affects the way the world interacts with me because it is society that puts up the barriers against disabled people rather than my impairment that is stopping me. My impairment is visible and impossible to escape.
However, unless I am loud and angry about my bisexuality then it is invisible. Bisexual people are often made to feel as if their identities don’t matter. People assume that you have to choose one binary identity, gay or straight, without realising that there is a whole beautiful spectrum between these two points.
Coming out as disabled
I recognise that my experiences do not speak for everyone, and I hope that my words can be viewed in a wider context about our attitudes towards disability and bisexuality.
I’ve found that when I’m out in clubs and bars, my disability causes me to be desexualised and dehumanised. On a number of occasions I have been asked if I can get erections, because people realise that my disability affects my legs. Sometimes people who have no interest in me sexually will ask me the same question. Apparently, a disabled person wanting sex, or being able to have sex, is a novelty, a rarity.
Power in identity
Coming out is not something that happens once if you have multiple identities.
I feel a sense of power in my identity. Regardless of the constant desexualisation and oppression that disabled people face, or the erasure that bisexual people experience, I would not change these aspects of myself.
Having a sense of identity around my disability, and my sexuality, has allowed me to navigate the world more easily. Framing my different identities in a positive light, I am attempting to recognise and embrace them. However, this can be challenging to do at times.
It is important to recognise that disability isn’t always visible. And the sexualisation of bisexual people in the media furthers stigma towards us. By encouraging more education and awareness around the oppression and the hate that minority groups experience we can help to shift attitudes. This would not just help disabled people or LGBTQ people, but everyone.
Please share Charlie’s story on Twitter and Facebook using the buttons below. And check out the next letter in Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability – H for Happy Ending.