Illustration by Jack Tongeman
(Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)
“Did she yell at you? Did she say we’re recording now?” Andrew smiles at me while I look visibly disturbed by the Zoom voice (gets me every time). “There’s always that moment when you feel like you’re being watched,” I answer, before Andrew proclaims that “the Zoom Gods are watching me again!” and we both giggle.
Despite the 5 hour time difference, 6,000km between us, and Andrew’s busy, busy schedule (they’re in high demand, and it’s easy to see why given how charismatic they are), we’ve managed to sit down for a London-Toronto call about all things sex, disability and queer identity.
After a brief chat about the epic art on the wall drawn by their comic-book artist brother, I ask Andrew to introduce themself. They jump in in perfect podcast-ready fashion (you can tell they’re well-practised from Disability After Dark). “My name is Andrew Gurza. I’m a freelancer, I’m a writer, podcaster, award-winning disability awareness consultant… it feels very weird to say but it’s true! I work in sexuality and disability and queerness, and I live with cerebral palsy (CP).
For me, day to day my CP means I’m a full-time powerchair user, and I need help with things like getting out of bed, getting dressed, showering. Once I’m in my chair, as long as I can reach something, I’m fairly independent. But I can’t walk, and I do need a lot of assistance in my day-to-day.”
And their queer identity? “When I was 15/16 I came out as gay, and that identity’s evolved into queer because I didn’t feel like my disability allowed me to fit into the gay male aesthetic of ‘muscular, down-to-fuck, hypermasculine’: I can’t go to the gym, gyms are not accessible for me. So now I just say queer, because it’s a nice catch-all for anything that isn’t forced to confine to a label.
I love being different, and I love that my disability allows for all of that to be not-an-issue. But at the same time, what I also struggle with is when I wanna get sexual, all of that stuff is in my head, how ‘I’m not like the other queer guys you’ve been with because I can’t do XYZ’. It’s a love-hate relationship. It’s something that I advocate for but I also struggle with as a queer person. It’s not something that I’ve conquered or figured out, it’s something that I live with every day.”
We natter for a bit, before I ask Andrew about Disability After Dark, their podcast of 250+ episodes, which meshes discussions about queer sexuality and disability, awesome chat, and a fairly dishy helping of flirting and fun. “It started out five years ago, and if you listen to the very first bunch of episodes, it was very much me trying to keep it as a sexuality podcast, a sex-based show. And then two years ago, I wanted to talk about other stuff around disability, to expand the world of the show.
What I love about Disability After Dark is that we’re talking about stuff no-one ever talks about. It’s very rare that you see a show every week that talks about things like ableism, sex and disability, queerness, friendship…. The most recent episode with Andy Arias was a whole lot of me flirting with him. You don’t hear that a lot in disability discourse.”
I ask Andrew how they pick the interviewees, and they tell me that they often put calls out on Instagram, and get approached by lots of different people. But some of the more memorable episodes have actually come from people closer to them.
“There’s one I did with my friend Daniel about a year and a half ago. We’re friends, and we’re kind of into each other, and we’re eventually going to have sex, so we did an episode of ‘what do you think it would be like to have sex with me?’ I got him to tell me what he would think and do with me as a disabled person, and what are some of the things he’s worried about. We’re going to do a Part 2, when we’re going to meet each other and mess around and record an episode.
Another one of my favourite episodes was with my sex worker, Jon. We did an episode where we sat down together and talked about our relationship, working together and that kind of stuff. That was really fun for me because people got to hear me talk about sex work and how important it is for me as a disabled person.”
Andrew has themself been the star of not one, but two porn films, the first of which was also filmed with Jon in 2019. “It was the first time I had really shown my sex on camera, which was really cool. We spent a couple of hours blocking that scene out, figuring out ‘OK, where is Andrew’s wheelchair going to be in the shot? How are we going to show disability?’. Because disability is a really important part of my sex. We needed to show this, so we spent time getting out of my wheelchair, into bed, getting undressed, making out in the chair – stuff we really don’t see in porn. I loved breaking that boundary and showing that.”
Swinging back round to the podcast, they also tell me about how they like to get prominent queer able-bodied people on the show, and ask them what they think would happen if they became a wheelchair user tomorrow. Their guests have even included podcast royalty, Dan Savage. “I’ve never been more scared to do an episode because Dan Savage is, you know, Dan Savage! And I’m just me, in my bedroom, making a podcast. I was sweating bullets the whole time!”
We giggle for a bit before I ask about their awesome tagline for the series, which is Let’s Get Cozy, Comfy and Crippled. “That one started at the beginning because I was like, ‘well, what do you do when you have sex?’ You get comfy, you get cosy… and then my goal was to play with disability. So it’s my show, I can say ‘crippled’, and it just kind of stuck and I loved it. I was even approached by a T-shirt brand but they couldn’t use ‘crippled’ because it could be considered a slur.”
Andrew frequently refers to themself as a ‘queer cripple’ (and sometimes in sexy encounters, a ‘hot cripple’). “It’s language that I have reclaimed for me. I know that my body doesn’t always do what I want it to do, so why shouldn’t I play with that language? Language can evolve so much – it’s the same thing with queer. If somebody says to me ‘I have really strong feelings around the word ‘queer’, I’m going to listen to their feelings and not refer to them as queer. But I also believe that language is contextual. For myself, ‘cripple’ is a fun way of saying ‘let’s get into the fact that I’m disabled.’”
At this point, a delivery arrives for Andrew, so we stop for a brief break so they can sort their food shopping. I’m nosy and ask them to list me through their shop, Supermarket Sweep-style (I wish I had the swagger of Dale Winton), which includes bread, fruit, and gummy worms for Jon, who’s coming to stay on Sunday. They continue talking me through their shop, and I declare how much I love looking in supermarkets when I visit new countries. Andrew smiles. “And I love how in the UK you have a whole aisle of custard… I remember I went to a shop when I was there in 2019*, and I swear to you my mum and I walked through a whole aisle that was just custard. We were both like ‘what the fuck is this? What is this?! I don’t understand!”
*we concluded it was probably ASDA. I’m definitely buying my custard in ASDA in future…
Shopping taken care of, we get back on task and get round to discussing the wonderful world of dating, hookups and apps. Given apps can be pretty icky for all humans, I guess that they must get some pretty crappy messages from time to time. They nod, and start by telling me about an out-of-the-blue message they received recently: a random guy felt the need to message on a hook-up app, saying his sister was in a wheelchair and calling Andrew ‘so courageous’.
“It just feels very uncomfortable, because I’m there for the same reason everybody else is: I wanna go on a date, or I wanna sleep with you, which we all know what the app is for. So the lack of understanding… It’s hard because I believe in my heart that we have to give people the ability to make mistakes and fuck up and try to learn, but sometimes it can be really exhausting or really jarring.”
They reel off a list of some more examples of jarring and exhausting messages they’ve received recently:
- “I’m so sorry that happened to you, what happened?”
- “Can you get hard? Can you get an erection?”
- “You’re kinda gross because you’re in a wheelchair, I don’t think we can hang out”
- “Are you gonna speak and vocalise? Because I’m a personal support worker, and if you need a board for communication, I don’t think we can hook up, it would remind me of work.”
For the last one, Andrew adds that “I just blocked him. It’s so gross that people feel this brazenness because they’re on an app where they would never say that to me in person. There’s no consequence because they’re not looking at me, they’re typing in an app.
If we were face-to-face, they might not go on a date with me, but they would never say ‘oh…yeah, you’re disabled, erm I dunno if I can do this.’ On an app they feel more confident to do that because they don’t have to really interact with me.
So I think the apps are great because it opens up a lot of accessibility, but there’s a lot of ableism that we manage.
As we start to come to the end of the conversation, I ask them to sum up what they would say to people who are dating or hooking up with disabled folks. “Be really honest about what you don’t know, say ‘hey, I’m gonna say some ableist shit here, but I like you, and I want to learn.’ Or say something like ‘I can see you’re a wheelchair user and I want to mess around with you – what do I need to know before we do this? What are your access needs?’
Communication’s important, and I think when you’re disabled, communication has to be a lot deeper.
You really have to get to some stuff that might be uncomfortable, and you might have to confront your own ableism as you’re doing that. If doesn’t feel super nice all the time, but it’s something we should all do.”
And some advice for younger queer wheelchair users who are coming to terms with what sex and dating are going to look like for them? “You’re going to experience people saying really weird stuff and being uncomfortable. I think you have two choices: to shut down and not talk to them, say ‘fuck you, you’re an ableist, go away’. That’s fun to do, but that doesn’t move the needle forward.
Or you have an opportunity by sharing your experience to change their worldview. As a disabled person, we get exhausted by being the ones that have to educate. You’re not responsible for changing their mind but it could be an opportunity if you take it. You can change the scope of the world a bit by talking about this stuff, and get them to look at things differently through kindness and compassion.”