“Turn your wounds into wisdom”
Getting myself out of bed some mornings can be a real challenge. Not only can it take an extraordinarily long time but I’m very often left utterly exhausted before the day has even begun and my feet touch the floor. Chronic pain is an unforgiving bastard and makes absolutely no bones about throwing your life out of kilter and bringing you to the absolute brink of despair. Having a range of conditions including chronic pain arising from nerve damage, fibromyalgia, M.E, chronic pancreatic dysfunction and Crohn’s disease to name but a few; I feel as though I could throw a dart at the alphabet and rhyme off one of my diagnoses or medication I’m on or have taken recently.
These days I am very open about the fact I’m gay and over the years have moved markedly away from my ‘If they don’t ask, I won’t tell’ rule. For years it was something I struggled with, not in terms of my own identity but with the way people viewed it or acted when they found out. Things have moved on significantly since then but the way ‘the community’ themselves view disability and chronic ill-health can still be very troublesome.
We’ve all heard of the enduring stereotypes of gay men being designer-clothes bedecked gym bunnies with six packs and an insatiable appetite for random sex, and lesbians being painted as having a penchant for short hair and plaid shirts and falling into a butch or feminine role. These stereotypes are clearly hackneyed, nonsensical and oversimplified and thankfully most right-thinking people reject them out of hand.
I know we all have our own crosses to bear but something I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life is where I fit in within the ‘gay community’. Personal tastes are as wide and varied as the colours of the good old rainbow flag, but in saying that, I’ve yet to walk into a gay bar or club on a night out and feel welcome. While a lot of this will undoubtedly come down to my own hang-ups and insecurities I am not imagining the stares. Let me explain this. Due to the nerve damage in my spine and lower back, I have chronic pain which can be accompanied by muscle stiffness and cramps and I walk with a stick (or sticks) and an altered and exaggerated gait. I’ve always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb and going into an environment which, by its very nature, is highly sexually charged (if you have ever been in a gay club then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about!) I always felt people staring and as the drinks flowed I’ve had my sticks commandeered for a laugh and used as makeshift golf clubs, I’ve had the usual ‘What’s wrong with you?’, I’ve been given the moniker ‘hop-a-long’, I’ve been told I couldn’t come into the bar or club as the stick ‘could be used as a weapon’ or I’d be a fire hazard and wouldn’t be able to safely get out in the event of an emergency. In the case of Glasgow, only a tiny number of gay orientated clubs and bars have accessible entrances and even fewer have accessible bathroom facilities, but that’s another story for another day!
I know we have our own tastes and preferences and I am by no means suggesting that anyone dating should be inclined to seek out dates with people they aren’t attracted to. My bone of contention is the judgement levelled at someone due to their being different… In a ‘community’ which has struggled (and in many ways still does) to find and establish safe spaces where we can be ourselves. It reminds me of the experience some friends of colour have experienced when dating ‘on the scene’ or on certain ‘dating’ apps. ‘No black, Asian etc’ – If you’ve ever used Grindr then you know exactly the type of bio I’m talking about.
When I went on a date with my partner Ryan (who I’ve been steadily dating now for nearly five years) I went to great lengths to explain the fact that I walk differently, that I wear weird weighted shoes and that I walk with sticks and an altered gait. He was perplexed as to why I felt I had to tell him, why I had offered him a ‘get out of jail’ option of cancelling the date because of this and why I thought it would bother him in the first place.
I have a number of LGBT+ friends who are disabled or live with long-term ill-health and my own experiences are all too often echoed by them. I am embarrassed enough ‘walking’ down the street with sticks or wheeling down the street if I’m in the chair. I used to be a ballsy person who couldn’t give a monkeys if someone didn’t like me or decided they’d like to stare or tell their child to get out of the way of the ‘man with the gammy leg’, but it gets tiring, it gets challenging and sometimes it gets very personal.
I don’t have a problem with someone asking about my difficulties, the sticks, the chair etc but I do struggle immensely with being body-swerved or talked down to. Anyone who uses a chair (regularly or intermittently) will know only too well how frustrating it is when people look right over your head and talk to the person accompanying you, or when someone uses ‘that voice’.
Have you experienced this before? Do you agree/disagree? Join in the conversation below.