Is it judgement or preference? – Being gay with a disability

“Turn your wounds into wisdom”

Oprah Winfrey

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.

The Scot Tories are every bit as cruel as their extreme Westminister counterparts and this week confirms that

This week has seen Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour withdraw an amendment he had tabled to the Social Security Bill within which he called for terminally ill patients to have their benefit entitlement reassessed if they survived for over three years. The Lothian MSP has faced significant criticism by politicians across the spectrum including Labour, SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats who question his judgment in laying the amendment in the first place.

Balfour’s amendment sought to force Scottish ministers to revisit benefit entitlement for those patients who were diagnosed with a condition or disease which doctors believe will claim their lives within a short period of time. The amendment read: “At the end of a period of three years beginning with the day on which the individual applied for such assistance, the individual is still living, the Scottish ministers must review the individual’s entitlement to assistance.”  (Page 24, Point 69 on 1st Marshalled List of Amendments for Stage 2 – https://rebrand.ly/8c25)

Kezia Dugdale the former leader of Scottish Labour branded Balfour’s amendment ‘disgusting’ in a piece she wrote for the Daily Record and called on Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson to state if she backs Jeremy Balfour. In the article, Kezia said: “Terminally-ill people deserve support and care – not cruel assessments to check if they are still dying.”

It’ll come as no shock or surprise to anyone that many disabled and chronically ill people (and those who support them) feel worn down and are in a state of perpetual fear and alarm over the many years of unrelenting cruel, degrading and punishing benefit applications, medicals, reassessments and appeals all to secure financial assistance in order to meet the additional expenditure resulting from their condition(s). This is but the latest chapter in the Tory playbook aimed at steadily chipping away at the moral fabric of our communities.

A recent story in the Independent highlighted that the public has made over 300,000 benefit fraud tip-offs over the past two years and over 87% were closed after little or no evidence of fraud was found. In 2016 it was reported by the Guardian that out of a million fraud tips made by the public, over 890,000 (that’s over 85%) were closed by the DWP due to no fraud has taken place. It is clear that the ‘benefit scrounger’ and ‘workshy malingerer’ narratives regurgitated by the Tories are having a negative impact on society. The Tories are pitching communities against each other and empowering and encouraging neighbours to ‘do their bit’ by spying on each other and reporting any anomalies to HQ.

In Scotland, we have a unique opportunity with the planned transfer of powers to Holyrood over PIP, carers allowance and a number of other social security benefits and programmes. We have an opportunity to design a new social security system within a rights-based framework which will put the recipient and their needs at its core. The Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman has been working from the off to include as many agencies, carers and welfare recipients in the design of the new regime as possible. We have all been encouraged to feed-in to the research and work being carried out and I myself have joined one of the experience panels which is concerned with designing this new system to be fit for purpose, fair and transparent and a system which delivers real and measured support to chronically ill and disabled people and those who care for or look after us. You can read more about the work of the experience panels at http://allequal.xyz/socpanels.

Ruth Davidson the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (to give it its full name) goes to great lengths to try to convince the Scottish electorate that the party she leads is a unique and distinct party which responds to the needs and wants of Scottish society. Despite claims that she is a proud conservative on a mission to reignite conservative values in Scotland, during elections in Scotland her own party campaign materials were markedly light on the use of the words ‘conservative party’. We were told that the new contingent of Scottish Tory MP’s would stand up for Scotland but to date, we’ve seen the exact opposite.

I can say with a great degree of certainty that majority of us would welcome the fact that our terminally ill loved one was able to spend longer with us than initially expected and this type of move by the Tories to strip benefits from people at the very time they are in most need is cruel and dehumanising and has absolutely no place in a modern and vibrant Scotland. I am glad that Balfour has withdrawn his amendment but feel incredibly concerned that he felt it was appropriate to table it in the first place!

What do you think about this amendment and the fact that the Tory spokesperson on Social Security and Disability tabled it in the first place? Share your thoughts below.