All too often, people with disabilities are left out of the body positivity conversation. That’s why when Andrew Gurza was asked to pose in Toronto alt-weekly Now magazine’s “Love Your Body” issue in January 2015 completely naked, he felt excited and hopeful to start a dialogue about bodies that are not typically considered beautiful. “I like playing with the fear that people place on me,” Gurza explains. In the past year, he’s done a great job at getting people to talk, be it out of fear or not. (For the sake of full disclosure, Gurza and I met online when we appeared in the same Now issue, and I’ve posed in photos promoting his work in the past.)
Gurza, a disability awareness consultant since 2012, has made it his mission to get Canadians to stop, think about, and discuss how people with disabilities are portrayed in society—including their sexuality and desires. Since the launch of his website, AndrewGurza.com, in January 2015, his message is slowly making its way to folks both in Canada and across the world.
People with disabilities face a number of challenges. One hurdle Gurza has faced is that society largely views disabled folks as undesirable or asexual beings. “Sex and disability make most people uncomfortable because they haven’t had the chance to see disabled people sexualized in a way that gives them agency over their bodies and their experiences,” he says. As a result, Gurza has spent considerable time over the past four years crafting his voice. He has worked tirelessly to reclaim words such as “disabled” and “crippled.” Through social media and his blog, he provides readers with insight on the real disabled experience. “It is never really seen as something normative and accepted at all,” he says.
In February 2015, Gurza launched Disability After Dark, a weekly podcast dedicated to disability and sex. He talks frankly about everything from sex and sexuality, desire, devotion, accessibility, sexual identity, and queer culture, and often invites guests on the show to share their experiences. In a recent episode, “Accessing Anal,” Gurza discusses the inaccessibility of anal sex to a person with disabilities, using himself as the example. Its open and honest format has paid off: The podcast has reached nearly 6,000 downloads since its inception.
Gurza also speaks across North America about disability, on topics ranging from body image issues to long-term care. “Being a disability awareness consultant, I want people aware of what the disabled experience—what my experience—as a queer disabled man feels like,” he says. “I want to bring everyone into my experiences and give them a seat at my table.”
It’s hard to deny that while Gurza’s voice is valuable for the disability community in general, it is extraordinarily valuable and necessary in the queer community. As a queer man, he’s aware of the “homonormative ideal,” which assumes that all queer people must conform to certain ideal beauty standards or fit certain stereotypes. From being flamboyant and feminine to having huge muscles and a beard, these ideals have plagued Gurza throughout his life, and he has been confronted with an incredible amount of ableism and discrimination from within the community. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt,” he says. “It burns each and every time.” From being asked blatant questions about his body (“Does your penis work?”), to being unable to access queer spaces both physically and emotionally, much of this has fueled Gurza’s work. “I use the tough parts [of my own life] to bolster my mission of shining a light on the reality of disability,” Gurza says.
Gurza has embraced his status as a kinky cripple who has worked overtime to dispel the myths that plague those who have disabilities. “What I am trying to do in my work is shine a light on what disability is really like for me,” he explains. “There are days when living as a disabled person isn’t awesome, and no matter how much positivity you use, nothing will change that.” He believes that by showing Canadians the emotional side of disability, they will have a better understanding of how disability affects folks in all aspects of their lives. Most recently, a parent who listened to Gurza’s podcast wrote in to say that because of him, they now had the words to talk to their disabled teenager about sex. “When I read that, I was bowled over. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he says.
This year, Gurza is challenging himself to something different: he’s in the midst of writing a book proposal based on his blogs and planning a lecture series based on his podcast series. “I want my voice to be among the many disabled people, to bring disability that much closer to the mainstream,” he says. Gurza may just be the voice to end the stigma and make you look at disability differently