Dating as a Gay Man Is Tough, Having Cerebral Palsy Makes It Tougher
Looking back on your life, can you pinpoint the moment in time when you felt as though you’d come into your own?
Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Perhaps you’ve always been the kind of person with a well-developed sense of self. While I wish I could say the latter was true of me, to find my own personal sense of self, I had to overcome a couple of rather significant social barriers first.
To start, I was born with cerebral palsy, leaving me wheelchair-bound since the age of 11.
What Exactly Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. It can occur before, during or after birth, and there are a handful of different types of cerebral palsy. The most common? Spastic cerebral palsy, a type which affects muscle movements and coordination.
The level of CP can range from mild to severe in a person. Often, those with more severe cerebral palsy also have other compound disabilities, sometimes even affecting their cognitive function.
Living Life With Cerebral Palsy
I didn’t have many friends growing up, but it’s not because I was bullied for having CP. I just always preferred the company of adults. My boss even told me that I’m an old soul stuck in the body of a diva … which makes sense. The idea of playing in a sandbox was always disgusting to me.
But having CP has made my body feel even older than my soul. I’m not in constant pain, but I can feel my limitations as much as other people can see them. Living my daily life in a wheelchair has never bothered me, and instead, my frustrations have always been about the little things.
Opening a water bottle, for instance, getting food onto a fork in a way that is more graceful than a prehistoric caveman or using a blowdryer with one hand while brushing my hair with the other. Dexterity and fine-motor limitations are my biggest day to day challenges. The left side of my body is far more useful than the right, which isn’t much to complain over … that is, until you need two hands to do something.
Simply labeling myself as “disabled” is something pretty far down the list when it comes to my self-identity. In fact, one of the top things is that not only do I have CP, but I am also a gay man.
My sexuality wasn’t exactly an epiphany I had when rolling through the front doors of my high school all those years ago, but once I realized it wasn’t a phase, I didn’t know what to do. What I did know was that I wasn’t ready to face it.
After many years and countless Google searches that required deleting the history, I realized I’d turned 21 with a non-existent social life. The weight of my internal dishonesty was becoming more of a burden every day, and there was an obvious connection between me being in the closet and my inability to connect with others.
I probably would have come out sooner, but I never imagined myself even being in a relationship. Who would want to date me, the kid with cerebral palsy? I remember thinking, “Who would take on all of this extra bullshit?” No sane person would want to date someone whose food they have to cut up, much less have sex with them.”
Thoughts like that left me with no self-esteem, no confidence in my appearance or a support system to tell me that I was good enough. After a while, I knew the only way to lift my spirits was by being honest with myself, and also the world.
There begins my journey of self-acceptance, and once it began and I started to accept myself for the person I am, others did, too.
I’ve made friends, I’ve gone on dates and that underlying fear of dying a virgin is far behind me. I’ve even gone as far to take part in a nude photoshoot in an attempt to get over my body image issues.
That’s not to say I still don’t have days where I revert back to being that lost, lonely teenager with no friends. There are times when I question why anyone would be interested in me, or if I will ever be enough.
The difference is that now, I ponder these questions while wearing sheer shirts and tight jeans as I am on my way to get a manicure. Now, I live alone, utilizing the assistance of caregivers who come in for a few hours in the morning and evening. They help me to get in and out of bed, shower, get dressed, and so on. I am alone the rest of the day while at work, fully capable of handling myself, with someone helping me for my nighttime routine.
I won’t lie and say it’s easy. My life requires constant planning. Having to coordinate my schedule with that of a caregiver is enough of a challenge, not to mention the mess that is the public transportation service I am forced to use for a pickup and dropoff. Basically, I’m always thinking about the next thing I have to do before I even start the first task of my day.
How to Date With Cerebral Palsy
My lack of self-confidence is the first thing to get in my way when it comes to being a disabled man while dating. I still struggle with my body on occasion, and those negative thoughts make it difficult to navigate a world that’s tough enough even without my diagnosis.
It’s also important to point something out: People with disabilities are overwhelmingly desexualized and unromanticized in society.
I’ve been told that I confuse people. People obviously see the wheelchair, but once they also find out that I’m gay, they don’t know what to make of the situation. And I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been asked if my junk is functional. The short answer? Yes, it is.
Frankly, dating has been really tough. There are a lot of barriers and challenges to overcome, and unfortunately, a lot of guys are not about it. Sure, you have the guys who have genuinely tried, accommodating when it comes to me being in a wheelchair and things like that, but if I’m keeping score, I’ve only had one long-distance relationship (for a little under a year) since coming out.
To be honest, I’ve never been on more than four dates with anyone in my entire life. It’s been so long that I can’t even recall the last time I went out with someone. I’m at this weird point where I’m terrified of rejection, but I’d also like to just go for it without giving a f*ck.
When all is said and done, this is my life. I’m a gay man with cerebral palsy, and I’ve realized that all I can do is wake up and try to be the best, most authentic version of myself there is.
I feel like I might be failing, I just need to remind myself that failure is nothing more than a state-of-mind, and to keep wheeling my ass along. I’ll find my place, and my person, no matter how long that takes.