February 12, 2010

Icon‘So how do you have sex?’ and other stupid comments – coming out as queer and disabled

Most queer people have to come out as queer. Eva Sweeney, a self-defined ‘butch dyke with cerebral palsy’ has to come out four times. Here she explains why.

The first impression I give to people is that I am a ten-year-old boy in a wheelchair; even though I am a 27-year-old female. I don’t do this on purpose, but my short stature, androgynous style, and my short spiky hair all lead people to assume I’m a male child.

I am a butch dyke with cerebral palsy. I use a power wheelchair to get around and speak using a letter board.

People with disabilities have a hard enough time getting people to accept that they have sexual identities (whether straight, gay, or somewhere in between). If you throw in an atypical gender identity, people can’t understand how people with disabilities can have complex identities.

Queer people have to come out all the time to family, friends, co-workers, and confused strangers, and it’s really tiring. I have to come out four-fold. I have to come out as a female, as an intelligent adult, as a queer person, and as a butch dyke.

Coming out as queer

When I tell people I’m queer (and I don’t roll around shouting it out to anyone who will hear) I get a lot of TMI (Too Much Information) questions. My favorite question is, “So when was the last time you had sex?” That question, by the way, was from someone I had met about three minutes earlier.

Usually the questions I get are “how do you do it” questions. I understand that people are curious, but would you ask someone you just met detailed questions about their sex life?

Questions (if they are phrased in a respectful and sincere way) are great. I am happy to answer almost any question (although clearly I don’t speak for every person with a disability). After people are done grilling me about sex, the conversation turns toward my butchness.

Coming out as butch

Let me be clear: I am butch and I present myself as such. I wear gender neutral clothes and cut my hair in a way that goes with my butch identity.

Like a lot of butches, I’m proud of my female identity too. However, people really don’t understand my butchness.

I have gotten comments like ‘you can be gay and look like a girl!’; I have had a friend or two who were totally cool with me being gay, but still continued to buy me things like jewellery and feminine clothes and say, “You’ll wear this when you’re older,” as if I will grow out of my butchness.


I think I have an extra hard time explaining my gender identity because people with disabilities are generally hidden away and not integrated into mainstream culture.

People without disabilities don’t get exposure to the range of gender and sexual identities that we have (and it’s as vast as the able-bodied community).

Even when non-traditional gender identities are shown in main stream media (like in this awesome music video by Girlyman) we don’t see any people with visible disabilities.

Therefore, when people encounter me or other disabled people with atypical gender identities they can’t wrap their head around how this is possible, and they want to ask kind of weird questions.

This doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, or even insensitive. To me it highlights that people without disabilities desperately need more exposure and interaction with disabled people.

Read our interview with Eva from August 2009, and be sure to check out Eva’s blog The Deal with Disability

8 Responses to ‘So how do you have sex?’ and other stupid comments – coming out as queer and disabled

  1. BarbaraRyan says:

    Great article! Thanks Eva. I’d definitely sharing this one!

  2. Anna R says:

    I remember reading that interview back in August. Eva is awesome.

  3. Lauren says:

    I loved this article!
    I am a disabled lesbian as well (although, not butch) and I can completely see where you are coming from. I get too personal questions all the time, including the ‘how do you have sex?’ questions. If we weren’t in wheelchairs, people wouldn’t ask us these questions. It would be simple: ‘Okay, she’s a lesbian.’ But suddenly it becomes: ‘Wait.. a lesbian who can’t walk?! Impossible!’

    “…people without disabilities desperately need more exposure and interaction with disabled people.” You speak the truth. Thank you for writing this!

  4. E says:

    Great article. I’m queer and disabled myself, although I present as obviously female and while people often take me for younger than I am (apart from the guy who asked if I was the mother of a carer who was only four years younger than me), not to the extent you experience.

    I’d say that if you’re in any way making it clear that you are a sexual being, you get a lot more hostility for being disabled than you do for being queer, at least in terms of walking down the street in parts of the world where homophobia isn’t too bad (plenty of work needing to be done here, but they don’t stone you for being queer in Ediburgh). I’ve done walking down the street holding hands with another woman without a walking stick, and walking down the street with a walking stick holding hands with a man. With the first, we’d get occasional odd looks but mostly it was random lechy men eyeing us up and the occasional grin from someone else queer. With the second, we get stared at a lot more, as if we’d somehow waived our right to privacy, and the stares will often be openly full of disgust, or if we’re very luck, incredulous pity. People who are queer are at least expected to have a sexuality, often to the point where we get defined by it whether we like it or not (find me a queer girl who hasn’t fended off countless highly personal questions about her sex life by turned-on straight men, not to mention all the offers of threesomes). People who are disabled are expected to be sexless, and you can create havoc merely by turning up somewhere in a wheelchair and a low-cut top.

    I’ve deliberately concealed that I’m sexually active when talking to doctors, social workers and such, because I don’t want to be told, “How dare you waste your energy on sex and then say that you are too ill to come into the surgery/need help with personal care?” The taboo on sexuality if you’re disabled is extreme. Of course, I’ve encountered plenty of homophobia in those situations too, I’ve changed doctors twice because of comments about “revolting faggots” and the like, but sexual orientation is something that they will at least have thought about to the point that they know where they stand with it, so you can usually get some idea of whether they’re bigoted once they start talking about the subject. It’s easier to put your finger on it when you’re treated like this. With disability, there seems to be a lot more swept under the rug, more shame, more visceral responses, more fear, a much stronger chance that the person will think they have the right to tell you what to do, and because it’s so often unexamined, they may give no sign of how far they’re like this.

  5. Dani says:

    Wow! Really enlightening! Thanks so much for sharing, Eva!

  6. mayo-mayo says:

    the article is so inspiring… it’s being who you are is the most important thing to do on Earth. i’m a proud lesbian, too. although my parents dont know it, i’m showing it to them little by little. so what if you are disable and homosexual? we are all equal in the yes of the beholder. some narrow-minded people must accept that we are also like them who have feelings… bless the pepole who are not judgmental… :)

  7. jamiesan says:

    cool.. *_*

  8. Paul says:

    I am a 48 year old southern fella, and have Cerebral Palsy. I am also gay. In my lifetime, I have had disappointments with adults who ask insulting questions. I have found that children are curious, and if they want to know something, they ask. The difference between adults and children, is that with children, they accept the answer you give them and move on. Adults, on the other hand….

    As far as my being gay, and disabled?. It has been somewhat of a challenge, but as of this writing, I have always enjoyed a rich and full sex life. I have been involved in one very long term relationship, over 20 years, and for me, I have been extremely fortunate.

    I do think that a part of my success in life has been my ability to just talk. Talk to people about anything and everything, and have no shame in it. I am intelligent, I have a good sense of humor, and put myself out there everyday with work. It’s not easy being gay and disabled, but for me, in no way has it been a liability.for me socially. Being different, in any way, is hard, but then again, for every person there really is someone for you to love. It just takes a little work, and an open heart and head

Milly Shaw


Do we still need pride?

Lesbilicious at Brighton Pride 2012 asking lots of people their opinions on whether or not we need pride.

September 2, 2012