What’s It Like To Be Young, Gay And Disabled In The Age Of Grindr? (Hint: It Can Be Awesome!)
Josh Galassi is pretty much your average 25-year-old. He likes to read, hike, hang out with his boyfriend, and consume way too much caffeine. He has an awesome job in PR, and some of his passions include LGBTQ advocacy work, entertainment and social media.
He’s also disabled.
Josh was born with Cerebral Palsy. According to the CDC, Cerebral Palsy is “a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture” caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain in utero or during early childhood. It is the most common motor disability found in kids in the U.S., affecting an estimated 1 in 323. There is no cure.
Queerty spoke with Josh, who lives in Montana, about his experiences as a young gay man living with Cerebral Palsy in the age of Grindr, and how he refuses to let his disability define him.
Queerty: For people who don’t know, what is Cerebral Palsy?
Josh Galassi: I think there is a scientific definition of it, but I’ve never actually looked it up. Cerebral Palsy is a disability that affects different people in different ways. I was super lucky in that it only affects the way I walk. Basically, the best way I can describe cerebral palsy, is that your brain has a hard time communicating to your muscles and telling them how to move. This results in me walking a bit funny. People who don’t know me sometimes ask if I’m drunk, but I just tell them, “No, I’m just disabled.”
As I’m sure you know, gay men have a reputation for being notoriously shallow when it comes physical imperfections. Have you ever felt self-conscious because of your disability?
Yeah, for sure. I never really thought about it that much until I started dating. I don’t know, for me, I just felt like I didn’t fit the “ideal gay man.” I saw what gay people were “supposed” to look like, and I didn’t fit that. I didn’t have six-pack abs, and I honestly didn’t know if anyone would want someone who was disabled… which, looking back, that is a very sad thought to have. But because I was disabled, I just thought no one would want me or want to have sex with me. I sometimes joke that God clearly hates me because he made me gay and disabled and now I’m going bald. He clearly has it out for me!
When did get past those insecurities?
It wasn’t until I actually started going on dates and meeting people that I realized “Hey, maybe this whole disabled thing isn’t such a big deal after all.” Obviously, it’s a large part of my identity, but not the only part, and I think I finally realized that when I started meeting people who liked me for things that had nothing to do with my being disabled.
How do guys respond when you first tell them about your disability?
I’ve had a variety of responses from guys, from both sides of the spectrum. I’m with someone right now, but when I would go on Grindr, I would always wait to tell people until after we had been talking for awhile. I don’t know, I’ve never been the kind of the person who is like, “Hi, my name is Josh and I am disabled.” I wanted guys to get to know me beyond my disability. If it got to a point where we wanted to meet, that is when I would tell them. Most people were usually really great about it, but it was always like this huge unknown because you never knew how they would react: Would they be okay with it or a total turn off? It is sad that for some, it can be a deal breaker.
What’s dating like for you?
Dating is always weird. Because I am physical disabled, I feel like most people already have their minds made up the minute they see me walk. They are either okay with it or not. Luckily, my current boyfriend, who I’ve been with almost two years now, is amazing. He says for him, my disability isn’t even really a thing. Obviously, he knows I’m disabled but it’s not something he dwells on. He really is a champ. We often go on hikes together, and he is the sweetest. He is not disabled so he can walk much faster than I can, but he still goes at a snail’s pace (which is about as fast as I can go) to make me feel comfortable. He will also let me hold onto his shoulders if I need help going down stairs. You don’t realize it, but it’s all those little things that really mean the most to me.
How about sex?
It can be somewhat awkward but completely hilarious. Because of my disability, there are many positions I can’t do, either because my muscles or too tight or my legs simply can’t move like that. Some of the best people I’ve been with though are people who have a sense of humor, who are able to laugh when things aren’t working. For me, it’s usually just like, “A for effort right, but can we try this, you sexy beast?” and you move on.
Have you ever dealt with someone fetishizing your disability?
Yes! I once received a Facebook message from a guy who was like, “I have always been attracted to people with, ahem, obstacles.”
Did you respond to him?
I honestly had no desire to. Like, how does one respond to that? “Thanks… I guess?” I had a good laugh, but that was all. I never considered meeting him, nor was I interested in meeting him. I want someone who sees me for more than my disability, and based on his message, it felt like that was all he saw. I wasn’t into that.
What are some of the common misconceptions people have about people with disabilities?
I think a lot of people assume, because you’re disabled, you somehow have no sex drive or desire to be in an actual relationship. I’ve talked to some guys who, after telling them I was disabled, asked if “everything, you know, worked down there.” (It does, don’t worry!) I think the other misconception is that our disability is our identity. Like, somehow, our disability is our entire story. But I would challenge people, especially in the LGBTQ community, to look beyond that. Yes, we are disabled, but we are also people with hopes and dreams and flaws that are sometimes much bigger than our disability. There is more to us than the way we walk or the wheelchair we use to get around.