Edward is a 25-year-old writer and editor living in New York City. He recently wrote an extremely funny and touching book about his life as a gay guy with cerebral palsy. The book will be out next year. I talked to Edward about dating, anal stretching, and what is means to “water your self-esteem plant.”
This may sound strange, but we’ve met in person many times, and I never knew you had cerebral palsy until you told me. I just thought you had quirky mannerisms.
Most people can’t tell. It’s like: He’s just gay! Gay or disabled. Not clear.
Lol. So is your CP mild?
It’s mild, but it’s still there. I have a limp. I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and CP really affects you the first 12 years of your life because you’re growing, so you have a lot of surgeries, and blah blah blah. I had leg braces and shit like that. Then, when I was seven I had an Achilles tendon lengthening surgery. So that was pretty intense. I had a body cast for two-and-a-half weeks, and I was in a wheelchair for three months. But it all levels out–you kind of plateau in a weird way–when you hit puberty. I was in physical therapy ever since I can remember. When I was younger, I had this fantasy about going to physical therapy and finding a CP BFF, and we’d commiserate about how sometimes we drool and how hard it is to put the key in the door.
What was your first dating experience like?
Well I came out of the closet when I was 17, my junior year of high school. I had met this guy who I was obsessed with, Sam. I remember seeing him across the quad wearing this Smiths t-shirt and thinking, “I need to be with him.” He was Mexican, tan and really beautiful. I knew he was gay – muscle shirts, The Smiths–hello! So I became friends with him, but I knew if I wanted to be with him that I had to be out of the closet. So I came out to everyone I knew in two weeks. It was great, I threw a party.
Did your parents care?
No, they didn’t give a shit. Give me a break. I don’t relate to the whole ‘tortured coming-out, Glee, It Gets Better’ thing. Being gay has always been pretty good for me. But anyway Sam and I started dating and it was my first teen love experience. I lost my virginity. It was really great.
Did Sam know you had CP?
Yeah, everyone in my town knew. I don’t think Sam knew exactly, but he obviously knew something was wrong with me. I remember talking to him about it one night when he slept over, and he just said, “I don’t care, it’s fine.” It was so validating to hear, because I genuinely thought I was going to be alone forever. Like I remember when I had my self-affirming “I’m gay” moment. I was 12 and watching Cruel Intentions, and I was like “Whoops, I like Ryan Phillippe better than I like Sarah Michelle Gellar.” I remember thinking, “This is it for me, no one is going love a gay guy with CP.”
Gay and CP–double whammy.
Oh yeah. It was like, “I’m fucked. See ya, that’s a wrap for me!” So getting validation from someone like Sam who was able-bodied and attractive was very, very crucial. I needed that. And we had a lot of sex.
What was the first time like?
Well the first time hurt a lot. What happened was – this is so insane – we tried to do a position with my legs in the air. Now, because of the CP my muscles are very tight. I am not flexible to say the least, honey. My legs can sort of go up–I mean, it’s not Cirque Du Soleil–but they go up to the point where you can get in. But it ended up not really working, and we had to stop a few times. In the end we just did it face-down with him on top of me. But I didn’t really like it, because I couldn’t see him.
Yeah, legs-up anal is too much for a beginner. I think you have to stretch it out first.
Yeah, exactly. For the first two weeks I thought something was wrong with me because sex hurt so badly. But of course, once my asshole got stretched out it was like ‘Oh hey girl hey,’ forever.
So you became more sexually confident after Sam?
Well when we were dating I was still violently insecure. Sam was really beautiful and I was this schlubby, awkward-looking 17-year-old with CP. I always had the suspicion that people were looking at us thinking, “What is Sam doing with him? He can do so much better.” Then there was this horrendous girl at my high school. She hated herself, so she was a mean girl. And at one point she said to a group of my friends, “What the fuck is Sam doing with Edward? He has cerebral palsy. That is sick.”
What a cunt.
Yeah, hearing that was horrifying. It was someone vocalizing my worst fears.
So what happened sex-wise after Sam?
Well we dated for eight months, until high school ended. Then after that me and my best girlfriend both dated the same guy for the entire summer. She would hook up with him, then I would go over and hook up with him. It was some 18-year-old Dreamers shit. But he was definitely gay and couldn’t get hard for my friend. She felt really embarrassed about it, so he told her that he had testicular cancer and that’s why he couldn’t get hard from a vagina.
Casual. So what happened in college?
Well post-high school I was feeling pretty sexually confident, and I was moving to San Francisco for college. I thought it was going to be my mothership, since San Francisco is obviously the gayest place on earth. But I ended up being celibate for two years!
Basically what happens with me is, having sex is like watering my self-esteem plant. But if I go a period of time without sex, then I go back into my, ‘I’m ugly, no one wants me because I have CP’ mindset, and part of me just shuts off completely. I become afraid of men. And that’s what happened in SF.
I relate to the “self-esteem watering” thing. I sort of hate it, because I don’t want my confidence to be directly related to someone wanting to have sex with me. I want to feel good because I create cool things, ya know? But I also can’t help that sexual attention makes me feel good.
Yeah, of course. Shit, how do we get more confidence?
No clue. So anyway, no one in New York seems to know that you have CP. How come?
I’ll give you the full story: When I was 20-years-old I got hit by a car in San Francisco, and I developed this thing called compartment syndrome. The car hit me and crushed my elbow, which cut off circulation to the muscles and they started to die. I was in the hospital and I had four surgeries in three weeks. Then, when I moved to New York after college, people assumed that I was just an accident victim, and I just didn’t bother to correct them.
I was never comfortable having cerebral palsy. It’s just something that no one can ever understand–they are confused by it, it’s taboo. You could get hit by a car today, but you could never have CP. So people are a lot more comfortable with the idea of me being “the guy who got hit by a car” than someone who has been living with CP his entire life. And you can’t turn down sex with someone who got hit by a car–that’s just fucked up.
My ex-boyfriend was disabled; he wore leg braces and walked with crutches. He did a similar thing to you–if someone asked him what was wrong, he would say he had a broken leg.
Yeah, like it’s none of their fucking business. It’s a can of worms that just doesn’t need to be opened every goddamned day. So moving to New York was like an instant confidence boost again, because it was like I didn’t have CP.
It was an opportunity to be reborn.
Exactly. And I started dating again in a real way. I moved to NYC when I was 21, and for the next four years there was never a lull. I felt so empowered, so cute and sexy. No one asked me what was wrong. It was the life I was always meant to have. And I got really busy with work and was earning writing success, and was hooking up with guys I never would have thought I’d have a chance with.
But wait, pretty soon everyone is going to know you have CP, because you wrote a book about it.
Yeah, writing the book was my way of coming to terms with it. It’s hard because I’m having to come out to my friends in New York, but I’m so ready. I actually think a lot of my current issues with my disability stem from me not being open about it.
So what’s your dating life like now?
To be honest Karley, I’ve been out of commish for a little while. I haven’t had sex in nine months.
That’s pretty long.
It’s a pregnancy.
So why no sex?
I don’t know. I was really busy with my book, especially since I was working full-time as an editor while writing it. But then, it’s typical of me to create excuses not to date someone. But now I’m making a conscious effort to make that part of my life again. I want to have a lot more sex.
Would you ever do stereotypical gay guy Grindr hookups?
No. I’m not wired that way. I’m too shy. I’m also scared of using OkCupid and then showing up with a limp. It’s a serious issue for me.
Would you ever join a fetish site in order to meet guys who are specifically attracted to people with disabilities?
No, I don’t want to feel fetishized. I need to know that someone would still like me regardless of disability. It feels like I’ll never have enough validation. Especially living in New York. It’s always like, “Why are they with me when there is a Ryan Gosling-esque guy around the corner?” There is this disconnect because I think I am an awesome person, I think I’m funny, I think I’m smart, but when it comes down to matters of sex and attraction, I don’t think I can measure up.
That’s weird, especially within our alternative, creative scene where people sort of praise weirdness. I feel like most interesting, creative people appreciate alternative forms of beauty. I’m never attracted to the classically beautiful type.
I wish I could find the guy version of you, Karley. Everyone is beautiful, it’s a dime-a-dozen. Give me something unique. I’m more attracted to that, too. I like guys with character.