This is a transcript of Disabled People Are Hot with Andrew Gurza as first broadcast on 25 February 2019 and presented by Emma Tracey with Niamh Hughes.
EMMA - #DisabledPeopleAreHot, that's the latest disability hashtag sweeping social media. This is the BBC Ouch podcast. I'm Emma Tracey. I've got Niamh Hughes with me.
NIAMH - Hello.
EMMA - And on the line is the hashtag creator Andrew Gurza. Hi Andrew.
ANDREW - Hello.
EMMA - How are you?
ANDREW - I'm well. How are you?
EMMA - I'm good. This is your moment of fame, isn't it?
ANDREW - I guess so, yeah.
EMMA - So, #DisabledPeopleAreHot Andrew, why did you start that hashtag?
ANDREW - Honestly I started it as a bit of fun. I put it on my Twitter one day and I noticed that nobody was using it, and I was like wow, no one's hash-tagged this before ever, so I ran with it and said, okay I can turn this into something really fun. And so I ran with it and asked people to put pictures of themselves feeling sexy, feeling good about themselves and feeling happy and disabled and just put it out there. And then it took off.
EMMA - What happened? What were people posting? Tell me about what kinds of things people have been putting on the internet under that hashtag.
ANDREW - They've been posting pictures of themselves with their mobility devices looking sexy, feeling good, smiling, laughing, looking sometimes provocative. I have noticed some people with disabilities have also been posting things like, oh I don't feel hot but I'm going to jump in the hashtag. And as a disabled person I feel kind of bad about that because it shows how much internalised ableism we still have in our community and how afraid we are to admit that we were allowed to be hot and we're allowed to be sexualised and we're allowed to get it out there. This hashtag is a way of saying, don't feel afraid to feel sexy, that's okay as a disabled person.
EMMA - And you say ableism. Some people in the UK might say disableism, and it's a word for disability discrimination really, isn't it?
ANDREW - That's right yeah.
EMMA - So, a pretty important hashtag to have out there. What kinds of things do you hope it will achieve? We've already talked about people needing to feel sexy, we all need to feel sexy, disabled and non-disabled I guess; why is it such a particular thing for disabled people and why do we need to talk about it?
ANDREW - I just think it's really particular because disabled people have spent centuries and centuries being de-sexualised and being removed from these conversations, and not even being considered in sexy or hot ways. And why can't we be? This is just a fun way to really amplify that and say yeah, we can be sexy, we can have agency over our bodies. It goes a lot deeper than just being hot; it says that disabled people have agency over their sexuality, over their bodies and who they are, and why shouldn't we celebrate that?
EMMA - Also I heard a couple of people say on the hashtag it's sort of giving people permission to date us. Because I think people sometimes see disabled people and it doesn't occur to them that they could be someone that they might take out for dinner or something.
ANDREW - And that's why the hashtag is a strange thing because you want people to see it as sexually viable and worthy of that stuff, but also you don't want people to come in the hashtag and be creepy about it and try to use it like a pick up thing. So, I've had to monitor it and make sure to say as the creator, don't come in there and say oh, I'm single and I'm ready to mingle and I want to meet the ladies. That's not really what it's for. It's to…
EMMA - Empower.
ANDREW - Yeah. It's not a pick up hashtag; it's a way to be like I am who I am and if you think I'm attractive then like the hashtag. I don't want to use it to exploit somebody or make them feel bad about themselves or used. I think it's a really important thing and we should have fun with it. And so I'm hoping to, I'm getting merchandise done, I'm doing t-shirts, because I've been working in sexuality and disability for a couple of years now so I really want to make it a part of my brand to say this is a thing and let's talk about this more and let's have fun with it.
NIAMH - I think we need to get our hands on some of that merch then.
EMMA - Niamh, you've been looking at the hashtag, what has struck you from looking through the tweets and the selfies and what people have been saying?
NIAMH - It's funny because for me you're kind of telling me something I already knew. [Laughter] And I suppose it's something that as disabled people we all deal with, we all have little niggling insecurities and niggling anxieties around our sexuality and having agency over our bodies - as you say Andrew. But it does sort of give you that little warm fuzzy feeling inside because I've heard things like, oh you're too pretty to be disabled. It's almost like there's this assumption that those two things are mutually exclusive: you can't be sexy and disabled. It's a very strange kind of dichotomy that needs to be addressed. I know Annie Segarra, the YouTuber she did that hot in a wheelchair hashtag a few months ago; we need to open up this dialogue whereby disabled people are multifaceted human beings. We are sexy.
EMMA - Are we?
NIAMH- Yes, we are Emma. You're fit! You're proper fit!
EMMA - This is the thing, the first thing I was going to say there was to be fair to Annie she did have disabled people are cute as well in 2017. Had you seen that hashtag when it came out Andrew?
ANDREW - Actually that wasn't Annie. That was my friend Keah Brown.
EMMA - Ah okay.
ANDREW - I actually wanted to address that because people were saying oh, you know, this hashtag is exploiting that one. No, no, I don't think that's fair either. I'd messaged her yesterday and said, I love what you're doing, I've always supported you; you were the original, you were the first one who really changed the game for this. And I put on my Twitter that I support that one too. I think you can be cute and you can be hot and you can be whatever you want to be. As disabled creators we should be supporting each other and uplifting each other. No matter whether it's a hashtag or a project we shouldn't be trying to vie for fame or success. We should really be uplifting each other.
So, I wanted to say well disabled and cute thing I love, it's amazing, it's fantastic, Keah really changed the game with that, and the same with Annie with her - what was the one she did?
NIAMH - Hot person in a wheelchair.
ANDREW - That's it, that one's fantastic, they're all fantastic and I think that we should be supporting all of them. They speak to the same thing, we want to be seen, and these hashtags are a way to do that and a way to say, let's all support each other as disabled people.
EMMA - Something I should have done at the beginning of the podcast was ask you both for some of your favourite tweets and to tell me about some of your favourite pictures on the feed. Can I start with you Andrew? Do you have access to reading things out there?
ANDREW - I can just paraphrase a few of them that I can see, because I can't find…
EMMA - It's such a big feed, there are so many tweets on there that it's really hard to find your favourites, but paraphrase the ones that jumped out at you.
ANDREW - The ones that jumped out are just like: I don't feel hot but here's a picture of me looking totally hot. And ones like that. And ones like: hey, here I am in my hospital bed but I'm disabled and hot. Those are really cool because it shows that even when disabled people are going through tough stuff and going through moments where it isn't so hot they can still feel good about themselves, and that's empowering.
I also really appreciate that the more and more I'm looking at the tag I'm seeing people who don't look disabled, quote unquote disabled, who have invisible disabilities or chronic illness and that kind of stuff. And that's really important because so many people assume that disabled means wheelchair user, and this hashtag and all these hashtags are showing that it doesn't have to be that way. And that's what I love about it: seeing the level, how much disability impacts our day-to-day lives and we may not realise it. That's what I love about the hashtag with this.
EMMA - Yeah. I saw a few tweets that said: reading this hashtag and the tweets around it has made my self-confidence skyrocket, but not enough to actually post. Even though lots of people - I would never post on a thread like that, it's just something I would never do. Whether that's because I can't see myself and I couldn't genuinely say how I looked or whatever, I don't know if that's why I would do it, or maybe it's just because it's not something I would do anyway - but I did really enjoy the people saying, this has made me feel so good. And even though I'm not up for posting a picture it's really helped me. Niamh, what ones jumped out at you?
NIAMH- Somebody wrote: just wanted to hop on this hashtag because I literally had a guy tell me I'm too pretty to be in a wheelchair and if it wasn't for my chair he would date me. Anyway I'm here, I'm hot and disabled, and unbothered by ignorance.
EMMA - Excellent, lovely. I think that's a good battle cry, isn't it?
NIAMH - It is indeed.
EMMA - Absolutely. Before we go Andrew, you said that you were in disability and sexuality, you've been working in that area for the last couple of years, tell me a little bit about that and your podcast.
ANDREW - Yeah, I'm a disability awareness consultant and crippled content creator. I also…
EMMA - Hang on, hang on. Crippled content creator. People listening to this podcast who aren't in the disability community will be like crippled, what?!
ANDREW - Oh yeah. No, crippled is a word that I have reclaimed for myself. It's a word that I use to poke fun at the fact that I know I'm disabled, I know what you already think, I know all of our misconceptions, why not play with that. I definitely do not recommend that you run out in the street and start yelling crippled to disabled people; that's not how to spread that. But it is a way of opening up conversations.
EMMA - Okay.
ANDREW - So, for myself when I create content around disability I just jokingly put crippled content creator. And also because I love alliteration, so there you go.
EMMA - It works.
ANDREW - I do it under that moniker. I run the podcast Disability After Dark where I talk every week about sexuality and disability with guests or myself, and I'm really, really proud of that because we don't talk enough about sexuality, intimacy and sensuality and all the ways that those intercept, so this podcast is a way for me to do that. And also there are not enough podcasts about just disability and sexuality. With mine there are three, so I want to see more about that. So, if anyone wants to do a show about sexuality and disability I strongly urge you to.
EMMA - And your podcast was actually recommended by Miranda Sawyer in the Guardian newspaper a couple of weeks ago in the UK. And can I just say that it definitely does have adult themes.
ANDREW - Oh yeah.
EMMA - For people who are thinking of going and taking a look at it, it is not for the kiddies.
ANDREW - No, definitely not. I am blue, I am very frank about these issues. And part of the reason why I am that way is because again, we don't talk about it. We are de-sensualised and desexualised, so in being so upfront and frank I am saying, look we can really talk about this, we can use this language and we are fully formed human beings who know what this language means, here we are.
EMMA - Thank you so much for talking to us Andrew. And if you want to go and see some absolutely lovely pictures of lots of disabled people feeling disabled and hot…
NIAMH- Feeling themselves.
EMMA -… check out the hashtag #DisabledPeopleAreHot. This has been the BBC Ouch podcast. You can contact us by email on email@example.com. We are @bbcouch on Twitter and BBC Ouch on Facebook. I'm Emma Tracey, that's Niamh Hughes, bye bye.