“How am I supposed to touch you?” It’s a question that Evan Wainwright, 29, has been asked so often by romantic partners that he has an answer at the ready. “Unless I say something, just do what you’d normally do,” he says. For most men, their first impression of him in his souped-up wheelchair is one of fragility, but Wainwright is quick to remind potential suitors that his disability does not define him or inhibit his ability to give or receive pleasure.
Wainwright has cerebral palsy: a neurological disorder that permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination. He tells Georgia Voice that a bad decision by his birth doctor resulted in his present condition.
“Three days after I was born … the doctor was trying to see if I could breathe on my own because I was premature,” he said. “He turned off the air in my incubator and that made me have a seizure, which caused me not to be able to walk.”
While Wainwright has been adjusting to life with cerebral palsy since infancy, he says he first acknowledged his attraction to the same gender around age 13, and later made the decision to come out in college to a surprisingly supportive family.
According to Wainwright, two of the biggest misconceptions he’s encountered about people with disabilities are the notions that disabled people are uninterested in sex or incapable of being aroused.
“I lost my virginity at 21 to an able-bodied person that I met online. He came down to see me one weekend and that’s when it happened,” he said. “He knew I was disabled and he was cool with it. I thought I was just going to be a top. And then he wanted to top me (laughter),” he said.
With limited mobility due to his disability, preparing to be the receptive partner during sex can be challenging.
“I don’t do it that often, but when I do they usually help me with the process,” he said.
Having grown tired of meaningless sex, Wainwright says he’s now holding out for a meaningful relationship, which he believes is within reach.
‘She was the light’
Angela Davis, 45, is an example of what is possible for Wainwright and other LGBT people with disabilities. Davis is legally blind—a fact that most people find hard to believe. A career development services manager at the Center for the Visually Impaired, Davis is also an ordained minister, artist and fiancée to long-time Atlanta lesbian activist and “ZAMI NOBLA” executive director Mary Anne Adams. Davis recalls the onset of her vision loss after a trip to Namibia in 2003:
“Three months after that experience I developed some vision loss. No vision in the left eye and partial in the right,” she said.
“Within a matter of 24 hours I was totally blind. No light perception, total darkness. I couldn’t even tell you if it was sunny. I spent two months like that.”
Diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy, Davis has lost the ability to see fine detail, but her ability to thrive professionally and romantically remains intact.
As a minister, “Jesus was my Saturday night hot thing,” she says of her years-long absence from the dating scene. But that changed after becoming acquainted with Adams through a Google search and subsequent emails.
“I made a point to Google everything I could about black lesbians in Atlanta. The name that kept popping up all the time was Mary Anne Adams and “ZAMI,” she said.
The couple met in person in 2008 at the Rustin/Lorde Breakfast, where Adams coincidentally sat at the same table as Davis.
At the time, “It wasn’t about trying to date her, it was about trying to connect with the community and she (Adams) was the light,” Davis said.
A new awareness
Davis says Adams has never reacted negatively toward her disability, but what has been interesting is the response of people around her.
“’You know Mary Anne is dating that blind woman,’” Davis recalls comments aimed at her disability.
“For her, (Adams) it was OK; she was more concerned with the fact that I was a minister (laughter),” she said.
Davis rejects the myth that other senses are heightened if one is visually impaired; she believes she is simply more aware, which can also be applicable to sex.
“I’m very much aware of the body and shape and texture. I think that’s more of who I am as a person than who I am as a person who is blind,” she said.
“There is something wonderful about coming to understand intimacy with bodies that aren’t perfect,” she said. “I would hope that in the queer community we come to a place where we can look at bodies and not judge them by how perfect we deem them to be, but that we look at bodies and think about possibilities for relationship. That’s my hope.”