The invisible handicap: About same-sex love

Homosexuality seems to be no longer a taboo in today's society. Politicians in high positions confess publicly to their gayness and even marriage as the supposedly last bastion of traditional values received competition by the registered partnership. Homosexuality is associated with lifestyle, modernity, and youth.

The public interest often focuses on strident types from the gay community. Even older gays and lesbians are already outside of this narrow perspective.

Moreover, the majority of the population still struggles to concede people with disabilities an independent sexuality. That these people could even be gay, lesbian or bisexual is for many simply unthinkable.

The difficulties that disabled lesbians and gays face are multifaceted. Some of these difficulties do not differ from those who non-handicapped homosexuals have but some are new as a result of the disability.

Gay people with handicaps usually have problems to identify with the particular scene. They sit on the fence: in the lesbian and gay movement, they are considered disabled, in the disability movement homosexual.

“Personal” and “public” coming-out

The coming-out is a difficult time for all homosexual people, whether disabled or not. There is a distinction between the personal coming-out - by admitting to yourself to be gay - and the public coming-out - the confession in public.

The difficult process of dealing with the own sexuality requires strength and courage from all adolescents. Additionally, young people with disabilities have to face their disability in puberty.

Often, they are reduced to this aspect of their personality by their environment. Therefore, disabled teenagers often are not even aware of their own sexuality or do not concede it to themselves.

Thomas Rattay, speaker for youths with disabilities from the German youth network LAMBDA, knows this problem quite well: "As a general rule, the public coming-out of young people without a disability is around the age of 15 to 17 years. Adolescents with disabilities out later, usually in their early or mid 20s. This shows that their development delays at that point because they have to master two challenges. "

The network for young lesbians, gays and bisexuals has made it its task to integrate young people with disabilities in their projects.

How many people in Germany prefer same-sex love is unclear. Estimates vary between four and ten percent of the population and there is a strong urban-rural divide. The life of the gay community is focused on large cities. In bars, nightclubs or other scene establishments, such as special scene saunas for gays, where men and women have the opportunity to be among like-minded people and in particular, make contacts.

Very often, however, these places are not accessible. "So for example wheelchair users, whose opportunities are already limited anyway, have even fewer opportunities to integrate themselves into the scene", says Rattay. He knows the problem from personal experience, since the LAMBDA office is located on the second floor – without an elevator.

A minority within the minority

Marc * did not have any difficulties with his disability. As a child, he lost an arm in an accident. His preference for the male sex, he noticed at age 18.

Rather accidentally, he stumbled into the gay scene: "I had to go to the bathroom and went to a public toilet. There were two men to my left and right, who first did nothing.  At some point, they began to masturbate, and I went into a cabin with one of them. So to speak, that was my first time with a man."

Once a week, he leads a group for gay men with disabilities and knows the common problems from many meetings. He often hears about depression, addiction or an attempt to hide the handicap - or he hears nothing at all.

Because sometimes, handicapped gays completely isolate themselves out of fear of rejection within the scene and repress their own homosexuality. “Unfortunately, it is true that a minority within a minority is segregated.”

*Names have been changed

Source: Tina Schmid, HANDICAP, Issue 3/2004