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Ryan O'Connell: "Are disabled queer people represented at all?"

Ryan O’Connell speaks with us about his new novel, and how he hopes representation will improve.

To mark the publication of his new novel, 'Just By Looking at Him', writer and disability activist Ryan O'Connell spoke with us about all things LGBTQ+ and disability. In our conversation, at the beginning of Pride month, Ryan talks about the beauty of queer relationships, representation (and lack thereof), body image, and what he hopes non-disabled people will learn from his new work.  

Your novel explores the importance of body image in the gay dating scene. What made you choose to focus on this?

Having a body and being gay? Would not recommend. Having a body, being gay AND disabled? My teeth are chattering. Body image in the gay world is fraught, honey. We all live in our individual flesh prisons.

Being disabled has made me feel invisible in a lot of ways. I wanted to explore a character whose biggest wish is to be seen as just A Body. A series of parts for someone to use and get pleasure from.

It sounds superficial but when you've been denied that, it makes sense that it would be meaningful.

What kind of conversations do you hope to inspire with your novel?

Conversations around non-monogamy. Obviously the character of Elliot provides a blueprint of what NOT to do, but I think generally there's an openness and a freedom of communication in queer relationships. We don't have heteronormativity squashing our desires.

We can tailor make our relationships with their own set of rules. It's the best part about being gay.

I also want people to talk about why there isn't any good food in Palm Springs because it really is unforgivable...

How do you feel about the way disabled queer people are represented in terms of sex and relationships?

Are they represented at all? Honey, where? It feels like tumbleweeds. There's an actor/writer, Ryan J. Hadad, who has a play called, Hi, Are You Single? that feels like a true spiritual sister. And activist Andrew Gurza.

But the landscape is still pretty empty. There needs to be more, more, more and the work needs to come from an actual queer disabled person rather than a guy named Joel who wants to win an Oscar.

What could non-disabled people learn from this novel?

Don't infantilize. Don't assume we need your help.

Disabled people metabolize a million microaggressions. Just because it's well-intentioned doesn't mean it's not offensive.

What would it have meant for you to have had access to a novel like this when you were younger?

I would've saved thousands of dollars on therapy and been able to buy more clothes from The Row.

What’s your top tip for being a good ally to disabled and/or LGBTQ+ people?

Advocate for us. When there are conversations around inclusivity, ask yourself "are disabled people included in this?" Give us jobs, and give us money!


Ryan O’Connell’s debut novel 'Just By Looking at Him' is out now!

Images courtesy of Aaron Jay Young.

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