Please note the following episode contains sexual themes and references.
Viv Mullan 00:03
In the following episode, we chat all things sex, tech and disability with none other than the brilliant Andrew Gurza. Andrew is an award winning disability awareness consultant, and the Chief Disability Officer and co founder of bumping a sex toy company for and by disabled people. He’s been featured on BBC CBC, Huffington Post, Mashable, Wall Street Journal, and the list goes on. Andrew is also the host of Disability After Dark, the podcast shining a bright light on disability stories, and has spoken all over the world about sex and disability. In our conversation, we discuss Andrew’s personal journey, and the work Bump’n is doing to dismantle ableism and broaden the accessibility of the sex-tech industry. Well, thank you, thank you so much for joining me today, your evening over in Toronto. And you know, me already, I’m Viv. But for the purpose of this podcast, we get our guests to do a visual description of themselves before we startup. So if you could describe what you look like, and the setting you’re in, that would be great.
Andrew Gurza 01:05
Yeah I’m sitting in my downtown Toronto apartment, it is looking out over a foggy, cold, Toronto, this is winter here, and I am a person who uses a power wheelchair. I have a black headrest behind me and I’m wearing a white plain t shirt with a pink lanyard around my neck and a black microphone above my head so I can record this. And I’m the sexiest person in the room.
Viv Mullan 01:31
Oh, always without a doubt that goes without saying of course. Okay, so on that note, you’ve established you’re the sexiest person in the room always. But first off, you know, identity and language is such a powerful part, you as an individual and you in the in an advocacy and professional space. And you identify as a “Queer Cripple”. Can you speak to how you kind of landed on that on that title?
Andrew Gurza 01:54
Yeah, and I know that some people listening are like, whoa, but those words are, you know, full of history and full of some not so great history for both disabled people and queer people. And I use, I use that only to describe myself and I use quicker ball because it makes people in both those communities. And outside those communities. Pay attention to me when I reclaim it, and they pay attention to all of a sudden I’ve said two really bad words. And they’re like, What are you say? Why do you say that I better listen, what’s good, what, what’s happening, and they get really concerned that I set all these words. And then I talk about ableism. And I talk about queerness. And I talk about disability, and how I can’t get laid because people don’t talk to me because I’m in a wheelchair. And then they pay attention to the words for me are words that I’ve reclaimed words that people have called me all my life, in a derogatory sense, not so much queer, but cripple a lot. When I was younger, I heard it a lot in a derogatory sense. And I was like, why can’t we play with this? Why can’t this be something that we play with? But I would never give them or assign them to someone else? Without having a big conversation about why would I think it’s important. It’s only for me, it’s words that I reclaim for me,
Viv Mullan 03:04
Brilliant, and part of the work you’re doing is advocating for people to care about your sexual identity. It is interesting that people need that kind of awareness about why people with disabilities deserve sex. And to understand pleasure,
Andrew Gurza 03:20
I think I’ll just reframe what you’re saying, I don’t think we deserve sex. And I mean, anyone deserves sex, I think we deserve access to pleasure. Because when you say you deserve sex, then like, you know, you assume then that you deserve someone else’s body. No, I disagree with that. I think we deserve pleasure. And we deserve access to your own pleasure. But I think that’s what you’re trying to say. Anyway, I just want to clarify,
Viv Mullan 03:39
I love learning about how to phrase things, that is a huge learning in that it’s, it’s what you’re doing with Bump’n is you’re creating, you know, sex tech and toys that allow people access to pleasure. And I think that there’s so much awareness around this understanding, you know, me included of what that even means, from a human rights perspective.
Andrew Gurza 03:59
I mean, before I’d never thought about it, I’d never consider it. And really, the catalyst for that was my co founder and CEO, Heather was the reason that I even started doing it. And she was, we were on the beach in Bondi, I got to visit her, she lives in Sydney, Australia, and I got visited in 2018. And she had seen him film that I had done with the National Film Board of Canada, called Picture this. And in the film, I talk about how I can’t sell pleasure of the film got sent down to Australia for queer for Sydney pride. And so my mom and sister were there, and they watched the movie, and then I never thought my sister would see me talking about my masturbatory habits. And I talked about how I couldn’t sell pleasure. And then so I went down to visit her four months later, and she was like, I watched your movie. It was great. I heard you talk about how you can’t drink off. Tell me more about that. And I was like, Well, none of the toys on the market really worked for me and none of the toys like because of my dexterity, my hands. I can’t really use the small toys on the market. And so we talked some more about it. And she goes, well, there must be a toy for you isn’t there? And I said, well, not really. And so we talked some more, and we’re just standing there on the beach and she goes well, did you want to make one and at first we were both like, do we want to make a toy with our with a sex toy with our sibling? But then we took the question of, you know, do you have trouble? masturbating? Do the hand limitations to read it, and a bunch of people on Reddit said, Yeah, this is a problem. My experience 92% of people we spoke to in that survey said, I want a toy like this, where the hell is a toy like this for me. So he very quickly realised this wasn’t a one off endeavour to get Andrew masturbation aid. This was like, this could change the world. And so we, we went, and we cold emailed Dr. Judith Glover out of RMIT in Melbourne, who is like the leading, she has a PhD in sex toy design. So she’s like the leading person in the world. So we didn’t, we had no idea of this. And we just emailed her call and said, here’s who we are, here’s what we’re doing. Can we work with you? And she was like, I had been waiting for someone to come up with an idea like this. Yes, I’ll work with you. And so really, from there, she connected us to OTs, PTs, disabled community members to really get it going. And then you know, we came up with a bunch of designs, and the joystick is where we landed. But that’s kind of how it all came to be.
Viv Mullan 06:04
Can you explain the toy itself, it looks like?
Andrew Gurza 06:07
If you married your favourite body pillow, and a foam roller, and you put it together. So the top is designed for people with limited dexterity. So if you don’t have fine motor skills, you can grab on to a tiny button or a lever to like turn on a toy or turn off a toy. So the top is like a pillow, there’s a big soft pillow that you hug into, and you use your gross motor skills to hug into the top. And the bottom part is a purple peg that has a bunch of holes in it that are designed to hold your favourite toys. So your favourite wand, your favourite dildo, your favourite sleeve goes in there and its held in place. So you can then put it in position you like to snuggle.
Viv Mullan 06:50
A huge part of your work is sort of armouring up everyday with this this incredible vulnerability that you manage and you show. How do you go with managing that you’ve mentioned previously, you get a bit worried?
Andrew Gurza 07:03
Oh, I’m always worried because in our social environment, the way you hoped you’re supposed to look at disability is one of two ways is supposed to pity them and feel bad for them. And they’re supposed to become the sad pinball creatures, or you’re supposed to be a superhero and you’re supposed to like rise above your disability and all this bullshit that I don’t agree with. And I don’t think we talk enough about what what being disabled really feels like? What are the emotions that go behind, needing somebody to wipe your ass, needing someone to dress you needing someone to help you in the shower? Only being touched when somebody with a glove and who’s doing care touches you like what? What are the emotions behind that I don’t think in the disability space, we spend enough time exploring that vulnerability and really like tapping into Oh shit, that feels really hard. Let’s talk about that. And so that’s my favourite place to be is to be right there and in the tough spots, and bringing that to the masses on my social media platforms. And on the podcast, because I think disabled people again, they’re herded into these two categories. I think that there’s so much more grey than a pitiable creature or superhero, there’s somewhere there’s somewhere in between. And I want to be there,.
Viv Mullan 08:14
I kind of want want to know about what that feeling is being in the tiredness and exhaustion you feel from the ableism. Just within those two communities?
Andrew Gurza 08:23
It is exhausting. And because when you’re in the queer space, you have to present constantly that you’re viable, that you’re sexy that you deserve a space here, if you don’t meet a very specific part of maleness that is White says able bodied, muscular, if you don’t meet any of those standards, and I don’t meet any of them, then how do you present? How do you fit in those communities? If we talk about Section Disability, in the disability space, usually and no shade to these people, they’re all great. But usually, the community that we’re talking about is men with spinal cord injury, who’ve sustained an injury or women with spinal cord injury or non binary people with spinal cord injury, but we’re not really talking about queer people. So a lot of the times when I go into disabled spaces, I say I’m queer. other disabled people will say, Oh, no, but we you will find your girlfriend, don’t worry about it. You’re not really queer. You’re not gay, what are you talking about? And I’ll have to be like, No, I really am like, no. So it can be and it can be exhausting to present how sexy I am and how sexually viable I am and how hard it is to be with a disabled person. And I can do that day and night. I know how to tap into that narrative. But it’s exhausting to constantly be like, I’m desirable, I deserve to be here. Sometimes I want to be like, can someone just want to be here because they want to be here. And I love sex workers and I think they’re amazing. But if nothing sucks, the majority of my sexual life is paid for by me from the work I do, to have intimacy like, I love that it’s there and I’m so thankful I can access it, and it’s a huge privilege. I’m not dissuading that, but I wish somebody would be like, I want to spend the night with you, because I want to spend the night with you. And you don’t have to spend, you know, a couple $100 to make that happen. That part is really hard, knowing that a lot of my work in the sexual space is transactional. And it’s constantly me pushing how great it is. Those are the things that make me like, I’ll do it. If you tell me there’s a paycheck in the end, of course, I’ll do my job. But that doesn’t mean it’s not taxing on me to do it.
Viv Mullan 10:28
You’ve got quite a large social media following on various channels. And it’s a bold assumption. But I know that being on social media comes with a lot of pros and a lot of cons, which is people pretty harsh. And it kind of Amin on it, and how when you introduced a sex toy that is accessible, how did you go with navigating all the various responses? And did you get negative responses?
Andrew Gurza 10:55
We had a lot of positive feedback. And we had some negative feedback. People were like, well, this toy wouldn’t work for me, or why are you pricing it’s so high, or I can’t afford that. And we you know, we took that feedback, and we listened and we did our best to we had, you know a preorder where you could spend 99 US dollars and then pay the rest off later. Or and we’ve done a fun an orgasm campaign where we’ve asked non disabled folks to go to www dot get bump in.com and put down 5075 100 bucks to basically give us money so we can make more toys, so that somebody who couldn’t afford a toy, we can then gift it to them later and be like, Oh, you couldn’t afford this cool. We have some people that helped us get made. Here’s a toy. So we’ve done really everything we could to make it accessible. And yeah, people on social media were like, Ah, this is confusing me. What is it like work? I’m confused. So we realised we had to do a lot more education on teaching people what it was. And if people want to get upset on social media, go ahead. Like I’ve been, you know, call that run social media a bunch of times for stuff I’ve said. And it’s hard because for a lot of us in the disability community, that’s our community. And when they turn on you sometimes it’s like, whoa, what are we okay, how do I get out of here, but like, I’m too old now to really give a shit if you want to be upset, fine, if you want to have a conversation about it, and then like, work through it with me, let’s do that. But if you want to just be upset, I can stop you.
Viv Mullan 12:25
It’s incredible that you have that tenacity, and that that sort of thick skin, but also that you’re vulnerable about it
Andrew Gurza 12:32
I’m kind of pleased. And I’m honest, I’m kind of pleased that Twitter’s dying. I’m kind of really happy that Twitter’s kind of burning to the ground right now. Because not so much because I’m like, oh, Twitter deserves to die. I also realised that Twitter was a really big part of the disability community getting our stuff out there. But now it’s like, cool, we can all start fresh. Again, we don’t have to be beholden to this persona on social media, we can start again, and we can build our own platforms. And so when I found out it was dying, I was like, Cool, the pressures off I can just be myself know a little bit more good.
Viv Mullan 13:06
And have you thought about thinking about the new opportunities that are popping up in tech? Have you thought about what the metaverse might afford? The future of bumping?
Andrew Gurza 13:30
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Bump’in sex-toy to turn on for you and like that could through VR that like the person you want to sleep with? Or look like somebody really hot? Wouldn’t it be? That’d be cool. You know, so there are so many applications of it. Like, I know, they’re working on VR porn right now. Like, I know that that’s a thing that’s been around for a while. And like, how cool would it be to have VR porn stories like that are connected to the disability community? Like, that’d be awesome. Again, all it would take is having some disabled folks in the room and being like, what tech would work for you? What do you need? What do you want? What wouldn’t make it work for you? Google got up and talked about their phone that did the things for voice recognition. I was so excited because I was like, wow, I would never have thought that a phone company would listen that hard. And do something like that. Like, that’s cool. All they need to be is like, what are the problems? How can we fix it? What do you need? And like, Google has money, Microsoft has money, they all have funds to make it go. So you can like they could change the world. All they have to do is listen, and I think that’s really what it boils down to just listen to us. We’ll tell you what we need. We’ll tell you what tech works and doesn’t work. Like what their toy people told us right away. Oh, yeah, that wouldn’t work for me or Oh, yeah, that would work or oh, here’s what I need. Like they told us. All we had to do is listen.
Viv Mullan 14:55
As the finishing question. What I like to ask people is to learn Leave our listeners with an insight or a remarkable insight about the space you’re working in. And that could be a piece of advice. It could be just something that you’d hope they’d leave this with a learning. I’ll pass it to you. But please share?
Andrew Gurza 15:13
All of us are going to be disabled one day, what are you going to want when you’re disabled? And what are you going to do when you’re disabled? Just think about those questions. Because it’s going to it’s going to come up faster than you realise. And you’re going to need support, you’re going to need help, you’re going to need care in a way that you didn’t, you weren’t ready for. Think about that and start having a conversation now. So that when it comes into your life, you’re not freaked out, you’re actually ready to talk about it. And then another time just thinking about another learning is like, can interrogate Why Does that scare you? Why does it Does it scare you? Because you can’t imagine that you’ll be a disabled person? Or does it scare you because you can imagine and that terrifies you like interrogate where that comes from? And really sit with yourself for a minute and be like, Why am I afraid of this? Let’s talk it out. Journal it, write it out, put it somewhere and really think about it. And then ask yourself the question again, and see what happens.
Viv Mullan 16:08
And you thank you so much for joining me.
Andrew Gurza 16:11
It was so great. Just such a pleasure to be here.
Viv Mullan 16:15
The full interview that guests can be found in the link below where you press play on this podcast, our show notes, make sure you subscribe or hit follow to not miss another remarkable insights episode.
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Check out Andrew’s Instagram, Twitter, and website, as well as, the Bump’n linktr.ee