"Who cares if I’m in a wheelchair? Who cares if I have a partially broken back? I don’t let that stop me. I don’t let that hold me back from doing what I want to do."
James is very open about his sexuality, he has been for years.
The penny dropped when he was around 12 or 13, when he realised that he was far more comfortable around other boys than around girls. While it took him a few years to come to terms with that fully, it’s always been a part of his sexual identity.
But for James it had to be more than just knowing his sexual identity. He wanted romance; he wanted a partner.
Making a plan
When support worker Carl came on board, they decided to take action. In their first meeting together Carl could see that there were two main barriers that were stopping James finding a partner.
The first was James’ self-confidence. When he was 19, he was involved in two motorbike accidents, leaving him with brain damage and multiple injuries. He had always been a very physical person, but the accident had left him feeling unable to express this. He was anxious about being judged for his appearance, and he was unhappy with his weight. It had only been a couple of years ago that he had managed to get his speech back.
The other barrier was simply not knowing how to meet potential partners. He just didn’t know where to go. This is often a problem that people with disabilities face, but it is especially difficult in the LGBT+ disabled community.
Together, Carl and James formed a plan. They set out week-by-week targets specifically aimed at breaking through these two barriers. Getting into shape, and meeting new people.
Soon, a brilliant opportunity presented itself. Carl had been hunting around for opportunities in the local community and found a local gym that attracted a large LGBT+ community.
“There were all sorts of guys - straight, gay, bi, all sorts, and I knew that James would fit right in there.“
Once they joined the gym, James really started to make progress. He lost two stone very quickly and started building up muscle. Carl wouldn’t take no for an answer - when he was told James couldn’t lift weights in a wheelchair, Carl found ways to make it work. One of the most amazing transformations was the flexibility of James’ hands. He’d always been self-conscious of his hands, which he’d never been able to fully stretch since the accident. A physiotherapist told him that the only way to resolve this would be an operation, but that may cause him to lose all feeling in his hands. However, after a few months of resistance training in the gym, James could fully stretch both hands. The physiotherapist was amazed.
One day in the gym, James noticed a gay couple come in together. Carl immediately knew what he was thinking. It was time to start looking for a partner.
To build James’ confidence, Carl took him along to Vaults, a gay bar in Exeter. It was a big moment for James:
"It was such an eye-opening experience for me, being put in a situation where I could feel completely comfortable with my sexuality. I loved it. I felt like I’d found my community."
After about a year of visiting the gym and building his confidence, James has now started dating.
It’s been a journey for James, but he’s finally feeling he’s on the right track.