It’s been a little over two years since Keah Brown’s #DisabledAndCute went viral. When it happened, I shared a few photos of me, several with my cane and several without.
It had only been a few months since I started using a cane, and I was struggling to think of myself as cute and fashionable with it.
These days, it’s not quite as hard for me to feel attractive, but I was still thrilled when I found out that Andrew Gurza had started the hashtag #DisabledPeopleAreHot on Twitter and that it was beginning to go viral.
Andrew is a disability awareness consultant, content creator, and host of the podcast “Disability After Dark,” which discusses sex and disability.
When he created #DisabledPeopleAreHot, Andrew specifically chose this language because disabled people are so frequently desexualized and infantilized.
“Disabled people are so often desexualized and removed from the ‘hot’ category automatically,” Andrew wrote on Twitter. “I refuse to be.”
#DisabledPeopleAreHot is filled with a wide variety of disabled people, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people. Some are posing with mobility aids. Others acknowledge their disabilities in their captions.
When he started it, Andrew meant for the hashtag to be inclusive of people with invisible disabilities, chronic illnesses, and self-identified disabled people (who may or may not have an official diagnosis). He wanted it to be inclusive by design.
He also doesn’t see the hashtag as restrictive or asking disabled people to conform to conventional beauty standards.
“Hotness and disability comes in all forms,” Andrew wrote on Twitter. “If you have a disability and have a picture you like, the hashtag is for you!”
Hashtags like #DisabledPeopleAreHot and #DisabledAndCute are powerful because they were started by disabled people for the disability community.
These hashtags are about disabled people owning our narratives and personhood in a society that wants to strip us of those rights. They aren’t about disabled people being objectified or fetishized. They’re about us claiming our attractiveness on our own terms.
Twitter user Mike Long pointed out the hashtag is important on several levels, because many people — including medical professionals — are quick to write people off as healthy and nondisabled if they’re attractive.
Not only are these phrases reductive, they’re also dangerous. When we believe there’s only one way to ‘look disabled,’ we limit the scope of who gets access to accommodations and treatment.
This can lead to disabled people being accused of faking their disabilities and harassed because of it or denied things they need, like accessible parking spots or priority seating. It can also make it harder for people with disabilities to get a diagnosis and receive the right medical care.
The fact is that disabled people are hot — both by conventional ableist beauty standards and in spite of them. It’s important to acknowledge that, not only because it empowers disabled people, but also because it reframes commonly held ideas about what it means to be hot and what it means to be disabled.
I haven’t posted my #DisabledPeopleAreHot photos yet, mainly because I’m not as active on Twitter as I was two years ago, and I’ve also been busy. But I’m already thinking about which ones I should post, because I’m here, I’m queer, I’m disabled, and dammit, I’m allowed to believe that.
Alaina Leary Alaina Leary is an editor, social media manager, and writer from Boston, Massachusetts. She’s currently the assistant editor of Equally Wed Magazine and a social media editor for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.