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Limping Toward Love

KEITH NEGLEY

A decade ago, a writer thought he had waved goodbye to his love life forever. Then he faced his insecurities, and everything changed.

Illustration by Keith Negley.

You know how certain New York-centric websites will post a "Most Eligible Bachelors" list, but instead of featuring celebrities, it's all attractive people in their 20s and 30s who have interesting jobs like "acrobat," "food critic," and "dumpster diver"? If you ran into one of these people at a bar, you could, in theory, take him home, which is why you read it. You look at these lists and honestly think, God, it's totally possible that I'd date this person. If I just emailed out of the blue and asked him out, we could maybe fall in love, travel to Bora Bora, and stand in comfortable silence together at a museum one day!

But you never end up doing it because you think it's too crazy.

Well, despite the odds facing me, I reached out to my favorite eligible bachelor, and that's how I met Jonathan. When I saw him on one of those lists, I thought that his face/brain seemed cute, so I followed him on Twitter. A day later, he followed me back and we started exchanging flirty messages.

It was a ballsy move, especially for me. Before I met Jonathan, I was 100% sure I was never going to have sex again. It had been 10 years since I'd gotten laid. At the age of 28, I'd already held a funeral for my sex life and was trying to figure out my existence as a wacky widow.

Growing up gay with cerebral palsy, I never imagined my life to be fruitful in the sex and love department. In fact, when I realized I was gay, I thought to myself, Are you kidding me? That's an awfully rude thing to do! Make someone walk with a limp; subject him to endless surgeries, braces, and physical therapy appointments; and then, for the final poisoned cherry on top, make him like penis.

Luckily, I had an amazing coming out process. When I was 17, I told everyone I knew that I was gay because I was tired of deleting gay porn from my family's shared desktop computers. Then, a few short months later, I lost my virginity and fell in deep, spectacular young love. In a way, I felt braver at 17 than I do now because I hadn't yet failed enough to be scared of anything. I was still terrified to come out, but that fear had to do with being accepted by the gay community. How could someone like me be embraced in a culture that placed such emphasis on looks and perfection?

In high school, my boyfriend acted like a bulletproof vest for all of these insecurities. It didn't matter what I thought about myself. As long as someone still wanted to see me naked every day, I figured I must be fine.

Putting all your self-worth into the hands of a 17-year-old is never a good idea. After six months, he broke up with me so he could date a freshman who had just watched Velvet Goldmine and wanted to see what being gay was all about. I was devastated. The itty bit of confidence I established during our relationship had been erased. Just. Like. That.

Even though I eventually did hook up with boys again, it never went far. My issues were like cyanide, killing anything in its path that had remote potential. I'd ask my dream man, "Are you a good thing that will bring me potential happiness and joy? You monster! Get the hell away from me!"

I also never spoke about my disability. I basically dropped my cerebral palsy off at a bus terminal in New Jersey and said goodbye forever.

Of course, when you try to deny the things that make up your foundation, you set yourself up for a world of struggle. Imperfections are like annoying little children and Morrissey: The more you ignore them, the closer they get.

After years of being like, "Seriously, please, gooooooo away" to cerebral palsy, I knew I had to start being honest about who I was. So I wrote a book. Well, to be clear, I got a book deal to write about something else and then decided to focus on my disability instead. The publisher was cool with it -- more so than I was, in fact. After getting the green light, I wondered if I'd actually be strong enough to face the disabled music.

Spoiler: I was strong enough. Writing about my disability was an excruciating process, but once it was done I'd stamped return to sender on all the shame I'd felt. No more going on dates and sitting down for five hours, even if I really had to go to the bathroom, so the dude wouldn't notice the way I walked. No more going without so much as a kiss from a boy and bristling with shock and pleasure anytime someone cute brushed my shoulder on the subway.

This newfound confidence is what led me to contact Jonathan. The first time we met, I didn't rely on my usual bag of tricks. I went to the bathroom as much as I pleased. I walked in front of him, not caring if he could see my limp. Granted, I thought he was out of my league. But one day I just looked at him and thought, No. You need to go date the shit out of this wonderful human being. You deserve this. So I kissed him. And he kissed me back. And that's how life happens.

I'm just now embarking on my first real relationship. It took me over a decade after coming out to realize that someone could actually love all of me.

With Jonathan, I feel like a teenager again, which isn't always a good thing.

Thank God Jonathan is mature and acts like an adult. This is not his first time at the relationship rodeo, and he is very patient with me.

In the beginning, I said to him, "I want to show up for you in the best way I know how," and that's what I'm doing. It's not always perfect. I'm deprogramming my brain from 28 years of self-sabotage and self-loathing, but so far, I'm succeeding.

Slowly, but surely, I'm limping my way toward love.

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