Gay and disabled - First Dates Paddy Smyth
I kind of fell into being an activist, after appearing on First Dates, the response was overwhelming, I was trending on Twitter! It opened doors for me into using my platform to work with brands, be in the media and to do talks at schools and workplaces about diversity and inclusion. I have always been good at telling a story, it’s a skill I got from my mum and so now I have the opportunity to use that to normalise disability. If I can change one person’s mindset, or show a young person that they can reach for their goals, then that makes it worthwhile.
Dating for everyone can be tough, but as a gay, disabled man I felt that these two parts of me were so separate in the eyes of society. Gay men are seen as highly sexualised, it’s all about image and often disabled people are seen as non sexual beings, someone fragile, someone you need to protect.
Gay dating apps like Grindr are all about the first look, about your physical appearance and I had always struggled to feel attractive, it was hard to get my head around. I put a lot of pressure on myself and had succumbed to the pressure of society to look a certain way. Exploring my character as a gay, disabled man was tough. Then I thought ‘**** it!’ There comes a point where you have to accept the cards that you were dealt with, you can sit and feel sorry for yourself or you can put it all out there!
I decided to go on First Dates after a friend suggested it, I wasn’t sure at first but I am glad I did. I knew I just wanted to show the world that the emotions of going on a first date are the same whether you are able bodied or disabled, we all feel the same nerves! One of the biggest strengths you can have is the ability to be disliked, so I knew that I could deal with whatever the response was, but people loved the show and the feedback I got was phenomenol.
I think there is a societal shift happening right now, a movement towards normalising disability, we are seeing more disabled actors in TV shows and movies, more disabled presenters and shining a light on real disabled people, that we are just like everyone else. To see people like me on the television is a real step forward.
What dating advice would I give to others? We all have our own strengths, play to them, if you are great at art or fashion or numbers, then celebrate that. Stop looking to everyone else and comparing yourself, it only gets you down. Stay in your lane, get your blinkers on and think about what you want, who you are and you’ll find the person who loves you for it.