Interview with Paddy Smyth: What’s it like to be gay when you have a disability?

Paddy Smyth is the recent winner of Channel 4’s The Circle. His friendly charm and open, honest attitude made him a favourite with viewers. Paddy has cerebral palsy and has said that he wants to use his platform in a positive way to change the lives of people with disabilities.

Paddy speaks openly about his sexuality as a gay man and we talked to him to find out a bit more about how having a disability has affected how he navigated his sexual identity.

The Mix: What advice would you give to 13-year old Paddy?

Paddy: I would say to him, stop trying to fit in, don’t run away from your disability and try to embrace that you are different, as that’s what’s going to help achieve your dreams one day.

The Mix: How can one could be a better ally to the queer disabled community?

Paddy: To remember that we are a minority within a minority and our bodies are different, so be open –  as people were before with the gay community – and not to just cast us aside as people you feel sorry for. Embrace our differences. Champion them, so we can work together and not as two separate entities. We are all the same.

The Mix: Who was your childhood crush? And idol?

Paddy: My childhood crush would have to be Paul Walker. I must have watched The Fast and the Furious about 100 times pretending it was because of the cars… but really it was became of him. Haha.

My idol (as cheesy as it sounds) has to be my Dad. He was the strongest person I’ve ever known.

The Mix: Which experiences during your teenage years helped shape who you are today?

Paddy: I was bullied a lot when I was a teen in school. I went an all-boys school which was tough. Those years, even though they were some of my worst, made me tough and gave me a fire to prove to everyone that I am somebody and to keep pushing forward.

It made me realise that people can be cruel and mean when they don’t understand somebody or something. So from an early age I knew, I was going to have to fight for my place in this world. So that’s what my teenage years thought me… It taught me to fight and to not give up.

The Mix: When you were young, was there anything that helped you feel like you had more control over your identity?

Paddy: Not really, if I’m honest. When I got a bit older I used to use dating apps as a way to escape who I was and hide my disability, but it always ended up hurting me in the long run, as some people would ghost me when I’d reveal my disability. It would also give me anxiety if they wanted to meet up as I knew I hadn’t told them about it.

The Mix: Is your sexual identity something that you used to gain more control over the way you were seen by others?

Paddy: Yes, 100%. When I first came out I wanted everyone to know I was gay. My mantra back then, even with my clothes, was, “the gayer the better,” and even with the guys I got with, some of them I didn’t even fancy but because they gave me attention I thought, “I’m lucky to have them.” But as I grew up, I started to find myself and didn’t have to do that anymore. You shouldn’t have to think about who you want to portray to the world, you should just be… and that’s something I’ve learnt. You also, should never think you’re not enough because you are.

The Mix: Is the way you are perceived something you wish you had greater control over when it comes to dating?

Paddy: Yes, definitely! My life would of been so much easier.

The Mix: What’s something that a straight person will never understand?

Paddy: I’m of the belief that anyone can understand anything, no matter your sexual preference… Whether they take the time to or are too ignorant to understand it, is up to them.

The Mix: What’s your favourite quote?

Paddy: “No one is going to give you a seat at the table…You’re going to have to create your own one.”

The Mix would like to thank Paddy for sharing his experiences with us in this interview. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, know that you are not alone and The Mix are here for you. You can contact our team of experts and trained volunteers for free and confidential support.

Read our interview with Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline for advice on navigating your sexuality.

Next Steps

  • Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline offers a range of help services for the LGBT community, including message boards and a helpline. 0300 330 0630
  • BlackOut UK is a not-for-profit social enterprise run and owned by a volunteer collective of black gay men. They celebrate the diversity of experience and views among black queer men in the UK and offer support and advice
  • Disability Rights UK is an umbrella organisation working with and for disabled people to remove the structural and economic barriers in work and society.
  • Outsiders run the sex and disability helpline 07770 884 985
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 02-Mar-2020

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