I’m not a fan of most reality shows. They’ve become so prolific that brawling housewives and celebs in rehab seem so over. But “Push Girls,” a new 14-week docu-series that began airing on the Sundance Channel this month, has me over the moon.
Why am I enraptured by this reality show (available on iTunes)? Because the show depicts the lives of four hot women, dating, looking for work and struggling with family and relationship issues. Fast friends, they live and hang out in Los Angeles. Three are straight; one, having broken up with a man, is dating a woman. And they all use wheelchairs. Think “Sex and the City” on wheels.
For my able-bodied friends (straight and queer), “Push Girls” has been an eye-opener. Like many, their only images of people in wheelchairs (and of disabled folk in general) have been of patients in nursing homes, sick children or lonely people who don’t get out much. “I never thought there were lesbians or bisexuals in wheelchairs,” a pal told me.
“I’d never thought of it before [watching Push Girls],” another buddy said to me, “but now I think I could be broad-minded enough to date someone in a wheelchair.”
For me, as someone who’s legally blind and lesbian, watching “Push Girls” has been like manna from heaven. People like myself (who have visible disabilities) are rarely featured on TV, and when we are, it’s too often as helpless, sexless creatures.
Images of people who have disabilities and are LGBT in mainstream and gay media are few and far between. I’m a news and pop culture junkie, so I don’t mean to knock the media. It’s understandable that the media often reflect the culture at large and the queer community, where folks with disabilities are rarely on the radar screen. With the exception of actress Geri Jewell, who has cerebral palsy and is lesbian, there are few well-known LGBT people with disabilities. “There’s a sense of exclusion from the larger queer movement,” Bethany Stevens, a faculty member and policy analyst with the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, said in an 2011 interview with the Blade.
“There’s the pervasive notion of the ‘body beautiful’ – and we don’t live up to those standards,” added Stevens, who is a queer sexologist and wheelchair user.
The Push Girls, Angela Rockwood, Auti Angel, Tiphany Adams and Mia Schaikewitz, give the lie to hoary stereotypes around disability and sexuality. When most people think of someone in a wheelchair, they imagine someone wearing “dirty, gross sweat pants,” who doesn’t have sex, Adams, who is filmed dancing with and kissing a woman, said on the show. How satisfying it was to hear her add, rolling her eyes, “I can have sex! Lots of sex!”
It’s not that “Push Girls” is all about sex or that the show sugarcoats what living with paralysis is like. The Girls grapple with difficult issues ranging from relationship and family drama to health insurance to employment discrimination. Yet hanging out with the Girls never feels “educational”; watching the show is like sipping a milk shake or Bloody Mary with your BFFs. Rockwood, a former model, calls a modeling agency to see if it’s wheelchair accessible. No problem, says the receptionist on the phone, “there’s a staircase.”
“I have 26-inch rims on the side of my ass,” jokes Adams whose charisma and beauty light up the screen, “it’s hard not to get attention.”
Paying for medical supplies is a big issue, Adams told me in a phone interview, “it’s expensive, but a necessity.”
Adams, who has done modeling and acting, doesn’t like labels. “If I date a woman, society feels compelled to put me into a category,” she said.
“But if you take off the masks, it’s about human connection ,” Adams added, “separating the superficial – the exterior – from what’s inside.”
Get connected. Watch “Push Girls.”