“Besides my mouth, the only thing that works on my body is my cock!” It’s a line that’s played for laughs in Come As You Are, a new comedy about a disabled guy who’s desperate to lose his virginity, but for Asta Philpot it’s never been too much of a joke. Diagnosed with arthrogryposis at birth, he’s spent most of his life in a wheelchair, unable to move his arms and legs.
In 2006, aged 24, Philpot visited a brothel and had sex for the first time. It was a life-changing trip for him, but what happened next was even more remarkable, inspiring a BBC documentary and three movies – and inspiring Philpot to become an ambassador for sex-positivity in disabled communities all over the world.
Come As You Are follows the 2011 Belgian comedy, Hasta La Vista, and a 2016 Dutch movie, Adios Amigos, moving the story to America as Grant Rosenmeyer (The Royal Tenenbaums) plays a version of Philpot in a sweet, funny, dirty road movie based on his own experiences. “Personally, I love films with subtitles but a lot of people don’t, so for me this was all about getting this out to a much wider audience,” grins Philpot, chatting to NME on Zoom. “I want this story to help as many people as possible. This isn’t just about me – it’s about friendship and unity and courage… and it’s a great frickin’ film!”
For Philpot, the story started 20 years ago. “I had a best friend called Andriano and he had Duchenne muscular dystrophy [a genetic disorder characterised by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness] but we did all the usual things that lads do. We went to the cinema, we went around to each other’s house. One day, we had this really frank conversation and he said to me, ‘I’d like a sexual experience. I’m thinking of getting an escort and I’m going to talk to my mum about it’. So he did, and she was completely against the idea. About a year later, Andriano died. It obviously devastated me, but more so that he died still wanting this. To me, no one should ever want for the experience of intimacy, or contact with another human being.”
Fast forward to 2006, and Philpot was sitting in a Spanish bar on a family holiday when he heard about a local club that catered to people with disabilities. “We all drove down there and this place looked awful. There was steam coming off of it. There were security guards outside with guns! We all got to the door, including my mum and aunt, and someone translated that the women weren’t allowed in. That’s when we found out that it was a brothel. But as soon as I rode over the threshold, I instantly began to feel normal. I hate that word, but in that instance, I felt… not disabled. All these beautiful women were coming up to me, women I couldn’t have even imagined approaching me before. They basically just wanted my business, but the attention was incredible. In the end, I picked a beautiful Brazilian girl and we went upstairs and I lost my virginity. I came out and felt like a new human being. I felt like I was validated on planet Earth. I felt like I was human again. I felt like I was Asta, and not someone with a disability. That’s where it all started really.”
Heading home determined to help other people in the same situation, Philpot decided to plan a return trip to the Spanish brothel – this time taking along any other disabled guys who wanted to have sex too.
“I advertised online for people to come on a road trip and I just got attacked basically,” says Philpot. “It wasn’t anything sordid, it was just: ‘Who wants to come on a trip with me and lose their virginity?’ That was it. It was a really respected forum and it all got shut down because of this one thread. All I wanted was a shag!”
Just like the movie, Philpot eventually found two guys who were willing to give it a shot, and the three of them headed out to Spain. In the movie, Scotty (Rosenmeyer) finds wheelchair-bound Matt (Hayden Szeto) and blind Mo (Ravi Patel), and sets off for a Canadian brothel under the care of Gabourey Sidibe’s hired carer, but the real journey saw Philpot join Lee and Shah on a trip with his own parents tagging along to look after them.
“No one wants to tell their parents they want to have sex,” laughs Philpot, “but me and my parents have a really close relationship so it wasn’t really an issue for me. It’s also the only way I could have done it. Even before I went to Spain, my dad drove around our hometown researching places… I know that sounds bad, he wasn’t ‘researching’ them like that! But the scene in England was completely off the wall. It’s so underground and illegal.”
It might make for great comedy material (and Philpot couldn’t be happier with the way the film has turned out), but the fact that Asta/Scotty even had to go to such lengths to have sex in the first place is a sad reality that too many disabled people are still facing.
“For me, there really wasn’t another option,” says Philpot. “When I used to go clubbing with my friends, the thing that really pissed me off was the women who would come up to me, bend right down to my face and go, ‘You ’aving a nice night, luv?’, treating me like a kid. Even last year someone said to me, ‘It’s nice they let you out for the night, isn’t it?’. This is the thing that people with disabilities are always up against. It’s this culture of victim. I’m not a victim. I’m happy in my skin. But I still deserve to have a sexual experience”.
In most parts of the world, organised prostitution is either illegal or unregulated – making safe, accessible brothels like the one in Spain a rarity. Even where local laws allow sex work to take place, public attitudes are still often lagging a long way behind the reality faced by people like Asta, who feel like they have nowhere else to turn.
“I’ve had plenty of people asking if I’ve questioned the morals of it,” smiles Philpot. “But at the end of the day, I formed a friendship with these ladies. Years later, we’re still friends, chatting on Facebook. One came to see me in London. For me, the whole experience was life changing.”
Helping Rosenmeyer to get the physical and emotional side of the role right, Philpot is now keen to make sure as many people as possible see Come As You Are – first as a genuinely funny, feelgood comedy, but also as a way to start more conversations about sex and disability.
“I hope it changes people’s outlook,” says Philpot. “You don’t need to tread on eggshells around us. We can have loving relationships and kids, and we do enjoy the same things in life that everyone else does. A lot of parents don’t even realise that their children or family members want this kind of experience. I’ve just come out of a two-year relationship now and I just want a nice quiet life, with no drama! But I love talking about sex and I love this film… This is something worth getting passionate about.”