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The Infamous ‘Ramy’ Disabled Masturbation Scene: An Almost True Story

With beautiful, awkward honesty, ‘Ramy’ co-star Steve Way pulled off one of the most honest expressions of disabled sexuality on mainstream TV

In the latest season of Ramy, the Hulu sitcom co-created by comedian Ramy Youssef, the titular character and his best friend Steve face a unique moral dilemma few men would envy. Steve, portrayed by Youssef’s real-life best friend Steve Way, who lives with muscular dystrophy, hasn’t ejaculated in a month. With limited use of his arms, his character explains that, normally, it’s his female home attendant who wards off his blue balls, but there’s a problem — she’s been on maternity leave and replaced by a middle-aged bald man.

“No way I’m asking him,” Steve tells Ramy, prickly from scrotal pain. He then groans, “Ah, dude, I’m fuckin’ dying, man.”

The only other option is Ramy’s “bare hands.” He accepts his fate with a reluctant head nod. Fortunately, Steve makes it easy on his old buddy. He’s so backed up that Ramy only has to stroke his digit a total of five times before the two reach a decidedly wetter level of friendship. 

Social media responded accordingly. Above a GIF of a guy holding back a hurl, @_giovanta tweeted: “My ears + stomach will never forgive me for this conversation between Ramy & Steve.” Meanwhile, in a subreddit dedicated to the show, redditor Ghettoblonde wrote, “What an uncomfortable ass episode LMFAO,” and karlitos-s chimed in with, “Man this was the worst/best episode thus far.”

Such queasy reactions are manifestations of the challenges Youssef presents with Ramy. The show’s mission is to “bring people closer to their questions, whether they be moral questions, questions of our purpose, questions of are we doing what we should be doing?” he explains. “We’re looking at these gaps between who we want to be, and who we actually are.”

Since meeting in fifth grade, the actual Youssef and Way have been close. They’ve never gotten that close, though. Still, Way has disclosed that he sometimes does suffer from blue balls, with his muscular dystrophy inhibiting him from jerking off — all the inspiration Youssef needed to write the episode. 

He mentioned the issue in the Ramy writers’ room as the team brainstormed storylines for Season Two. One of the writers, Kate Thulin, jokingly asked if Way ever considered requesting that Youssef help relieve him. “It was a massive light bulb moment for all of us,” Youssef says. “I was like, ‘Hey, did you ever think of asking me?’ And there was just this, like, pause for a second, and he was like, ‘I mean, I kind of thought about it for a second once, but I wasn’t seriously going to ask you.’”

Youssef, who also ended up directing the episode, responded by saying, “If it ever even got close to crossing your mind, we gotta go for it.” 

Way agreed. “Obviously, when you hear that, on the surface, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, that’s going to be weird,’” Way tells me. “But knowing that it was from Ramy, it would be done right; it would be done in a fun way.”

More generally, Ramy has been a means for Way to show industry folk that disabled people can hack it on set. He told me last year in an interview for Vulture that various showbiz gatekeepers have developed excuses for not hiring someone like him, including whether or not they have the strength to film for a full day. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten in front of a casting director and they just cut me off before I even do my lines,” he said at the time. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve auditioned for a disabled person’s role and I was the only disabled actor, and I still didn’t get it.” 

Beyond just small-minded studio execs and casting directors, though, Ramy also allows Way to demonstrate to everyone else who watches the show what life can be like for people with disabilities — oftentimes in entertainingly raw detail. Because viewers may think the sore-teste incident is quite personal, but, in fact, Way says it’s actually “universal.” “There are many disabled men and women who have that same problem; I’m just the one that had the platform to talk about it,” he explains. 

Way became interested in sex at about the same time as most people, and back then, his hands and arms worked well enough to where he could take care of himself. That changed in 2012 when he suffered two broken legs in a car accident. While recovering, he had to tie his upper body to his chair’s backrest to limit the amount of weight he placed on his stems. And with his muscular dystrophy, it’s “use it or lose it” with regard to muscle functionality. “Just me typing on my laptop everyday is exercise; me typing on my phone is exercise,” Way tells me. “If I don’t do that for a couple weeks, I’ll never be able to do that again.”

The inactivity after the accident cost him dearly, though it was memorable for other reasons, too. “During that recovery was the first time I got a hand job,” Way says proudly. The manual favor came compliments of his girlfriend at the time. Way wasn’t able to wear pants, and so, when she visited him, she took advantage of the easy access. (He’s since had two other girlfriends, including a current one, with all three of them being able-bodied women with whom he’s had a sexual relationship.) 

Along those lines, chances are, anyone who streams Ramy and makes it to the Way masturbation drama — or even the scenes in Season One when he tries to hook up with a 16-year-old girl, which would technically be legal in New Jersey, where the show takes place — will be witnessing the sexualization of a person with disabilities, depicted by an actual disabled person, for the very first time. 

While the CDC says one in four adults lives with some type of disability, a 2019 Huffington Post article reports that only 2.7 percent of characters in the 100 highest-earning movies of 2016 were depicted with a disability and just 2.1 percent of the regular characters on primetime TV in the 2018-2019 season had disabilities. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these characters were portrayed by able-bodied people and those without disabilities. And whomever is playing the character, there are scant depictions of them engaging in sexual acts, which some believe is due to cultural taboos against it. 

In all his work — from speaking engagements to stand-up to Ramy — Way seeks to combat those taboos with realism, even if it involves him disrobing on screen. “My body is very different from other people’s, but that doesn’t mean my desires are,” he says.

As Youssef says, though, this is exactly what Ramy is meant to deconstruct. (In large part, the show is an exercise in Youssef reconciling his Muslim faith with much more permissive American ideals.) So the idea that an episode would feature Way struggling to get off — with he and Youssef kicking around solutions together — was, in Youssef’s words, “the perfect clusterfuck of the things that we look at.”