Monday, June 18, 2018

From Us Gearboxes

Three flags flying in front of the Tyee Plaza in Campbell River. The tallest is the Canadian flag and then two flags of equal height, the LGBT2SQQ pride flag and the British Columbia provincial flag, are caught flying in the breeze.
When we drove into Campbell River on Friday one of the first things we noticed was a sign announcing a Pride Celebration. We went by so quickly that we weren't able to read the dates or times. We looked it up, kind of hoping it might be this weekend past, and found that it's happening next weekend. We were busy, getting into the hotel, arranging to see various and sundry family members and organizing our suitcases which had become a little dangerous to zip open and almost impossible to zip closed, so I didn't have a chance to think about the celebration and the flag, and we didn't have a chance to talk about it.

The next morning began with Joe and I heading over to the laundromat to do piles and piles of laundry. The web site had been wrong about the opening time so we were there an hour early. I rolled down to the flags intent on taking a picture. We both chose not to make it a 'selfie' because, well, we couldn't. Just couldn't.

I know we are told to live in the present but any thinking, reflecting human being knows that the present has echoes of the past that will reverberate into the future. Joe had been horribly bullied in school with a nickname so vile I won't even record here, except to say that it targeted his sexuality and his masculinity and his right to belong. I met Joe in CARIHI the high school here in grade 12, and that's were our relationship began.

CARIHI apparently has done things to be more inclusive to lgbt2sqq kids now, but, then, violence, social, verbal, psychological and physical were to be expected if we were ever caught. Other kids, the straight ones were dating and making very public displays of their love, their orientation and their expectation of welcome. Everywhere you looked the constant celebration of heterosexual pride and privilege was on display.

The most common word linked to homosexuality back then was one we still don't understand to this very day. It was 'gearbox' or more accurately 'fucking gearboxes.' People we knew, were never people who knew us, we couldn't allow that to happen, we learned to pretend in public and live in private, but those we knew threw that word, and others around all the time, fully confident that there were none of 'those' here.

CARIHI was a place of welcome for most and terror for us. There were so many ways to slip up. So many opportunities to be suddenly seen. Every single day, every single moment, was one of either fear or terror or anticipation of social violence. High school was a dangerous place, high school should have been full of memories - happy ones, not the ones we carry.

Campbell River, too, was a mill town. Men were men and, when people say that as a good thing, I tremble. Those good men would turn evil at the suggestion that a fucking gearbox might be in the vicinity. Campbell River did not value diversity in a variety of ways, and so we lived on the margins trying desperately to exist without notice. Our love made us vulnerable. Think about that.

And now, there's the Pride flag.

And now, there's a Pride celebration.

We're glad of that, the both of us, but ... how can anyplace embrace Pride without the acknowledgement that Pride is not something gifted by city council, Pride was something that people fought to have, in places like this, and against all odds.

How can Campbell River celebrate Pride now when in inflicted Shame then?

Where is the apology?

Where is the acknowledgement of the damage done?

If you actively participate in smashing someone's windows, you apologize and then you fix.

But if you actively participate in smashing someone's soul, you look up at a flag and wonder at how far you've come.

We both wish the citizens, all the citizens, of Campbell River a happy Pride celebration. However as people who come from before, we know your hearts, show us that you've changed. Not by flying a flag, but by acknowledging your history, and pledging, no more.

No.

More.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day: Enough

Dad's not here.

It's Father's Day and this is the first one where he will not be in attendance. I've been thinking about him a lot because I've been seeing things in the stores that I would ordinarily buy and send off to him. But, not this year.

My father and I did not have a close relationship. He was very uncomfortable in speaking with me, so he typically said, when answering the phone to my call, "Here's your mother." We once had a fight about that, and as a result he tried to chat for a bit before turning the phone over but it was a conversation that came wrapped in discomfort and artificiality. I came to wish the fight had never happened and that the idea of 'trying' to talk with someone makes whatever said nonsense.

I visited a few times over his last months and the last time I was there, we both knew it was the last time. Joe and I visited in the early afternoon when no one else was there and I noted a subtle change in the room and with my dad. There was an intimacy and a desire for intimacy. It started with Dad telling us some stories from the war. Turns out my dad was one hell of a story teller. He was funny and had the gift of knowing when to pause and when to deliver a line. We laughed, loudly, listening to him. He was enjoying himself. There was no 'trying.'

When the moment was right, I decided to let go of this wrapped up thing I'd held in my heart for a very long time. There was something I wanted to say to him, something I wanted to thank him for, but it was so personal that I thought that I'd never get to say it. But I did. It took him by surprise, thinking, probably, that I only held anger in my heart with no room for gratitude at all. Then he said that he was pleased because I'd landed right. I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do and living with the man I was supposed to be living with. He called me lucky.

I don't know when he came to that realization, I don't know if it was the hours in the hospital that gave him time to think or if he'd been carrying that too. In the end, it doesn't matter.

What mattered was that I came to peace with my father.

When we left and said goodbye, we knew we'd talk on the phone, but we knew that we'd not see each other again. But while we were both aware that there had been a thousand and seven missed opportunities, we had come to peace.

And, in the end, that was enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Johnson Street Bridge

Yesterday I took a giant step towards being 'the guy' that I want to be ... in my mind. I'm not talking about 'THE guy' ... that nice, thoughtful and caring one that escapes my grasp so often, but the one who can physically push himself outdoors. I see wheelchair users sailing on their own steam up and down streets looking relaxed and fit and totally in control. Well, I'm no where near relaxed and fit and in control, I struggle and pant and sweat and occasionally curse. But ...

We were going out for dinner to a restaurant in Market Square in Victoria and I really wanted to push myself there and back. It wasn't a great distance from the hotel but it required pushing up a fairly steep incline, going over a walkway spanning Johnson Street and then over the bridge to the square. I'd looked at it several times over the day and decided that I was going to give it a go.

I suggested to Joe that we leave an hour early because I figured that it would take me a long while to make the push. The steep bits are, for me, quite steep. I wanted time to pause, push my lungs back into place and start again. So, we set off.

The first few feet were fine, but it was flat. Then started the climb. It got steeper and steeper and I went slower and slower. I didn't use my safety breaks, which allow the chair to go forward but not backwards, because I don't want to start relying on them. So I was pushing hard and grunting loudly and absolutely not caring what people might have thought. Joe stood guard to ensure that no one helped me. It wasn't much of a struggle as, it turned out, most people seemed to respect what I was doing and left me alone to do it.

Once over the walkway it was downhill until the bridge and the climb up the bridge once again slowed me down. But, again, I used every bit of power I had to make it up and crest that little hill and then it was easy to the restaurant. We were there in about 15 minutes. That was a shock.

With the extra time I pushed up Johnson Street to the first crosswalk and then headed back. I felt victorious but remembered that going back had the longer incline, though not the steepest. After a fun dinner we headed back and again, with one notable exception, people left me alone. I can't say how much I appreciated that. I knew I was going to make it and I didn't want someone to steal that from me but shoving me a foot or two.

On arrival back at the hotel, I was winded but not exhausted, I was sore but not really hurting. I silently thanked the gym back home where I work out and practice ramps. It was marvelous.

I know that I'm a long way, really long way, from where I want to be.

But I'm a little closer.

And that's worth something.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Letter to the Snipers

Dear Camera Snipers,

Yes, I dared to be in public. And, yes I saw you see me. I saw your smirks, and grins, and pointed fingers. I saw you raise your phone and take pictures. All of you took your time, wanting a good shot. You knew I could see you. You knew I was trapped, unable to escape you. You didn't care about my obvious discomfort, my obvious lack of consent to the photo being taken. I saw you, all of you, take the photo, look down and scroll through the images, select a picture and send or post it somewhere. Probably with a witty quote about my fatness, my disability, my blatant, in public, me-ness.

I know that others will look at these pictures and laugh, maybe forward them, all of them feeling superior to me. None of them will wonder why you did what you did, why you thought it was okay, why you thought that your meanness was an appropriate message to send them. I am forever in that picture. I get it.

But here's what you don't get.

I got out of the car, I went where I wanted to go. I knew that you would be there. All of you. Not you exactly or you personally, but nasty people like you. You are not unique, even though you think you are, you are ubiquitous. Nastiness is not humour, even though you think it is, and for the millions who would agree with you, that I am worthy target of your humour, nothing separates you from them in my mind. I will not remember you as you, I will remember you as just another.

So I got out of the car and went where I wanted to go. When you took that photo of me, each of you, in rapid succession, you thought you saw a fat guy in a wheelchair. You got that wrong. Yes, I am a fat guy in a wheelchair but I'm also performing a radical act of defiance. I am there not despite you but to spite you. It's my way of saying, 'Fuck you, I do not give you the power to keep me locked safe at home and away from your gaze.' It's my way of saying, 'This is my community too you ignorant piece of shit.' It's my way of swearing and cursing at those would would objectify me, dehumanize me, and devalue me.

I am HERE.

I am OUT.

I am FREE.

Your weapons of social violence can't stop me. Your smirks can't stop me. Your cameras can't stop me. I protest you and yours, and all the other faceless, nameless bigots who think they are better because they can't really think at all.

I know what I'm doing.

I know that you took a picture of my defiance.

I know that someone will notice that I just stared at the camera. I didn't blink. I didn't look away. I wanted whoever looks at the picture to be confronted by my eyes.

MY EYES.

Because you have a picture of my body. I have a picture of your character. And guess what? What I think matters too. You will one day look at that picture and see me. And feel shame. I may one day remember you, all of you, each of you, and see who you were in that moment.

I'm proud, in this case, to be me because I couldn't bear the shame of being you.

Your Subject,

Dave Hingsburger

Thursday, June 14, 2018

space and welcome

I was speaking at a conference over the last couple of days and I found myself in nearly constant awe in regards to how the whole thing was organized. Let me give you some examples:

1) there was a ramp to the stage in the room I was presenting in. A good ramp. One that had a flat entrance onto it ... amazing.

2) seats had been left available for wheelchair users in the room. This is a common complaint of mine, I go for training and have no-where to sit.

3) I'm given announcements to be made and one of them was to remind the audience not to take or use the accessible seating unless it was being used for the purposes of access.

4) There is a darkened room, and signs around it to be quiet and to not use cell phones in the area. It's a room for people to escape into the cocoon of darkness and silence just to get away from the noise and the lights and other things that cause sensory overload.

5) The accessible space actually was. Clearly they went to the site and checked it all out. Not a single barrier for me, not even the carpet, which was of the roll able type.

It's one thing to be greeted by organizers, it's another to be welcomed by the physical space.

It was a marvelous experience.

They got it right.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eyes, Toilets and Teaching

I got glared at today.

I think I was supposed to feel badly.

The look certainly sent that message.

But I didn't.

And I don't.

I had gone into the toilet to use the accessible stall. When I arrived the stall was free but I had to weave around a man with an intellectual disability who was washing his hands. His staff was standing, leaning against the wall, watching and waiting.

The man with the intellectual disability did what a lot of people do. He noticed me, my size and my disability do seem to energize the lasers in people eyes. His eyes tracked me to the stall and now he was leaning over to watch me back my chair into place.

I said, "Please don't watch. Give me some privacy."

This is not something I say to disabled men, of any stripe or variety, it's something I say to anyone who presumes the right to watch me enter a toilet stall. It's weird. It's wrong. And it's unwanted. The fellow caught himself, muttered 'sorry' and looked hurt. Forgive me but I didn't care. People learn from situations like this precisely because there is emotion attached to the learning.

The staff however really cared.

Really cared.

He had stood up and stepped over and how he was staring at me with disapproval and displeasure as I was putting my breaks on, which I do just before closing the door.

His eyes called me names.

You could see that he thought I was a total jerk.

I wonder why he left the job of training to me, a stranger. Shouldn't he have noticed the intrusive behaviour and prompted the fellow to use appropriate boundaries? What if I had been a child going into the toilet under the unblinking stare of this man, do you think his father would feel comfortable with that? Come on, people are hired to do a job, so do your freaking job.

You don't watch people as they go into bathroom stalls.

You being everyone, not just people with intellectual disabilities.

So.

Your job, as a direct support professional, isn't to stand by as a casual observer to intrusive or invasive behaviour. Your job isn't to minimize the actions of the person you serve because they have a disability. Your job is to provide support.

Provide.

Support.

So do that please.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Next Car Over

I saw them as I rolled down the cut curb into the parking lot. The rain had stopped and lots of people were taking the opportunity to get from the mall to their cars in the brief dry spell. They were full of energy, banging into each other with easy, friendly, affection - although they'd never call it that. The oldest might have been 19 and the youngest about 16. The five of them talked and laughed and looked like a great bunch of boys.

Then as I neared the car, I saw them all piling into the car next to us, also in a disabled parking spot. One of them noticed me, said something to the others, which sent them all into a giggling fit. Like they'd been caught by a teacher doing something unspeakable to a frog. My mouth dried up. I was angry. There were, and had been, lots of parking spots that were close, they didn't need to take up a disabled spot.

I pulled up beside their car, and said nothing.

Because I was afraid to.

I am disabled.

I may have a voice.

I may have something that needs to be said.

But I am also vulnerable.

And, so, silence.

They backed up, still laughing, one of them pointing at me, reduced to gestures because he was laughing so hard. Ha. Ha. Ha. Caught by a cripple in crippled parking. They thought it funny and they knew me to be an impotent force. They knew that their youth, and strength and mobility, which I had not seen as threatening, now was. They knew I would be silent. They knew that I would simply watch them drive away.

Which I did.

My life with a disability is one that I find precious - it's way better than the death that people claim they'd prefer - and it's given me the opportunity to learn and grow and confront parts of myself. I life a free life, I'm miles from home. I'm working tomorrow. I have purpose.

But.

There are times when I find myself frustrated, not by my cowardice, but by my need to be so. I find myself holding back when I know my voice is needed. They needed to hear me. They needed to know what it meant to rob people of access and opportunity. The needed to learn from me.

And they didn't.

There's a tragedy there.

And a humiliation.