Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Misters Buttigieg

Image result for buttigieg pete and chasten

I hear a lot of straight people congratulating themselves on the presidential run of Pete Buttigieg. Even here in Canada people who speak of the American election often borrow from what they hear on American television, "It's a sign of how far we've come."

We?

We?

Who is 'we'?

Joe and I have been following Mr. Buttigieg's campaign fairly closely and therefore I can assure you, 'we' haven't come that far at all. Just take a moment to read comments on news about the 'gay candidate'. It doesn't matter Fox news or CNN and you will find vitriol. Absolute violent vitriol. Mayor Pete's last name starts with the letters 'Butt' so you can imagine the kind of hateful, homophobic remarks stem from that little coincidence.

Mr. Buttigieg is where he is because he fought to be there. He's pulling America forward. He's making it thinkable that gay people can achieve high office. It's down to him. I get up every morning and go on line to check to see if he's been assassinated, that's how deep and terrifying the comment columns are. The fact that Both of the Misters Buttigieg are up to this challenge and rise to every day possibly being the last, and this shouldn't be minimized by talking about 'how far we've come' as if 'we've arrived.'

No matter what happens, these two men have changed history and changed how gay people see themselves. But, I want him to win. I think he's a deep and thoughtful man. I believe he would be an awesome president.

Homophobia, however, can look like reasoned debate.

"He is so light on policy." Um, it is possible to be gay and to be profoundly ready, we 'light loafered' people aren't all ditzy with glamour, Buttigieg's policies and proposals are easy to find and are well thought out solutions to the problems faced by his country.

"He can't make his voice heard." After debates, where he has put in strong performances, often the wrap up news won't mention him at all. They will focus on other candidates as if he weren't there. It's as if a distinguished and erudite gay man isn't worth mentioning. But his voice is being heard, visit Team Pete in any of its iterations and you'll find people listening, and amplifying his words. And anyone really paying attention should notice that some of his early rhetoric has made it into the mouths of other candidates who by claiming it as their own when they speak, lie.

The likelihood that this will be read by either of the Misters Buttigieg is very, very, small, but if they do, I want them to know that to a elderly, disabled man in Canada and his husband of 50 years, you are changing more than America, you are showing what gay courage means every day you rise to fight your battles.

And we thank you for it.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

What I Did At Work

I am a believer in fiction. In the power of stories, true or not, to change our lives or change our perspectives.. I have a friend who only reads non-fiction and believes that non-fiction books are 'education' and what I read is 'entertainment.' But we've dropped the subject between us because neither was budging.

Books, movies, comedians all use the power of stories to open different pathways in your mind. When Joe and I went to see "The Peanut Butter Falcon" an entirely fictional story, I wasn't expecting to laugh, to cry and to learn so much. The movie which stars an actor with Down Syndrome grabbed me right at the start and in telling the story brought me face to face with vestiges of ableism that I had tucked away, hopefully out of sight.

Arriving at work the next day I began the process of turning this movie into a training opportunity. In the end we had nearly 30 staff come to an early afternoon viewing of the movie and then we all trooped back to the office for a discussion about what we'd seen, felt and learned while watching the movie.

The movie touches a lot of emotional chords and it was easy to see that people were deeply affected by what they'd seen. We heard a lot of voices and a lot of perspectives and soon we were learning from each other as well as learning from the movie.

It was awesome.

On top of that, we are an organization that serves people with disabilities, we near filled an empty theatre to see a new kind of disability story, supporting this kind of movie in any kind of way is certainly part of our mission vision and values.

I had a good day at work.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Opening My Mail

I had been requested by a woman with Down Syndrome that I had come into acquaintance with to attend a meeting with her father and her sister. Her mother had passed away a few years earlier and the passage through grief had brought them all closer together. There was resistance to my being there, but she was a strong self advocate and stood her ground. Besides herself there would be her family, a social worker from her agency, and me.

The topic?

Love.

Or more accurately, love with the possibility of sex.

As a young woman she was romantic. She dreamed of a boyfriend, of a wedding and of a life beyond that with the man she loved. These dreams were tolerated, not supported, until she met a man. She was in love. That's where I came in, she knew that I had worked for many years in sexuality and that I believe that people with disabilities have a right to a full adult rights.

When I was introduced to her dad, all he said was, "I googled you."

Immediately I wondered what he had found, I hadn't done that for a little while. But he would find what he would I'm not ashamed of my body of work.

The meeting went as anticipated, except for the fact that I had nothing to say. She had invited me to help speak the case for love, but she was doing that just find on her own. She knew what she wanted and she knew she loved her boyfriend and she was determined that this relationship would grow.

Father and sister were equally adamant that the relationship be stopped 'before more harm was done.' She clearly couldn't handle an adult relationship and didn't understand the full implications of love.

It all ended with her bursting from the room in tears. 'You talk, talk, talk, but you never listen, listen, listen,'

It was now that they all looked at me and asked me for a professional opinion. I said that the woman who had been at the meeting, the woman who had plead her case, was articulate and clear about what she wanted. She wanted love from her boyfriend and she wanted the relationship to be supported and celebrated by her family. In no way did I notice a deficit in her ability to be family.

I asked the dad one question, "Wasn't your daughter born with a hole in her heart?"

"Yes," he said, thrown by the change in topic,, "but she had that fixed."

"Oh," I said.

"What do you mean 'Oh'?" he was annoyed.

"Well, I'm wondering why you want to put another hole in her heart? It seems like you are upset because it's working properly."

I was asked to leave.

Yesterday's mail brought me an invitation to her wedding.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Grey Matter

Several of the hotels that we stayed in over the last few days on the road to and from St. Louis had renovated or 'updated'. They all looked great, but looks can be very deceiving. In the first one I got off the elevator to turn towards the room and sank into porridge soft carpet. I'll bet it felt good to walk on if you were fully able to balance. But the wheelchair protested every inch. My shoulders were screaming by that time I got to the hotel room. The first time, Joe stood at the door holding it open but I asked him not to because it was disturbing to see him slowly age in front of my eyes.

That was hard! I said using a lot more adjectives.

The same was true of every updated hotel we stayed at, the carpet rose in opposition to my presence, my wheelchair sometimes groaned under my effort. I didn't let Joe push because if this is the new norm I need to be at a new norm. Fun, wow.

It was good to get home and back to being able to push easily. But on our first day back we went to buy patio furniture and I asked a clerk a question. I could tell immediately that he didn't want to deal with me, he looked for and found Joe and headed to him to answer my question. I am assertive in these situations and pointed out that he would deal with me, I asked the question. Getting the information out of him was like rolling across the soft grey matter of his brain.

Give me bad carpet any time.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Theft

We were having lunch at a small cafe in a mall near the hotel in which we were staying. The food court was a few feet down and around the corner from us. We we chatting over our meal when Joe's face froze. He said quietly to someone other than me, "Put the fucking phone away."

I turned to see a woman with a disability trailing behind her staff who was walking far to quickly and whose face was in her phone. If she had put her phone away she would have noticed that the woman with a disability was having a great deal of difficulty with the pace that she had set. The disabled woman's face was flushed and sweaty. The effort she was making to keep up and walk beside her staff showed all over her expression.

She never caught up to her staff. Not that we saw anyway. She was about 4 feet behind her. Her desperation to be with the staff was lost in the staff desperation to be somewhere else, somewhere where 'likes' from strangers were worth more than the 'would like to walk with you' from the woman with a disability.

People were watching.

They saw an uncaring staff whose message of "I can't be bothered, even for pay, to spend time with the likes of the woman with me." was strongly delivered

They saw a disabled woman whose message of "I want to feel involved and included even by those who disrespect me." looked pathetic and weak.

Everything was wrong with what we saw.

Everything.

After some thought I realized that that staff was thieving from the agency that hired her. She was thieving from the woman with a disability who probably waiting for this 'outing' and was desperate for it to be fun and fulfilling. She was thieving from the community that witnessed this, a community that should have been learning that disabled people have value and that staff provide a service.

Agencies may be very concerned about petty cash and how it balances.

They should be more worried about the theft of time and dignity from the people they serve.

Time and dignity.

That's what she stole.

But I'll bet she handed in the receipts pronto.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Wrong Ramp

We'd had dinner in a packed restaurant, with waitstaff that had no idea how to sit a disabled customer, and were on our way out. I came through the / doors and saw that a huge truck had used the cut curb to pull back up into a parking space to unload and store equipment used in the water show that was happening just off the docks beside the restaurant. I could see that a young man had been assigned to watch over the equipment so I headed over to speak to him.

But that's not the only thing I was doing right? I was stoking the fires of injustice and feeling the violation of my space, the only cut curb anywhere near where we'd parked the car. So by the time I got to him I was in fight mode. I told him that the truck was parked over the disabled access point and that I couldn't get to the ramp. But as I spoke there was a roar from the crowd attending the event and he smiled and said, "No I don't think I can let you do that?" "What," I asked.

The truck had a long and steep ramp, used to assist with getting the equipment on or off the ramp. He repeated himself laughing as he said that he didn't think he could let me try rolling up the ramp.  I said, "No, no, I was saying that the truck is blocking the accessible ramp and I can't get down to the car. "Oh, sorry," he said, "give me a second to organize and I'll move the truck right away."

And he did. He kept giggling about his mistake and kidding me about actually trying the steep ramp. There wasn't a moment where I felt that he was resentful of all the work he had to do to move the truck. He had to move equipment that was leaning against it, he had to disassemble the ramp, he had to tie down some of the stuff in the truck. But he did it in good humour and I didn't mind waiting in an atmosphere of 'I got it, I get it, I'll do it.'

And, of course waiting there allowed me the time to put out the fire that I'd set for a fight that I didn't need to have. But you can't tell before hand, can you, when it's going to be needed.

The truck was moved, I got out, he called after me, "Sorry, man, thanks for your patience." I gave him the thumbs up sign because it was all good.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Late Lunch

We got to the restaurant a little later than we had planned. But what's a vacation for but to make plans and then freely set about to mess them all up?

We were greeted by a woman with a disability, she used a cane for stability and for assisting with movement. She was warm and friendly and set about setting up a table for 5, all were set for 2 or 4, with skill and ease.

The most important thing to me was that she set it up exactly right for my wheelchair. No muss, no fuss, no notice, just an accessible table whipped up for us.

I don't know if her disability played into how she provided service, but I'm guessing it might. And right then I was really thankful for her and her skill and her competence and her welcoming attitude. It isn't always so when I'm out.

There are those people that seem to be set in the way of your life, those people you are destined to run into, those people who you will never know and, after a few minutes, never see again, but those same  people can have a real impact on us and our lives. She showed me it's possible to be seated in a restaurant without show or complaint. No one noticed what she did. And that's the point. No one but me, and that, for today was enough.