Monday, April 27, 2015

Protecting The Vulnerable

Photo Description: Road sign reading 'Vulnerability Just Ahead'
... protecting the vulnerable.

I heard someone say that yesterday when they were talking about physician assisted suicide, they were saying that there needed to be a balance such that the rights of those who are at the end of their life, in pain and who want to end their suffering and the rights and concerns of those who want legislation at is aimed at protecting the vulnerable are equally respected.

... the vulnerable.

Who are 'the vulnerable?'

Well, even though I don't exactly know who 'the vulnerable' are, I do know that the responsibility for the wish to kill them has been shifted to them. It's something about them - the vulnerable, that makes murder a really easy choice. Vulnerability has been made part of their DNA. Vulnerability has been to be determined as a permanent state of being.

We never talk of those who are vulnerable to murderous urges on sight of someone with a disability.

We never talk of those who are vulnerable to bigoted responses to reasonable requests to accommodations.

We never talk of the vulnerability of the powerful to misuse of power.

No.

We make the victim, vulnerable.

We keep the victim vulnerable.

Those who are vulnerable to sexual abuse not because of disability but because the powerful deny them the power of education, the strength of vocabulary.

Those who are vulnerable to bullying and teasing not because of disability but because the powerful decide that the bullying of the different is a normal response, it's what the normal do ... inaction of the powerful is approval to the violent.

Those who are vulnerable to lives of poverty and economic powerlessness not because of disability but because social and physical structures set up barrier after barrier after barrier such that work and workplaces are inaccessible in every way possible.

But the vulnerability is, to them, all ours.

We, the disabled are made to carry the burden of the neglect and the abuse and the violent whims of the 'they.'  We are vulnerable after all. 'They' tell us all the time. 'They' tell us at the same time as they say they want to 'protect us.'

Who are 'they?' And what do 'they' want to protect us from?

They are the ones who live in fear that we, the vulnerable, will one day find voice and power.

They are the ones who made us 'them' and will do anything they can to deny us access to education, employment and social justice.

They are the one's who see murder as a solution.

We do need protection.

But not theirs.

Our own words, our own voice, our own strength.

Our own.

Because how can 'they' protect us ...

When they see murder as the fix.

And elimination as the cure.

Their vulnerability to the ways of power and privilege is, I fear, terminal. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

To Whom Much is Owed

They settled into their seats behind us just as the lights went down and the previews began to play. They were a couple probably 15 or 20 years our senior. They spoke to each other in the kind of whisper that is louder than a speaking voice. Joe and I glanced at each other, each of us with hopes in our eyes that they weren't 'talkers'. We are the kind of movie goers who virtually never, ever speak from previews to credits. We like others of our kind.

When The Water Diviner began to play, they hushed. But a few minutes in, the fellow behind me spoke, with urgency, to his wife. "Is this a war movie? What kind of movie is this?" She answered, "It's got Russell Crowe in it, see," she said as his name appeared on the screen, "he even directed it. You know I love Russell Crowe." He quieted. The movie played on. I guessed, rightly as it turned out, that this was not the end of the drama playing itself out behind us.

Suddenly on the screen there was an intense scene. I don't want to describe it too much because some of you may be planning to see it. (We're that kind of movie goer too.) As the intensity increased on the screen, the man behind me spoke again, his voice full of pain and anger, "How could you have brought me to this? How could you? You know, you know, I've told you. You know!!" He got up. Stood for a second. "I'm going home. I can't take this. It will be weeks before I feel safe again. You know that."

He became aware that he'd been speaking fairly loudly. He touched my shoulder on the way out. "Sorry," he said.

"Thank you, for my freedom," I said.

He started to cry and walked out of the theatre.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Out In Public View

Picture description: The word 'out' in capital letters surrounded by a purple bacground.
I feel a responsibility, both as a disabled guy and a gay guy, to be 'out.' Publicly, up front, out. I had a discussion with someone at work the other day about being out and open about who you are makes everything you do a political statement. We were waiting downstairs yesterday morning for WheelTrans when another older fellow in the building came down and sat on a couch opposite Joe, I was in my wheelchair.

He talked about the fact that he was going to the doctor that morning. WheelTrans pulled up and I got on. Joe came back into the building and he asked Joe where I was going so early in the morning. Joe told him that I was going to work, that I liked to get an early start in my office. Joe told me that he was shocked, flat out shocked. We don't know where he expected that I was going but 'to work' was not the answer that he anticipated. 'Out' ... being 'out' is about that.

So we decided to meet the wedding organizer from the church in a public place. Timothy's, which was the place where I changed my mind about getting married, which is always bustling with activity. The tables were all full when we got there, so as I zipped ahead to scout for any possible movement, a table came available back where Joe and the planner were standing. Great.

This guy finds a date, goes over the service, asks questions about music and about the organization of the day. Joe and I had already planned a lot of what we wanted to happen so we filled him in and he jotted down notes. We drank tea, he drank coffee, and we worked through what needed to be done. When we chose the date, he said, '2016' and we said, 'No, this year' we thought he was going to fall over. Apparently most people take a little longer to plan the event. We're taking a few weeks.

But, and here's the point of the post, as we talked and worlds like 'wedding' and 'marriage' and 'church' and 'ceremony' wafted from our table to others at other tables and others walking by, they looked and saw who was there.

Two men.

Two older men.

One fat, disabled guy.

One guy who, they think, could do better.

Let me be clear that we just held the meeting there, like people hold meetings there all the time. We've held many other meetings in this place. We did not put on a show in any way. We just held a meeting about our marriage ceremony there, in public.

Because being out.

Changes or challenges people.

And that's part of our job as people who are different and who advocate for a world that welcomes, not fears, difference.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Born With Purple Eyes: A Blog With Two Endings

Photo description: close up of an eye, the iris is purple.
 I was just about finished getting my hair mowed when she came in. She was a lovely white haired lady wearing incredibly cool dark rimmed glasses. This was a woman who managed to create her own style, from the cut of her hair to the cut of her clothes, yet none of it looked like she thought about it very much. Her personality was warm and welcoming, I imagined if you got close to her she would smell of apple pie baked in Covent Garden.

She noticed Joe's new jacket hanging with the coats at the back of the salon and asked, "Who owns that beautiful blue jacket?" Joe answered that she did. She said, "My son would love that."

Then.

She paused.

"My son has the most amazing blue eyes," she said, "when he was born his eyes were a lovely purple, even now, his eyes are blue with a slightly purple hue."

Again.

She paused.

"When people meet him they really notice the colour of his eyes. He is a lovely, handsome man."

One more time.

She paused.

And continued with pain in her voice.

"And he thinks he's ugly. He really thinks he's ugly. I can't understand why he feels that way. I can't understand why he can't see himself as he is, beautiful."

Then, realizing that she had slipped into intimate conversation with strangers she brushed the conversation away and deftly changed the subject.

This blog has two endings.

First Ending:

As I listened to her, I sat there, looking at myself in the mirror. I saw what people see. I saw a fat man in a wheelchair, bald headed, eyes with luggage enough to move a movie stars shoes. I saw what people see. I know what strangers think of me. I know they see me as ugly and ungainly and unworthy and unlovable. I know that.

But I don't feel that way.

I don't feel ugly.

Or unworthy.

Or ungainly.

Or unlovable.

At least I don't feel those ways very often, maybe only in very low moments. My life is so full of purpose and so full of living that I don't think of my looks very much at all. There are moments, and I've written about them here, when I see myself reflected in the eyes of others - cruel eyes with shallow vision. I may be stung by what I see there, but it passes, it always passes.

I think because I'm loved.

And because I rise every morning to purpose.

And because, at my core, I'm OK with me.

I realized, as she spoke, that I am a lucky, lucky, man.

Second ending:

As I listened to her, I felt her sorrow. I felt the pain of the words that she was saying. She was a mother that loved her son. She was a mother who wanted her son to live with joy and not be plagued by thoughts of himself as ugly and unworthy. She was a mother, whose voice gave away her inner thoughts, "What did I do wrong? Why does he see himself in such a negative light? Was it what I said? Was it what I did? What could I have done differently. Did I do this to him?"

Parents don't need much encouragement to look to themselves with blameful eyes. Her son may see himself as ugly, but she sees herself as responsible. Her burden may be worse.

I would have loved to know her well enough to say, "Your son lives in a world, separate from you. You see his beauty. But he doesn't measure beauty in his mother's eyes - he doesn't trust that you can see him as others see him. He lives in a world that bombards men, in the same was as it pummels women, with impossible images of beauty. Men, these days, are presented in magazines as flawless, strong jaws, washboard abs, shoulders strong enough to carry the fantasies of strangers.

Parents are responsible only for loving their children and for raising their children in a loving environment. Her love of him was palpable. Her worry for him a tangible thing.

He has a mother who loves him.

And because of that, I believe that he will one day, look in the mirror and see what she sees.

I want to believe that.

So, I do.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dance On!


Disability pride?

Unashamed living?

What does it look like?

It looks like a little girl doing a dance.

I wept watching this video. I was stunned by the beauty, the joy, the power and the passion of this little girl. She demonstrates, how powerful pride is. She shows the world that we, as people with disabilities, eschew shame. She knows how to be, simply be, who she is and do what she does.

Out of the shadows and into the light.

Her life has limitless potential, not because she's brave, or inspiring, or any of that stuff, but because she knows already, how to be out and proud.

Living pridefully.

Dance on, little girl, dance on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Linda Said

Image result for heart broken
Description: Drawing of a broken heart, the heart looks torn down the middle and is the colour of bruise. Across the image is the word 'Heartbroken.'
Last night I had a chat with Linda.

I have known her for many years and my affection and admiration for her grows every time we meet, every time we talk. I called her because I wanted to tell her the news of Joe and I getting married. She's one of the last calls I had to make. I was a little nervous about the call because Linda is an elderly woman with Down Syndrome. She is younger than me, by two years, but her journey has been hard and the road she's walked has been full of many barriers to overcome, and it shows. She is a very conservative and very faithful woman. Her prayer life is rich and she believes, absolutely, that God love her. I think, quite literally, this belief saved her life.

The church she goes to does not endorse the idea of same sex marriage. Well, that's maybe a tad understated, they are pretty emphatic that homosexuality, along with feminism, abortion and 'liberals' are all going to destroy society and bring down 'the family.' I've never talked to Linda about Joe's and my relationship, she knows us both of course, but I'd never had the 'talk' with her.

So.

It was time.

I told her quite gently. I wanted her to know that Joe and I loved each other and have done so for 46 years. I wanted her to know that we were getting married and that the marriage was going to be done in a church, with a minister, in front of God. All of this I knew she would understand and approve of - well except maybe for the 'two men' thing.

After I finished. Linda sat for the longest time.

And then, quite simply, she broke my heart.

"So Joe loves you?" she asked. I told her that he did.

"And you love him?" she asked. I assured her that I did.

"So you aren't alone?"

"No, I'm not."

"I'm glad. They never let me love anyone. I tried but they always stopped it. It's too late for me now. I'm glad it's not to late for you."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Got It Wrong on Friday

I was asked a question in a seminar that I was giving, "The Ethics of Touch," that took me aback, not because it was inappropriate but because I'd never been asked it before, and I gave the wrong answer. That has bothered me ever since I realized it was wrong, which was about 40 minutes after I could actually do anything about it. We were driving away. It was Friday and we were heading home.

Damn.

That means, I thought, I've got to just live with the fact that I messed up. I gave a personal opinion in place of a fact. That's a temptation that I find hard, sometimes, to avoid. So, I know some of the folks who were at the seminar are blog readers, I'm hoping they'll get the right answer to the person who asked the question.

Here was the question:

"I've been taught that when I'm talking to someone in a wheelchair I should crouch down so that we are looking eye to eye. That way I'm not towering over someone when we're talking. Is that right?"

Now, I have to admit, as I have, that I was taken aback, but I also have to admit that I have personally strong feelings about this. This led me to answer, as a person with an opinion, yet present it as a fact.

Here's the thing. I don't like it. I really don't like it when people crouch down or kneel down to talk to me. I'm not a queen with the power to bestow knighthood, so stand the hell up. I feel that when someone crouches down that:

1) they are doing me a big ass ol' favour.
2) that I'm to be grateful for the favour
3) the crouch  or the kneeling centres me out even more
4) it's patronizing
5) it makes it look like talking with me, a disabled person, is a whole lot of work

The first time someone knelt down to talk to me. Eye to eye, I was startled. I suggested he stand up but he insisted. We talked for about five minutes, and you can't make this stuff up, when he went to stand his knees locked and he couldn't get up. I had to turn my wheelchair so it was sideways in front of him and give him my arm, and the armrest of my chair, for him to get back up. I found it hard not to laugh, I didn't because he was really trying.

And that's what bothers me - I don't want people to be constantly trying, putting effort into what should be effortless.

So when you talk with me. Stand the hell up!

OK.

Here's the thing.

That's ME.

That's decidedly not everyone.

I should have said that I don't like it, but that the best thing to do is ask the person what would make them the most comfortable. After all I'm tall and I'm in a tall chair.

Why that simple answer didn't flow from my mouth, I don't know.

But if you are reading this, dear question asker ... it was a great question to which I gave the wrong answer.

Here's the right answer: Ask the person you are talking with what they would prefer.

Sheesh.

How hard was that?

Too hard for me anyways.