Wednesday, January 03, 2007

When Undies Fall

I'm going to meet a couple of them.

Several young men were asked what they wanted to do of a Saturday night. They answered. The trouble with asking people with disabilities what they want, is that sometimes they tell you. It seemed that they wanted to go to a local bar, have a beer and watch some strippers. The staff, figuring that it was their job to do what was asked of them took them to the bar for a beer to watch some strippers.

Were they noticed in the bar?

Oh, yeah.

Within days they were talked about in the country!

Someone complained that government dollars were being spent to take 'retarded men' to see strippers. The story appeared in local papers, then provincial papers, then national papers. It was a disgrace, said some. It was a travesty, said others. It was inappropriate said a social worker or two.

I learned of all this brouhaha when I got a call from a provincial organization for people with disabilities and asked if I'd be willing to go on a radio talk show to discuss the rights of these men to go to strippers. Now, first I couldn't understand why anyone would care if a group of guys with disabilities went to watch clothing fall so I took it fairly lightly. Then I was told that it was being taken very, very seriously that people were enraged by the action of the agency in supporting these guys. An agency finally starts assisting people with disabilities to live lives as free citizens in the community and people are mad. I'll retire to Bedlam.

A quick chat later with the producers of the radio programme and I was scheduled to be a guest on the talk show. As it happened I was travelling to Maine that day and we pulled into a rest stop with good phone reception and waited to be called to go on the show. I was to be on for ten to fifteen minutes. A quick chat with the host, then to the phone lines and then a quick goodbye. I was on almost the hour. I feared my battery wouldn't last and my temper - kept firmly in check for the whole show, would blow.

The chat with the host went well, but the phone calls. My gosh. People called in saying that these men would all become sex offenders from having seen naked women. Others suggested that they should have had a 'nice' activity like renting a cartoon video. Even others thought that they shouldn't really go out at all. But one by one I answered the questions and tried to update the attitudes. It was a tad frightening to hear blatent prejudice passed off as thoughtful dialogue. Do you know how hard it is not to swear sometimes? To have an 'I'm listening' voice with a 'are you nuts' frame of mind? To be pleasant when you want to whack someone upside the head? I do.

All this just because a few guys wanted to go out on a Saturday night, and all because some staff took them. They wanted, to be plain about it, the right to sit in front of a bust.

Who'd have ever thought that going to see a stripper would strike a blow for disability freedom?

Well, I just found out that I'm going to meet some of the guys who went to the bar that fateful night on my upcoming lecture tour of British Columbia.

I'm excited. Not as excited as they would have been that night, I'm sure. Excited in a different way, no doubt. But excited, nonetheless. They have become folk heros in my mind.

I'm going to thank them for having the courage to speak their minds and say what they want. I want to ensure that they know that there are lots of people on their side. I want to know what they thought of the whole thing. How did it feel to have thousands of people discussing what they should be ALLOWED to do on a Saturday night? How did it feel to hear some of the things being said about them because of who they were? How did it feel to be perceived as different and dangerous just because of the group they belonged to? I'm looking forward to that chat.

I also hope I meet someone from the agency who supported them. I want to know if their committment to full access was shaken by the incident. If they questioned their decision to take the guys that night. If they saw their community different - less welcoming because of what happened. I'm looking forward to that chat too.

But mostly I want to thank all of them, to shake thier hands.

It takes courage to live in the community, it takes bravery to stand up to it and it takes fortitude to go on.

And go on, I hope they do.

5 comments:

lina said...

please please let these people know that they have supporters in Ontario - particularly in Woodbridge, this one fan says kudos for living life, may you never be afraid to do so!
What a great story, can't believe the things that make news these days - seems there's not enough tragedies in the world today that we need to read about people living their life - truly a mystery!

Jodi Reimer said...

"They wanted, to be plain about it, the right to sit in front of a bust." If Rosa Parks could only read this! Thanks (once again) for making me ponder. I think your best columns are the ones I find myself thinking about all day.

Frances said...

Dear Dave- you betcha these guys have the right to go see strippers! They have the right to gamble and do drugs[lets assume pot is totally legal and not just a little bit legal]. They have the right to smoke cigarettes until their lungs break down into black sponges.So do my kids or they will when they are of age and I can only hope and pray that I've raised them to make wise choices for themselves, to understand that just because it feels good and you have the 'right' to do something, doesn't make it right. Doesn't make it healthy, or good for you or society. It is just legal.Frances

Tanikova said...

Good for those young men... kudos to the staff.... people with disabilies have the same red blooded human urges as anyone else... and I know tons of men and women of all ages and backgrounds you visit strip clubs... why shouldn't people with disabilites either purely physical or cognitive... having these disabilites does not turn off sexual urges and going to a strip club does not turn one into a sexual predator...

my daughter has Down syndrome.. my wish for her is to have a full and complete life.... including sexual relationships if she so chooses and when is is older (right now she is 6)... I have vowed not to hide or shield my daughter from this information because I feel the more she knows or is aware of it the less likely that you can be abused...

David Williams said...

OK, I'll start of by mentioning that I am not American and do not live in the US. However, I'd still like to respond to this as I also feel it is a very important issue, particularly as my brother suffers from a learning disability and lives in sheltered accomodation.

Firstly, I think the only real cause or justification any sane person could have for complaining that this group of men was taken to see the strippers is the fact that they, unlike most people who do so, did not pay for this privilege themselves, but had it paid for them by the tax payer. Now, I don't know what a visit to a strip club in the US costs, but I guess that it isn't particularly cheap, especially not when you take into consideration that it wasn't one man, but a group (+ their carers, presumably). As an side, perhaps some of them didn't want to go, but "had to" because some members of the group requested it.

That said, I warmly applaud the fact that they were not denied the night out they wanted just because of some prudish ideas about what is "nice" or "good". I was brought up in a fairly strict Christian household and am still a regular churchgoer and believer, but I also believe there is nothing worse than bigotry and suppression.

It is great that these men said, honestly, what they wanted, and indeed even greater that they were allowed to go what they wanted, even if some people might frown on their presence in the club or their interest.

Despite his learning disability, my brother is also male, also has desires (and hormones) and has not benefited from the restrictions and fetters he has had to cope with. All the better that he was, at nearly 30 years of age, finally able to find a girlfriend and indeed marry last year (http://www.flickr.com/photos/andy_maria_williams/).

How else are people like that expected to live any kind of normal life instead of being incarcerated in an institution?