At first everyone thought it was cute. I'm angered by this description as I hear it for the first time. A woman with a disability develops a crush on her instructor at the sheltered industry and it's 'cute' maybe even 'sweet', let's all say 'ah'. When a person with a disability has a 'crush' it's never seen as deep, or serious or, God Forbid, real. I am called in to discuss what to do because they think it might have been handled badly.
OK, deal, I'll be there that afternoon.
I meet with the supervisor who tells me that they first noticed that Tamblyn had a crush on one of her female instructors when they'd see her during the work day stopped and just staring at her. Then little gifts began. Nothing expensive. A can of Pepsi. A bag of chips. Just tokens really. Janet came forward at that point and asked for advice. She was told that Tamblyn was just going through a phase and to just ride it out, do nothing to encourage her.
"Janet? She had a crush on Janet?" I asked startled to hear her name.
"Yes, why?" They asked.
"No reason, I'm just a bit surprised." And I'll admit at that point I was also a bit relieved. I knew Janet. Personally. She and her girlfriend and Joe and I used to go out for Indian food together after work, occasionally we'd gone to the movies. Janet and her girlfriend were both deeply in the closet, terrified that someone would find out about their relationship. They were young and times were very different.
"At least," I thought to myself, that Tamblyn had a crush on someone who would at least be gentle and understanding. So I relaxed a bit and let them finish the story.
"Yesterday," the supervisor told me, "Tamblyn came to work with a card. She slipped it into Janet's desk. When Janet found it she brought it directly to me." The supervisor then got up and found the card and handed it over to me. It must have taken Tamblyn hours to do. The card had a great big heart on the cover, drawn carefully and coloured in beautifully. Then when openned the card had a drawing of Tamblyn and Janet lying together naked. There was nothing subtle here, Tamblyn was sexually in love with her instructor.
"So what happened, how did you handle it?" I asked.
"Well, I thought," said the instructor, "that I'd call them into the office together and that Janet could tell Tamblyn that she couldn't take the cards or gifts because she was an instructor. That they couldn't have a personal relationship because Janet was like her teacher. You know, the basic stuff."
I winced, "I knew it had to be done, but I knew that Tamblyn would be so hurt. Even in the most kindly hands rejection in a knife that always cuts."
"But Dave, I couldn't have imagined that Janet would have reacted like she did. When Tamblyn came in and sat down, it all started OK, Janet explained that there couldn't be a relationship because she was an instructor and Tamblyn was a client. She said, that the card made her really uncomfortable and Tamblyn had to stop."
"Tamblyn started to cry and said, 'But I love you.' Suddenly Janet went crazy on her. She told Tamblyn that her feelings for her were 'sick' and 'disgusting' that she would never have a relationship with another woman. She even said that Tamblyn would go to hell for feelings like that. Tamblyn crumbled and started to cry. I've never seen anybody weep like that before. I tried to intervene. I yelled at Janet to stop, but once she was going she couldn't stop herself. Tamblyn is devastated. Janet's still upset."
I shook my head, why would Janet, of all people do this to another person. Janet who understood homophobia, who had told a horrific story of her parents finding out over dinner just a few days ago. How could she have done this. "Could I see Janet first?" It took a while to convince the supervisor to let me see her alone, but in the end she relented and allowed me to talk with her staff in private.
Janet came in looking angry. I asked her what was going on, "I can't believe what Tamblyn did to me. She has everyone questioning why she had focussed on me. The other staff even teased me and called me "Jumping Janet the Leaping Lesbian" (whiched I guessed was a referrence to Janet's membership on a women's basketball team). When she gave me that card I was terrified that someone would blame me, or think I lead her on, or God Forbid that I'd done something with her."
After she calmed down I told her that I was shocked that she would have been so violent in her reaction to Tamblyn. Then Janet started to cry. "I sounded just like my dad, I told her she was sick and disgusting.' It was the first thing that came to mind. I just wanted to make sure that the supervisor didn't suspect anything about me. I just can't have people finding out.
Then I met with Tamblyn. Luckily I had always liked her, always joked with her when I came into the building. She came in as described. Her love had been crushed and so was she. As we talked I could see she understood that Janet was an instructor and that it wouldn't be ok to have a relationship with her.
"Do you think I'm sick and disgusting."
"No, I don't, and Janet doesn't either, she was just upset."
"I know that she does, she was so mad at me."
I called Janet in. I filled her in in such a manner that she had no question about what she was to do. "Janet, Tamblyn understands that you are an instructor and that there can't be any relationship. But she's wondering if you really think that she is 'sick' and 'disgusting'. I think you'd better explain how you were just surprised and you reacted badly. Maybe even an apology would be in order here."
Janet looked at me with loathing, I knew there would be no more friendship. I didn't care.
So she did as asked. She told Janet that she got scared that people might talk and that she didn't want anyone thinking that she was 'like that' or that she had encouraged Janet. So she lost her cool. "Of course I don't think you are sick and disgusting, I should never have said it."
Tamblyn smiled weakly and left the room.
Days later Janet had left the workshop and taken a job out of service to people with disabiliites. A decision I welcomed.
Today, in Toronto, is Gay Pride day. As I type this thousands of people are getting up and gathering for the day. Difference does need to be celebrated. Janet was not a cruel person but she was frightened that she'd be discovered as 'different'. A discovery that terrified her. Tamblyn had reached out in exploration of feelings that she didn't understand and met with a violent response. Had Janet felt that she worked in an environment that would weldome her as who she was - if her workplace had been as holistic with her as a staff as it wanted to be with Tamblyn as a client, things might have been different.
I'll watch the parade on television. Hopefully the camera will catch Tamblyn as she walks in the parade, I think this will be her fourth year. She looks forward to it all year.
The agency has changed.
So has Tamblyn.
There's something truly to be proud about today.