There are many kind of smiles.
But there is also another smile. One that I've known since the first time I recognised another gay person at a conference, years ago when we would have been fired because of the backbeat of our hearts, we shared a smile that said, "I see you." It was a wonderful kind of sharing. It was nice to been seen, even by just one other. It was a loss of aloneness.
I had that smile today on the subway. Joe and I were coming come and I hoped on the subway and quick turned into place. I then noticed a smile of recognition, just like the backbeat days, by a man with Down Syndrome who was holding on to one of the subway poles. I smiled back. When I did his broadened to a grin. Again, it was a loss of aloneness.
He noticed that I was being stared and and I wondered how he felt about it. I'm sure that those eyes that assaulted me had, moments before, been pummelling his right to simply be on the subway. He made his way towards me with clear determination.
"They were staring at me before," he said loudly while pointing at some of the people on the train. They looked mortified, not at their behaviour but at his. "Now they are staring at you. It was bad when they did it to me and now its bad that they are doing it to you."
Now, there is huge tension on the train.
When we got to the next stop a number of people got off. I'm not sure they were all at their stop but, I didn't care, and I didn't miss them.
Then I was asked if I knew what self-advocacy was. He told me that he went to self advocate groups and he'd learned to speak up for himself. He said that I should go. Then something marvellous happened ...
... he told me that he went to a class and he'd learned that when people were staring at him to think to himself, "I'm OK, You're Mean." He then chanted it out loud for me to hear. The few remaining people who had been on the train before looked completely shamed. Now by their behaviour, not his.
I didn't tell him that I had created that training and that I'd probably trained the trainers who trained him. He laughed as he described the role play, the one I'd created, and how much fun it was. I glanced at Joe who has been in that roll play a thousand times, he was, I could see, listening carefully to every word being said.
The fellow said that I should find that class and I should take it.
Hes suggested I join a self advocate group. He thought it would be as much a help to me as it has been to him.
We got off and said goodbye to him.
As the door closed he pointed at me and called out, "You're OK."
And, magically, I was.