Tuesday, April 30, 2013


So we were having lunch at the food court down by one of the grocery stores we shop at. I had pulled in at one of the accessible tables, the kind where there is a chair removed to create a space for me to pull in. Joe carried the tray with the food. We were beside, a table between, a group of gay men about our age, maybe slightly younger. We took a few moments to get ourselves, our food and our groceries settled, and once in we began chatting about how we were going to organize the rest of the day. We had lots of small things to do and we wanted to ensure they all got done.

As we talked the chatter from the other table was punctuated with bursts of laughter. One of the men was telling a story from his high school years, a time where he was bullied fairly relentlessly because he had been discovered to be gay. The story he told, however, was one where he managed to get off a really good verbal shot at one of his tormentors. After they all laughed heartily at the story, one of them said, "Yeah, they're right, it does get better doesn't it?"

Just as we were finishing up, they began discussing someone, a mutual dislike - there is nothing more unifying - and one of them said, "He's such a fucking retard, just such a fucking retard." It then got worse, another started making a 'faux disabled' sound by trying to imitate hand movements and slurred, all tongue speech, that I've often heard and seen used in jokes mocking people with disabilities. I felt the floor open up underneath me. I felt my shoulders crushed by this boulder of responsibility which settled immediately on me. I should DO something, SAY something.

But I couldn't speak. I was so horribly, horribly disappointed. I knew that if I spoke I'd just start crying. I looked at Joe, he looked at me. I think he understood exactly what I was feeling so he just said, gently, "Let's go home." And we did.

I was telling someone about this and they said, oddly I thought, "It sounds like you expect more of gay people than of straight people, is that fair? After all, isn't everyone susceptible to bias and prejudice?" I suppose, on one hand, my friend is right. But, I don't understand, and have trouble forgiving, people who have experienced bullying becoming a bully. I don't understand, and have trouble reconciling, the experiencing of hurtful words with the subsequent use of hurtful words. I don't understand, and have trouble figuring, how "It gets better" gets tagged with "for me, and fuck anyone else."

You all know that I am gay, I'm not shy about my sexuality and I've been out for a very long time. I was out when it was dangerous to be out. I was out during the time where people wouldn't hire me because I was out. Joe and I were denied apartments because we were out. Joe was hit by a rock thrown at us during one of the first gay pride marches held in this city. We are not unique for gay men of our era. In fact in many cities, in many countries, presently, anyone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community is subject to horrible violence, oppression, torture and death. I know that. We all know that. The men at the table know that.

They say that "experience is a teacher," and I believe that wholeheartedly ... experience, for those of us who are different, often uses rejection as a curriculum, pain as the subject and fear is the answer to every question on the exam. So what's to be learned? What's the point of having an experience, what's the point of going through hell, if it isn't to be made different? The different should be different. The different should push aside society's demand that we all torment those who don't quite fit.

We all know the story at the source of the quote, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I'd like to, with humility, suggest that a corollary might be, "Let he who has experienced bruising refuse to, ever, pick up a stone."  Kindness, the drive for intentional kindness, it seems to me should be the goal of everyone who has experienced an unkind world.

Do I hold gay people to a higher standard? I don't know. Gay people aren't the only to have been teased, to suffer discrimination. Heaven knows that being targeted by society, tormented by systems which reward sameness and subjected to the taunts of bullies, are outrageously common experiences. When I ask those attending my lecture on bullying to put their hands up if they've ever been teased or bullied. In every case, every time, every one puts their hands up.

So explain to me:

Why is there bullying?

Why is there name calling?

Why is there purposeful hurt?

If the experience of "other" is ubiquitous shouldn't, therefore kindness have equal footing. If we've all been at the same brutal school, if we've all had words slam into the soft flesh of the soul, if we've all felt brutally betrayed when we've received hurt instead of understanding ~ where is the evidence that we paid attention, that we understood, that we have learned the science of alchemy, gold from lead isn't anywhere near as powerful a thing as kindness from intolerance.

I truly believe that if anyone every really 'looks in' even for a moment, they will never 'look out' at the world the same way again. If we ever truly examine the pain that we suffered at the hands of others, our hands would become calloused by the work of kindness, and tolerance, and acceptance.

If we ever ...

"It gets better!" only means anything if it's an inclusive statement. If even one person, one kind of person, is excluded then it's a lie.

A lie.

But, and it's a big but, it could be true.

It could be.

Should be.



kstableford said...

Oh, Dave. Well said and hard questions. I'm so sorry that happened to you.

Rachel said...

Dave, I so well understand that feeling of not being able to speak to bigotry because the disappointment is so deep that you just want to cry. I find that, as I get older, I experience that feeling more and more. When I was younger, I lived in an era in which so much was to be made better -- the era in which the civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and disability rights movements all began. I really believed that it could all be made right, and that in my lifetime, if we didn't get there, we would at least have moved much further down the road. But now I look at the world and I see so much casual nastiness, so much casual disdain, and so much plain meanness, and the pain of it goes very deep. I feel very out of step with the world in feeling the gravity of these things. A lot of people have become so desensitized to words like "retards" and "bitches" that they're absolutely oblivious to the verbal violence they're participating in. I know that there has always been cruelty in the world, but it's frightening to me how these kinds of casual cruelties have become so commonplace and so acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Those are hard questions, Dave. My short answer would be "human nature". It IS so disappointing when friends who've got kids with Ds, or any disability, talk about others. It's hard to hear. My feeling is most people today are so very unhappy themselves, they resort to bullying and sarcasm to fill that space. And bullying becomes a mob-mentality-we've all seen that. Is speaking up the answer? Who knows. Would it have helped? Who knows. Rachel is right-if the topic is something so close to you, speaking up-laying yourself open-is a hard thing to do. Hoping you find your answer in the chance it ever happens again.

n. said...

The first time I saw autistics bully each other it was kind of like this. YES you should hold "your own people" to a higher standard. they know what it's like.
Sometimes I can't speak out because I feel "verg├╝enza ajena" (shame for someone or something outside of yourself) and the person being awful appears to feel nothing.
Also still haven't figured out why there is still bullying. is it something in the bullied that makes "targets" as the media says? then it's our fault for existing... is there something evil in people that's only kept in check by powerlessness? bullying is why I can't entirely ditch the Calvinism I was taught and believe in human capacity for goodness.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

my own experience is, that mostly prejudice like that orginates from fear and worry about one own failure.
For instance I am always feeling very unwell and predjudiced torwards the russian settlers who sometimes claimed to come from german roots. Their way to talk, their constant loudness, the alcohol abuse going around them, the big cars they drive while being on state helpings make me angry. And sometimes I think they are filthy.

Maybe thats just because all I get to see are those who managed to come to Germany due to being smart enought to leave a system that is less social supporting than ours.

Its okay for me to live with disabled, gay, crazy people. Those I know and know who to talk to them, to not be afraid.

I am afraid of the russian people and their aggressivness. Therefore I am predjudiced and might crack a joke about them.

I havent jet found a way to get rid of that fear.

That migt be a reason?


Tamara said...

Reminds me of Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone ...

There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a fat one, trying to be a skinny one

There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For being' such a rich one, that will not help the poor one

There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one
That won't accept the red one, that won't accept the white one

Debbie said...

I've spent the 40 years of my working life working for inclusion. I've taught 'special' education & worked my ass off just to try to get the school to include 'special' kids in 'regular' lunch. I've supervised special education until my self was lost in those soul-less meetings. I've listened to and loved Vecchione, Pitonyak, Lovett, Blatt, Thayler, and yes, you, Dave. I workshopped SRV and Wolfensberger with the resulting years of therapy and antidepressants. I raised a boy I didn't birth who was born with some very tough problems along with two of my own with 'invisible' disabilities. I was part of several state subcommittes that tried to promote inclusion. I started an agency that still tries to provide inclusive services. My staff still listens to you, Dave, during training (my favorite is what we call your "one po-ta-toe" spiel).

Having lived all of this, I continue to work toward inclusion, but I know now that I don't really understand the concept.

I'm in, you're out. That stuff seems to be an essential part of being human. If your family is Dave & Joe, Dave & Joe are in & everyone else is out. If you go to Catholic church, Baptists can come, but they aren't part of the 'in' crowd and they can't take communion, nope. When my boy wanted to play Little League, I had to get a lawyer. He got to play. I wanted to play, too, but I knew that was a hopeless battle. When my boy wanted to be a boy scout, they would have let him in the 'retard' tent (sorry,no thanks). My girl couldn't get in at all. I watched my activist parents die in poverty, money and lives spent in service to others.

Whatever the deal is about in and out, I am beginning to think I will never understand. I know what makes my blood boil. I know I come across things everyday that should make my blood boil and don't.

I am a firm believer in the 'brighten your corner' op (even in the face of today's frightening government takeover of service dollars), but I fear I may have lost the faith that what I do makes much of a difference.

Deb said...

Growing up in the 40s and 50s being polite and considerate were considered virtues, and if you weren't you were swiftly instructed in how to improve your manners. :)

Now, think about how many TV shows are predicated around bullying of the contestants. The meaner and more demeaning the comments the bigger the laughs. The more humiliation the better.

Bullying is used as a substitute for rational discussion, from political debates to every day decision-making. Politicians use bullying tactics to build and direct collective against the vulnerable, "Hate *them*, they're the reason you aren't doing well."

And the ultimate bullying is to resort to the violence of the gun or bomb or knife, or boots to take life itself away.

We used to value intelligence, wisdom and compassion. We had the dream of equality for everyone, and hope for a kinder world. I wonder what the dreams of young people these days are?

It makes me so very sad.

Jayne Wales said...

We must never give on a dream of a fairer world and justice and tolerance of all. For every cruel word spoken there are also people who try every day to help make the world a better place.
Sadly those guys were not confident about themselves. They may have been open about being gay and very likely resentful of others if they had been treated unequally. But they could not be happy in their skin because when you are you have no need to undermine another person. To have to collectively denigrate someone else who was powerless meant they still have a long way to go. So perhaps many other people, including people with disabilities, have just got so sure and so proud that can take pity on these guys and give them the contempt they deserve for being weak and cruel as a result of bing so cowardly.

Eunice Gordon said...

Those are tough questions. Your story reminded me of the Sikh woman who responded very graciously to some extremely hurtful comments on Reddit about her physical appearance and facial hair.


Perhaps it is just human nature to put down others in order to feel superior ... Ugh!! Time to evolve!

Anonymous said...

Disappointment hurts. It hurts a lot. Your confidence may have been mislaid. Unfortunately things will probably never get better. All we can do is be responsible for ourselves. In fact, if we all did that - there wouldn't be a problem!

Maggie said...

I suspect bullying gets passed down from 2nd-grade victim to 3rd-grade bully the same way that domestic violence and child abuse recur in the next generation.

As much as we hate being bullied, some of us also absorb the 'lesson' that 'if you can hurt someone else you feel more powerful.'

It's sad, and disappointing.

But between folks who haven't done the inner work to recognize their own bullying tendencies, their own 'us=good, them=bad' programming, and folks who genuinely like hurting other people, I'm guessing bullying has a long shelf-life.


I so appreciate what you write, Dave, whether it's a delightful story about Ruby or an uplifting tale of something going wonderfully (and surprisingly) well, or something painful like today.

Thanks so much for being in my daily blogroll.