Sunday, September 29, 2013

Envelope Please

Banned Books Week ended yesterday. I spent some time reviewing the various lists of banned books which pop up this time of year. This also meant I spent time shaking my head in astonishment. "Call of the Wild" was banned in many countries and burned in the Nazi book burning sprees. Words, like these you are reading, can be dangerous. Words can contain ideas, can transmit thought, can gather community and can foment rebellion. Words can create a future. Little words like 'if' and 'maybe' and 'perhaps' are magical and are often a huge part of the shifts from inkling to idea and from there to actuality. Words whispered can begin a movement, written words can carry whispers around the world. That books are banned isn't much of a surprise.

I wanted to wait until after the week was over to write about my own experience in being a banned author. I think it might be a bit presumptuous to include any of my work in the list of lofty tomes that are cited this time of year. However, one of my first books, now long out of print, "I Contact: Sexuality and People With Intellectual Disabilities" caused such an upset when it was published in 1990. I knew, of course, that the topic was controversial and, though many won't believe it, I tried to write a gentle and humane book. I wanted to assert the right of people with intellectual disabilities to be adult and to be sexual and to be viewed as imbued with rights.

The book was received either as 'a breath of fresh air' or 'pornographic and disgusting' there was no middle ground. Both Joe and I remember finding an envelope, delivered to our home address, waiting for us when we returned home from work. We opened it without thought, suddenly the air filled with ash as burnt remnants of my book fell to the floor. Inside was a note telling me that I deserved death for even suggesting that 'innocents' be made 'filth.' We were shocked, and not a little scared. How did they get my home address?

That book led to other books and training videoes, I've had my books banned from agencies, I have been banned from lecturing in certain areas of the United States. I have been called a pornographer. I have been accused of pushing a homosexual agenda into human services. "Everything he touches he makes dirty," was stated in a letter to my employer from someone wanting me fired.

Behind banned books are banned authors. Some may revel in the controversy. I did not. I never expected such a surge of hatred aimed at me because I expressed my ideas - and I had the temerity to express them in print. How dare I?

But I'm glad I wrote those words. I'm hope that the ideas ... the 'ifs,' the 'maybes,' and the 'perhapses,' might have had a small part in changing minds and attitudes and ultimately had a part in making people freer.

The word most objected to, in my book, was 'love' ... the suggestion that people with disabilities could love another person was shocking, the fact that their love might also be sexual in nature was unthinkable..

Love still shocks people.

Words are as radical now as they were then - and while 'love' is the most radical of all ... 'if' may be the most hopeful.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thank you for taking the risks and writing those words - that people with disabilities are sexual beings who love.


Laurel said...

I am grateful too and have read all your books and still utilize them in my work. Thanks for taking the risk and changing perceptions. In fact I am showing "The Ethics of Touch" to my team this month!

Deb said...

I remember being horrified in the late 60s when one of the women in our volunteer group mentioned that her 13 y-o son was in the hospital, having surgery.

I asked her if he was going to be okay, and she said, yes, he was *only* being castrated.

She quickly explained that he was "retarded" (even *parents* used that word then) and the doctor said it had to be done because otherwise he'd go mad and rape her and any other woman he saw.

I could never look at her in the same way again. It still makes me shudder.

Keep saying it Dave. People with disabilities, even intellectual ones, deserve the chance to love and be loved.

Jayne Wales said...

Gosh that last post was so dreadful. I can't imagine what that must have been like Deb to hear that. That poor young man. Without love there is just a poor life. Whoever we love is our choice as long as that is consensual and reciprocated. It makes the world a better place to be for all of us and that means all of us.

Anonymous said...

I think it's all kinds of awesome to be a "banned book" author, Dave. It means you had the guts to write down and defend new, exciting, SCARY ideas. It means you were brave enough to vocalize the unutterable. It means you were an out-of-the-box thinker who dared to suggest the impossible.

Be super proud of your place amongst all those other "banned" authors, because with them, you have moved society forward.


Anonymous said...

Although I haven't been able to read your books, I still commend you on being a "banned" author. Say what you want, and ignore what others think of your opinions. It's your mind, and you should be free to express it!

As for people thinking that individuals with disabilities should not be able to love, I find it shocking myself that others could still think that way.
We are all human beings, and we are all capable of the same emotions and feelings no matter what setbacks we obtain.

Good on you for speaking your mind Dave!


Liz said...

People with intellectual disabilities are also political beings who vote. I canvassed a nice gentleman in his 30's yesterday, who was pleased I was there to see HIM, but told me he wasn't allowed to invite strangers in.

"I'm fine here on the porch. Please take my card, and I hope that you'll vote for me November 5!"

Liz said...

And congratulations on being a banned author! That's a wonderful accomplishment!