When I went on-line this morning to connect with my office at work, I checked my emails. One of them was a group email reminding people of the Valentine's Day dance tonight. I knew that there were multiple events happening; a big 'couple's night out' at a fancy restaurant and, of course, the dance being the two biggest. I knew that many people with disabilities had been planning on attending the dance with their partners and with their fiances. The place has been buzzing with anticipation for a couple weeks now.
It seems to me, that Valentine's day, is second only to Christmas as a holiday to be most joyously anticipated and celebrated around Vita. This surprises me. I am jaded about Valentine's day ... I don't have a good history with it. Don't much like it in fact. But, that's me. And this isn't about me. I notice the genuine joy and anticipation that builds as the big day gets closer.
And I wonder about that.
And then realize, it is no wonder.
People with disabilities have more than a difficult history when it comes to matters of the heart, when it comes to love and relationships. It might not be seemly to write of the violence perpetrated on the bodies of people with disabilities ... the castrations, the forced sterilisations on a day celebrated with lace and chocolate. But you can't understand the one without recognizing the other.
Years ago, after hearing the story of a man with a disability, beaten because he was caught making love with his boyfriend, forcibly separated from the man that he loved, and who endured years of taunting and bullying by those paid to care for him, I decided to do something. Along with the direct support staff who worked most closely with him. We worked at finding the other man, his long lost love, and we brought them back together. Too much had happened, too much pain, they met, they embraced, they cried for a very long time in each other's arms and then the said 'goodbye.' Neither could conceive of a relationship, with anyone, ever. But they wanted the goodbye. He said to me, after it was over, "Love is wrong, people hurt you for it."
Years ago, after hearing the story of a man who was punished, sent to his room without dinner, for being caught with his girlfriend, in a downstairs room. He came out of that room to find that she was gone from his life. He never saw her again. I offered to help him try and find her. He just shook his head and said no. He said it was too late. He said he was too afraid. He said that he was worried that she hated him for getting her in trouble. "She lost her home because of me. She lost her friends." I offered a few times but then stopped offering when he asked me to stop offering.
These stories are not uncommon. These stories are still happening. While it is better, while people with disabilities are beginning to have the right to relationship, the right for sexual expression, the right to use the heart for other than the pumping of blood, it is better for a tiny minority of people.
There are still those who stand guard over the lives, the bodies and the hearts of people with intellectual disabilities. There are those who write policies that police rather than free. There are still staff who believe that their opinions should become people with disabilities facts.
So, tonight at the dance, partners and lovers will be together, openly, and without fear of punishment. What will happen there, mundane to many who've lived in freedom, will be a riotous act of liberation. Music will play, bodies will move, lips will touch. Valentine's will happen.
Forget the chocolate.
Forget the cards.
Remember it's love that is always revolutionary.
Happy Valentine's Day ... let your love shake up your world.