Monday, August 24, 2015

The Kiss

Photo Description: Two men kissing in a photo booth in the 1950's.
I remember, many years ago, sitting in a bar with a group of people I knew from work. The mood was tense. Our beer sat on the table slowly going stale. None of us were in the mood for drinking. We were here because none of us wanted to be alone. We all worked for the same human service agency, we all had a passion and life vision to work with people with intellectual disabilities, but we were all, at that moment, reconsidering who we were, where we were and what our future might hold. Two of our number had been fired that morning. Called in, accused, fired. The union didn't care. In negotiations the year before it had bargained away the demand that would have made sexual orientation a prohibited grounds for dismissal. We were, utterly alone. All of us terrified that we might be next.

They were dark times.

It might be difficult to imagine this now. For those who didn't live through it, it may sound almost unreal. For those who didn't live through it, it may be difficult to imagine what it was like to speak without pronouns, to have to lie to live, to have the magical ability to be amongst your co-workers while being completely apart from them. To listen to their truths and respond with lies or silence.

They were dark times.

Last week I ran into a woman with an intellectual disability that I hadn't seen for a long time. Since the dark years, in fact. She still lived with the agency I worked for back then. An agency  that would now never think of firing or, better, not hiring, someone who was LGB. (I've left the T off because I'm not so sure that Transgender Rights have kept pace. There is so much yet to be done. Still so much darkness.) I approached her to say, "Hello." It took her only a second to recognize me. I'm fatter, balder and in a wheelchair so I was surprised she recognized me at all."

"DAvid," she said. She had always put such emphasis on the first portion of my name. We talked a bit and she caught me up with her life. She introduced me to her support worker, a nice looking young man of about 20. He was very good as support, he stood aside while we talked and only entered in when she asked for his help in remembering something. He was a 'support' worker. Then I asked what they were doing there. As I came by it seemed like they were waiting.

Her support worker spoke up, "It's my fault, I forgot my keys at home and I'm waiting for them to be delivered to me." Just as he finished speaking another young man, of about the same age, showed up. He shyly passed the keys to the support worker, leaned over, gave him a quick, affectionate peck on the lips, and waved goodbye as he left. I said to the blushing support worker, "husband or boyfriend." He laughed and said, "Fiance."

The woman I knew said, "I can't wait for the wedding, I'm giving one of the toasts!" She and I talked for a moment more. I wished her well. I said goodbye to the support worker and congratulated him and wished him well on his wedding.

It was simply nice.

I happened near noon.

On a Saturday.

In the open.

In the light.

I left thinking about the two women who had been fired. The one's that were the cause of us gathering in the bar. The one's who had been invited but did not come that evening. The one's who had had their careers cut short, their lives battered by the trauma of being targets of hatred and bigotry. I never heard from them again. Don't know where they are.

But I hope, where ever they are, they are in the light.

Being kissed.


Colleen said...

Dave, I remember times like that. A dear friend, who was a brilliant man, was so terrified of being outed, fired, evicted, beaten up, you name it - that he struggled with mental illness for his adult life and had no intimate relationships. I think when we count the toll of those dark times we miss the people who just quietly died of fear. My heart always breaks for what was lost.

JShiring said...

I was at the beach yesterday (yay!) and a pair of women were set up in front of us with their 'daughter', a beautiful golden retriever. Beyond that, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about these women. They were sitting under an umbrella, at the beach, enjoying the glorious day. Together. I imagined that they would enjoy doing most things together. Like shopping for groceries, caring for elderly parents, arguing about the worth of a particular movie, loving each other. Simple, mundane, life changing. I thought, "WHO would have the audacity to deny them that right, that opportunity?" Everyone should have the choice. It was nice to see. It was the dog's first time at the beach!

clairesmum said...

The shame of having to hide the true and essential parts of yourself in order to survive/function in society as an adult is so destructive to the spirit and the mind. Eventually the body is damaged as well, in many cases. In the states the level of freedom that you describe here is still not the norm in many places. Laws to prevent employment discrimination based on gender orientation are not in place in all 50 states - yet!
Freedom to live your life out loud is priceless.

Winter said...

I agree and am in favor of much of the content of this particular post, but I just wanted to express my discomfort with the use of the word transsexual. As I'm a member of the transgender community, I wanted to mention that I'm not sure it's the best term to be using when talking about the transgender community (my personal preference is transgender over transsexual, but not everyone is going to feel that same way about those terms).

Kris S. said...

In Michigan those two women could still be fired, or denied service at a restaurant, or discriminated against with respect to housing. We have marriage equality, but still a long way to go.

Andrea S. said...

I am not myself transgender, but my observation is that

1. Transsexual did apparently USE to be the preferred term in reference specifically to people who are assigned to a certain gender at birth but identify as another gender and may eventually transition to that gender. (In those days, gender was still being seen as pretty binary male/female even for many transgender people). And "Transgender" USED to be an umbrella term including both "transsexual" people and also men who identified as men but did sometimes dress in clothing traditionally assigned to the "female" gender. I am guessing Dave might have first learned the term when it was in more wide spread use. Or at least, this is the terminology as I was taught way back when I was still newer to all this, in maybe the early and mid 1990s.

2. But these days, I don't really see the word "transsexual" used any more, at least not in the on-line communities I mingle in, which tend to be predominantly younger people, some of whom are transgender many of whom are not but who strive to be inclusive of people of all gender identities. The term "transgender" seems to be preferred, including for people who might once have identified as "transsexual". Perhaps it is different for older transgender people who are used to different terminology? Winter, do you think there might be partly a generational issue in different attitudes toward terminology?

Dave Hingsburger said...

I have made changes to the text of this post as I want my words to reflect respect. Thank you for the feedback.

Winter said...

I do in fact feel there may be a generational aspect towards the usage of transsexual and transgender, and that this may be the reasoning behind Dave's use of the word in question in this particular blog post. But nevertheless, accurate/respectful language and listening to transgender people/community when they respectfully question the terminology used by other people is important when speaking of a group of people that is oppressed.

Winter said...

I didn't see Dave's comment before my second response, so would just like to express gratitude to Dave for being open to listening and amending his post in response to my commentary.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Winter, I appreciate dialogue ... that's the point of having a blog ... I love the input and the opportunity to listen to diverse voices.