Monday, September 28, 2015

I Am What I Am But He Isn't

I am a proud gay man.

I am a proud disabled man.

Both of these things are identities.

The difficulty is that one of these is much more valued than the other. It is not uncommon for me to read articles that reference sexuality which respect the identity that people feel with how they express their love, how they exist in the world. In fact, that difference, that identity, is often celebrated with flags and slogans and marches down the street.

It is also not uncommon for me to read articles which reference disability which do everything they can to make the 'disability' not real, not important and certainly not an identity. "Label Jars Not People!" is a slogan that's been around for a long time and just won't die. "He doesn't let his disability define him!" "She doesn't consider herself disabled!" These clearly indicate that DISABILITY is something that people are rewarded for disidentifying with and triumphing over. The idea of acceptance of one's difference, unlike every other minority, is no where in sight. Further, the idea that disability as a difference from which a prideful life can be lived is simply laughable to many.

These two things came together in an article and a video that I just read on the LBGT website: Pink News. I'll give you a second to go read it ....

...  OK. Did you watch the video? Read the article?

First, the headline. I've never seen an article about any gay person anywhere on any website that ever said about sexuality, about being gay, "He never let being gay define him." In fact, typically, 'being gay' and identifying, or as it's called, 'coming out' is celebrated. But in the context of his disability, this seems like something that can be said ... in marked contrast to what Paul said in the video, right up front, "I am homosexual." That sounds like a very clear statement of identity, that sounds like he is proud to be 'out' and proud to claim that identity.

Later in the video, it's said that "Paul's family has made an effort not to label their son." Well, that shows too, while Paul speaks openly about his sexuality he never mentions, even when asked a direct question about difference, his disability. I find this disturbing - particularly in a video that is primarily trying to get people to see people with disabilities as worth of respectful language. But when someone with a disability can't or won't use respectful language in reference to themselves or their disability it reeks of shame.

Now I need to be very careful here, this was written and edited by someone other than Paul or his family and it was written to convey a particular message. I don't know what was left on the cutting room floor, or whatever they have now in the digital world. So I don't want to be talking about them in any way, or criticizing them in any way. I'm looking at the product that was created and put out for public view. That product, that video, not the people in the video.

By stating that the 'r-word' should never be said, then creating a video where no other word for disability is shown, the viewer is put in an odd place. Further by suggesting as the video does that people with disabilities need to be respected and then never show how self respect is manifested, the viewer may be led to the belief that the best way to deal with disability is with silence and pretence. Never speak of this shameful thing. When you meet someone with a disability pretend that they aren't.

I admire the intent of the video, I don't like the result.

The headline disturbed me, but then the video explained why they when where they went. In trying to  respect the message of the video, they write about a man with no identity, no pride, no community which to call his own. I think that's unutterably sad.


Ron Arnold said...

I recently read an article about 'free' speech on college campuses in the US, and how it wasn't very free anymore. It came down to people not using words for fear offending others somehow - because NOW offense requires some kind of atonement or recompense. And how do you DO that?

So people are avoiding the uncomfortable, they are avoiding whatever gorilla or elephant is on the room for fear of being offensive. It's like ignoring certain words will make an issue to be dealt with, dealt with. And nothing is further from the truth.

Anonymous said...

I have a soon to be 40 year old son. I raised him to accept his MR (as it was then known) disability the same way he accepted his red hair...something that was simply part of who he is, nothing to be ashamed of. I don't know how we can remove the stigma attached to certain labels if we don't teach our children to not be ashamed of who they are. When he graduated high school he was invited to speak to our state legislature because of several trophies he'd won for running the mile at Special Olympics. He stood at the speaker's podium and proudly proclaimed " my name is Chris and I have mental retardation." Now the correct term is intellectual disability and I get it, I really do. But it does nothing to remove the stigma attached by society.

Anonymous said...

It is always a fine line between acknowledging your abilities, disabilities and other aspects of your life (religion, politics, sports, etc.) and being defined by it. I think it is good to acknowledge what other people see, then move on. Live your life, converse, share with others what lies below the "obvious" and then you can be acknowledged as a person with your own loves, likes, frustrations and so on.

I was irked by the article because it seemed like it was a "angle". Not only was the fellow disabled in some way, but gay. Tainted with sensationalism.

As I said, fine line...