Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Picture From The Box

Image description: Dave and Joe standing beside each other, August 1997

The box arrived in the mail. It came unexpectedly only because I had forgotten that my parents, several months before, had said that they were going to be sending a bunch of stuff our way. They were downsizing and wanted me to have a chance at looking at some of the photos and bric-a-brac that they had collected over the years. Browsing through, I picked up a book and this photograph fell out of it.

It was an emotional kick in the teeth.

I still can't look at the picture without feeling incredible pain.

Bone. Deep. Pain.

Soul. Bruising. Pain.

I put it back in the box, never wanting to see it again. But, one day when the girls were visiting, they pulled the picture out and were fascinated by it. They were particularly taken by the fact that I wasn't in a wheelchair. In fact, particularly for Ruby, it seemed wrong. I laughed with them as they looked at the picture. They are too young to understand what they are seeing. They are too young to understand what this picture represents. Boundaries are the most important skill that a child needs to learn to grow into any hope of safety, and for them to learn it, we have to practice it. I said nothing of what the picture meant to me and why, when they were done, I asked them to put it back in the box, not on the mantle where they thought it should go.

That picture was taken in 1997, by then Joe and I had been a couple for 28 years. We had gone through University together, we'd established a home, we'd developed hopes and plans for our life together. But. It was 1997. It was a different time in 1997. We were surrounded by silence and our life was spoken of in whispers and suppositions and ignorance. We loved each other, dearly and passionately, behind closed doors, at home we existed without distance.

Behind gay walls, be it bar, or restaurant, or club, we were welcome.

But no where else.

We were determined that we would be a couple so I attended Joe's family events, he attended mine. On his turf I was the one who didn't fit - wasn't easily explained. On mine, he was the one who was, in language at least, ripped from me. We were friends. We were room mates. We were the whispers.

I look at that picture and I do not see a couple in love with each other. I see two men standing, stiffly and uncomfortably, as if one or the other was posing with a cousin briefly met and little liked. I see two men with a studied distance between them, a well practiced distance, a distance that kept them safe. I see a fat man with his hands behind his back to stop him from reaching out to put his arm around the other man. I see a mustached man only very slightly leaning, as if pulled by the moon, towards the other.

I see restraint, so well oiled that it doesn't show.

I see the space between.

That morning I would have gotten up, untangling myself from Joe's arms. How do I know this all these years later? Because I got up this morning and untangled myself from Joe's arms. It's how I've gotten up for over 45 years. That morning we would have chatted and laughed and gossiped and planned for the day. Then we would leave the door of the motel, first one, then the other, then the distance between.

I choose today, to show this picture to you. I want you to be able to look at it and see what I see. Oppression. Repression. And Distance. In the shade between my shoulder and Joe's arm, see the face of silence.



Fucking Fairy!!

That's what they called us. We always left gay identified places with the utmost caution. Until our footfalls were far enough away to make us anonymous again, there was danger. Gay bashing, they called it, but it was simply violence. And even drunk, pissed out of our mind, we walked home, together, separately, never touching. We knew that the dark could easily hide hatred.




That's how employers saw us. I did, on two or three occasions, bring a female friend to a work party. But I stopped that. I couldn't do it. I couldn't. So, I started bringing Joe. And again, the whispers. And the threat of unemployment. We kept it all at bay.


By that fucking distance.

By that stance of indifference.

By that bit of shade that hides the face of silence.

"I don't understand why gay people have to shove it in my face."

"I don't understand why gay people can't just shut up about it."

"I don't understand why gay people need to have special rights, you know, like marriage."

This from a people who shove heterosexuality into every conversation, words like 'husband' and 'wife' and 'children' reserved only for them. This from a people who want their relationship acknowedged at all times, who wear rings to show attachment, so that their heterosexual status is acknowledged even when not spoken. This from people who invented a holiday for public acts of love that has never known ...




Ah, but that's not quite true is it?

There are others whose love required distance. Whose love couldn't be so easily masked. Remember inter-racial marriages and the need of many to stamp out this awful immoral evil. What about people with disabilities in general and people with intellectual disabilities in particular? The idea of love revolts you because in your mind you've neutered our bodies and paid taxes to imprison our bodies.

So this day.

This Valentine's Day. It's creation was by the priveleged few who determined that in their love was beauty, in their relationships was purity, in their hearts God lived.

It's not for us.

Valentine's, Joe and I don't celebrate the day, it passes without notice in our house. Because our house is where we've hidden 46 years of loving. 46 years of being family. 46 years of being able to sleep tangled.

Home, where there is no shadow, no distance and no silence.

See, really see the picture below, see what freedom looks like ...

Photo Image: Dave and Joe leaning into each other, Joe's head on Dave's shoulder, Dave's head resting on Joe.

For those of who who are celebrating Valentine's, I wish you a happy day, I truly do.

For those of us who are celebrating the end of distance and silence and shame, we join with you in your revelry.


Anonymous said...

You may not celebrate the greeting card company Valentine's Day, but your celebration of your love made me cry this morning. thank you and God bless you both!

CT said...

Dave, sometimes you break my heart. Your thinking and writing is so powerful. I learn so much about you, about the experience of disability in our culture, and about myself. When I first saw the photo, I smiled -- you were both so young! Then I read "pain," and a -- very brief -- thought was "because he was standing?" I scrolled up and when I saw the photo again, I *immediately* knew -- the distance. Before I read it, I knew it was the distance, and the year, and the day today.

Bless you and Joe. Bless you for being you in all that complicated intersectionality, and bless you for writing about it. I hope next time I'll see the distance sooner.

MaLa G said...

I see, Dave. My heart clenches with the first and expands with the second.

Jennifer Austin said...

I came here looking for blog posts on disability to share on my blog. What I found was a beautiful post of love and hardship and I am so moved by your words. You have endured and thrived and I adore how you are sharing your thoughts with the world. On my blog, I am doing what I call my 2016 Lenten Challenge. In 2015 Pope Francis talked about fasting from indifference for lent, and though I am not Catholic and have never fasted in my life, I decided the idea of fasting from hate, prejudice and indifference spoke to me. And the best cure for indifference is to educate yourself about people who live lives different than your own. So I am sharing blog posts, videos, articles and even Twitter conversations each day on my blog in an effort to not only educate myself, but to provide an avenue for my followers on various mediums to participate in this effort with me. I would love to share this beautiful post, and will be reading through your blog searching for other posts that I might like to share. Please let me know if this is okay, because I feel something like what you have written should be read by everyone. My readership is small, but if I can touch even a few hearts, I will be happy.

Here is a link to my blog if you would like to check it out:

Thank you so much for your words,
Jennifer Austin

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Dear Dave and Joe,

I am one of those ashamed that I never even thought about people like you back in those days, how love is the strongest impulse there is, and EVERYONE needs it. In Mexico, where I grew up, machismo precluded any talk of differences.

But when I looked at the picture, my only thought was, 'Huh. I didn't realize Dave is a lot taller than Joe.'

I'm sorry that it brings back so many other memories and that many of those bad things are still with us.

Beth Gallagher said...

I had a true visceral reaction to that post. I remember. Thank you for your words. I have a new or at least revived perscpective this Valentine's Day.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave: All that pain. What gives us the right to think we can do that to people?

emma vanderklift said...

I remember you both, Dave and Joe, from that decade, and even from a decade before that, and remember the distance and the silence. We'd known each other awhile before I knew who you were in each other's lives. So grateful to know you both and honoured to be able to read this post. Much love.

Belinda Burston said...

I'm reading a book by Kathy Baldock right now: Walking the Bridgeless Canyon. It has been an excellent education on so many levels. I'm grateful for her research into sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, but it's the history that was so powerful to read, particularly the history of the spread of HIV AIDS and how it was described as a punishment from God. I've also enjoyed reading about the heroes of the LGBTQ community.There is so much ignorance and misunderstanding even today. I can't begin to imagine the pain you endured before you felt free to love openly.

krlr said...

So much pain - humans can be so cruel to each other. Screw the date, congratulations on 40+ years together.

Cynthia F. said...

I love what freedom looks like! So sad for what you and Joe had to endure.