Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Gift of Welcome

Last Sunday Joe and I had a drink on a patio on Church Street. The street had been closed and people were wandering around stopping at various booths, or running into people they hadn't seen in a while, or wearing 'low fabric' costumes. In front of where we sat was a booth where people spun a wheel and then won a prize based on where the arrow pointed. The prizes were simple, a bandana, a beachball, some buttons with logos on them, a tape measure.

The guy running the booth was amazing to watch, he just seemed to enjoy people, and he engaged with them all with a sense of fun and his warmth and good humour seemed to be endless. At one point, when there was a line up of people waiting to spin the wheel, a man with an intellectual disability joined the line up. He was a big man, he wore slightly more clothing than would be typical on a hot day, and he had a slight shuffle when he walked. He made people nervous. Some left the line up, others stayed but increased their distance from him. All he did, because it's what we do not what we look like right, was wait quietly and patiently in the line up.

When he got to the front of the line, Joe and I both were tense. The situation was ripe for something nasty to happen, an act of unwelcome, a comment meant for others to hear but for him to not understand. We've seen it before. The guy asked him, like he did all the others, what he'd like to win. He pointed at the bandana. Then he looked up at the guy running the booth and smiled, it lit up his  face, "May I spin now please?"

"Honey, you go right ahead," was the answer. He reached up and spun the wheel, he watched it with great intensity. While the wheel spun, just like with everyone else, the guy at the both joked with him about the day and about the heat and about the fact that others at the booth were wearing only jockstraps. There was a wariness in the face of the fellow with a disability, he, like us, was waiting for the jab, the teasing that wasn't teasing. But it never came, and again, that smile.

The wheel stopped spinning. He'd won the bandana. He was given his prize, and he went happily on his way. The next customer was up. The guy at the booth then did the same, welcomed, joked, laughed along with that customer too. There wasn't even a hitch, a pause, or a moment taken to adjust to difference. Not one.

When we left, I got in the lineup with Joe to spin the wheel. But what I really wanted to do was speak to the guy at the table. We got to the front and I said to him, "We've been sitting having a drink on the patio just behind you, I want to say that you have a wonderful way with people, you have an manner which is just naturally inclusive." Now of course, for those of us in the disability community the word 'inclusive' is a code word, but it isn't so much outside our community. He looked at me and laughed, "What the hell are you talking about," he asked. "Nothing, you just have a really good way with people," I said. He brushed off the compliment. I wasn't going to let it go. I mean, he was treating and talking to me just like anyone else, it wasn't just the other guy, this man has the gift of welcome, I wanted him to get that. "I'm serious I said, you are a kind man who welcomes everyone, I appreciate that so much," I said. This time he took me more seriously, "I don't know what you are refering to, what I'm supposed to have done, but, honey, after all these years, I've learned that people are just people."

I won the tape measure.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Image description: Joe and I kissing, I'm sitting in my power chair, Joe is leaned over with his arm around my shoulders.
Today is our47th anniversary. I did the math, which took me an embarrassingly long time, and realized that we began our relationship in 1969. That's a very long time ago. In gay time, that's nearly the dark ages. We lived our life in the shadows, we crafted truth that concealed a lie, we learned the ways of distance. We didn't touch, ever, in public. Not even the drunken arm over the shoulder, which was one of the few acceptable ways men could touch in those days. We were both terrified that we'd be spotted.

I want to be clear, we weren't afraid of being discovered because we lived with shame, we didn't. We were in love, there was no room for shame. We feared the very real consequences of violence, homelessness and unemployment. We had no protections, from anyone. But we lived with it. Managed it. We knew that we'd been scarred by those first could of decades, but we made it through. We still laugh a lot, we've always laughed a lot. And, I wouldn't have predicted it then, but our love was strong enough to stretch out over 47 years.

Last weekend we were on Church Street at a pre-pride festival and there was booth there wherein one of Toronto's preeminent photographers were taking pictures of couples who love one another expressing that love. Joe and I had done a selfie of us kissing in support of the campaign called 'two men kissing' in response to the slaughter in Orlando which, apparently, had been set off because the shooter had seen 'two men kissing.' We were very cautious with that picture, we don't do public displays of affection.

However, even so, we discussed having a professional shot of us showing affection, showing love, we signed the release forms and went in to get set up. There was a lovely young guy, 43ish, chatting with us, and I told him that I was anxious and a bit afraid. 'The ways of distance' aren't easy to let go of ... Joe and I then both spoke about those years of hiding in plain sight and what touch meant then ... danger, violence, hurt. He, the young fellow, said that it was similar for him when he was young and that there is still a wariness about touch.

The photographer came in, chatted for a few seconds and then we had to kiss, and kiss and kiss again. We had trouble not laughing, we had trouble calming the nerves. but we did it.

Because we have something to celebrate. We have loved in darkness and now we love in light.

Take it from us.

Light is better.

May love always be welcome, may hearts always be free, may kisses never mean death.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Corner to Corner: Intersections

Image description: An intersection with words at each corner: 'hello?' 'anyone listening?' 'is it just me?' and 'am I alone here?'

She stopped me at the pasta sauces. I had stopped to let someone pass and she caught up with me, "Excuse me," she said. I had noticed her in the store, she too was shopping in a power wheelchair, she too was putting her purchases in a shopping bag like I was, she too was big, not me big, but big. "I don't want to intrude on your day," she said. I said I didn't mind and we moved to a space where we would be out of the way.

"I want to know how often you are accused of shoplifting, when you are still in the store, because you are putting stuff in your bag."

I told her that I've never had that happen. I've had people tell me that I shouldn't be buying what I'm buy either because it's sweet or because they think it's frivolous and a waste of benefit dollars. But I've never been accused of shoplifting while still in the store.

She told me that it happened to her all the time. "People in scooters have their baskets, but I can't use a basket, I need to use a bag. I get stopped at least once or twice a week with people assuming I'm stealing."

"That's horrible," I said.

"Being black and disabled, I get the worst of every bad stereotype."

We chatted how my weight had people commenting on my shopping and, she at a different intersection, gets something entirely different even though we were performing the exact same behaviour.

She said she'd been waiting to see someone who shopped like she did, someone a bit bigger, she said kindly, someone who used a bag, and when she saw me she had to ask.

After our brief chat I told her that, oddly, I felt better. She said that she did too. While we both had different experiences we could still talk about those in a context of understanding. It was if she crossed the road from her corner of the intersection to mine.

I wonder why we don't talk more about disability as an experience in multiple diversities, more often. We all talk a lot about 'community' and 'access' and 'welcome' ... so maybe we need to be a community wherein all have access and feel welcome.

Intersections? A great place to stop for a chat.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Stranger: Four of Five

Image description: A drawing of a shirt becoming yellow from a dark brown.
I had just done a workshop for self advocates that was difficult, emotionally draining, and, paradoxically wonderfully rewarding. I was tired. I sat in the lobby of the hotel while Joe went up to get the car keys to take me out for a drive. We were in Halifax and I just wanted to go to one of those spots where your breath is taken away by the sheer beauty of the place.

The reason I waited in the lobby was because I knew that if I went to the room, I would collapse on the bed and that would be it. I didn't want that. I wanted beauty, I wanted quiet, I wanted to sit in the quiet embrace of my relationship with Joe. I had worn my yellow shirt for the first time that day. Many of you know the 'yellow shirt' story and I won't tell it here. But it was the first time I'd sat in public wearing a shirt that was anything but dark. I had all the shades of dark, but dark was the overall theme.

Engrossed in my book, which I'd brought because I wanted to both do something and to send a message to others that I didn't want to engage in conversation. The workshop really was draining, and I really was tired. Because I was reading, I didn't see her coming. Suddenly there was a shadow over my book. I looked up and saw an elderly woman standing blocking the light. She reached over and touched my shoulder.

She said very quietly, "You shouldn't wear yellow. We can see you when you wear yellow."

I sat there stunned. I watched her walk away. She looked so frail. But as frail as she may have been, she had the ability to deliver a blow to my heart, my mind and my soul. I hurt. Really hurt. I suddenly felt stupid. Stupid because I had chosen to wear a shirt that was bright, that brought light into a room, that pointed an arrow at an outsized person.

When Joe came down I begged him to get me out of there right then. He did. I got in the car, slumped down, and we drove away.

That was many years ago.

Much has happened since then.

I had worn that shirt, then, in confidence. I believed that I had been mistaken, in my dark browns and blues, and that I could begin to move out of the shadows. I could take my place, take my space, where ever I was, whatever I was doing. I had been wrong.

I missed the step before confidence. I needed to begin wearing the yellow shirt, the light green shirt, the electric turquoise shirt, the soft lavender, in defiance. I needed to go out knowing that I would be more visible, more easily seen. I knew that I was making myself more of a target. I knew that in breaking convention, I was spitting in the eye of the beholder - and that sounded good to me.

There has been a credible threat against the pride march here in Toronto. I have been clearly stating that people with disabilities who rely on assistive devices to get around need to consider two risks. The first is the risk that everyone else faces, that there might be someone there wishing us more than harm, they are wishing us death. Like the eugenicists, they think we are better dead than gay. Without disabilities, you can clamber over the barriers set on the street to separate the crowd from those in the parade. People with disabilities, like me, will be trapped. Joe and I have talked this through and looked at what possible strategies might be. We have a couple, just in case.

I am wearing my yellow shirt.

Because I want to be seen.

I want my presence there noted.

Because, that lady in the lobby was right. They can see me when I wear yellow. The lady in the lobby was also wrong. She assumed that since they didn't want to see me, I should grant their request. Fuck that. So let them see me. Clearly.

I'm here, I'm a queer on wheels. I'm a fat guy on parade. And that bright yellow shirt, it's a shirt, not a target.

People need to get that. Those with guns, those with judgements, those with insults and those who would abuse me.

I've thought about it a lot since that stranger approached me in the lobby. I think I've learned from it. Here's what I want her to know:

It's a shirt.

Not a target.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Invisibility: The Cure

Image description: A Tim's card with the words 'great coffee' above and 'cures invisablity' below. On each side of the care is the word 'Magic' surrounded by pink fairy dust

She was sitting in the sun, resting her back on the base of a streetlamp. Her hat was in front of her with a few meagre coins in it. The corner she was sitting on was at one of the wealthier intersections of the city. People, with shopping bags full, swarmed by her, not seeing her, not stopping. I, however, was headed right towards her.

I've written here before that I keep 5$ gift cards for Tim Hortons in my wallet to give to people on the street. In winter they can get something hot, in summer something cold. And if you're not Canadian, you need to know that here in Toronto at least, you are never far from a Tim's. I have been criticized for giving the cards, not cash, but, it's what I do and it's what I'm comfortable with.

Just as I got to her a group of men and women stepped right in front of me. Right into my path, as if I wasn't there. They stood there at the light, waiting. I was in a bit of a hurry and so I said to the couple who stood between me and the woman, the couple that was part of the group who somehow couldn't see me, "Excuse me ..." They looked back, saw me and stepped over a bit, as if I was jockeying for a place at the curb.

Instead, I leaned down and said to the woman, "Hello!" She looked up and responded, "Hi!" All the while we chatted about the weather, and the crowd waited for the light to change. I pulled my wallet out. I handed over the card to her and explained that it had 5$ on it. She said she was needing something cold and carefully, very carefully, put it in the pocket of her pants.

I didn't notice, because I was focused on talking to her, that we had made those at the curb very, very, uncomfortable. I know this only because as the light changed she said to me, "Did you see what happened when you spoke to me?" I said that I didn't, I had been looking at her. "Suddenly people could see us. We were both invisible and then we became really visible. They were so uncomfortable with us both being human and being kind to each other." I wondered, I said to her, if maybe it's okay to make people a bit uncomfortable some times.

"Thank you," she said as I left.

"Enjoy the card," I said.

She said, "I will, but that's not what I'm thanking you for. Thanks seeing me. Thanks for making me visible. I felt like I mattered for a few minutes."

"You do," I said.

Joe told me that he had seen the same thing. He had stood and watched people react with real discomfort as my act of giving was held in stark relief to their act of not caring. I told him what she had thanked me for and then said, "But the thing is, I was invisible until I spoke to her, it's like we both, for a moment, became real, flesh and blood, people. I wish I'd thanked her, because, for a few moments, she made me visible too."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Time of Her Life

Image description: A clock face with the 12, 3, 6 and 9, diving the face. Between 12 and three the word 'congregate' is writting in red and underlined with the words 'for your own good' written in lavender. between 3 and 6 the word 'segregate' is written in red and underlined and in purple below are the words 'for the good of others' between 6 and 9 the word 'restrict' is written in red and underlined and the words 'for the good of the system' are written, and between 9 and 12 the word 'freedom' is written in red and underlined with the words 'for your good from your voice' are written.
This is beginning to happen more and more often. And because of that I can testify that dreams, even impossible dreams, do come true. I am not writing this as an 'inspirational story' I want to be careful to assert this right up front. This story isn't about anything other than how wrong we, who are professionals, and we, who are parents, and we, who are paid to assess, can get things very wrong. This story isn't about anything else but how the voice, clearly spoken, of someone with a disability can be buried under the opinions of others, smothered by stacks of paperwork and silenced by expertise. That's what it's about. It's about running into people, years later, and seeing the life they had now, and what we predicted then.

I don't want to even remember how long ago I met her. Let's just say I've been doing this now for over 40 years and it was near the start of my career in the community. I wasn't long in institutional care, so very near the beginning. She was known to be "non compliant" at the time, which just meant, and I did see that then, that she was what my Grandmother would have called, "contrary." She didn't willingly submit to the authority of others. She wasn't "out of control" even though everyone thought she was. She never lashed out physically, never broke anything purposely, never spat, or kick, or slapped anyone. She did break rules, but only the ones she thought were unfair.

When planning for her future she stated that she wanted to live independently. Everyone thought this was a very bad idea. They came up with all sorts of reasons why it was an 'inappropriate dream,' as if there is such a thing, but, though no one said it, her gender made the difference. I'd like to say, remember this was nearly 40 years ago, but I'm not sure that the same kinds of decisions aren't being made today. They came up with the 'excuse' of vulnerability. It was an easy sell. They talked about her vulnerability from only one perspective: the world is more dangerous for women than for men. They didn't talk from the perspective of disability: people with disabilities may well be safer walking down the street in their neighbourhood than they are in the group home in which they live. Now we are working to change that now, but we weren't doing jack shit about it then.

From the very first, I have worried about the conception of people with disabilities being vulnerable because they have a disability. That makes us lazy. "Well, can't change that, so we're done and dusted." I've always thought that because we didn't teach safety skills and abuse prevention skills and self advocacy skills, we were kind of responsible for at least some of the issues regarding vulnerability. I had not, at this time, developed 'The Ring of Safety' which are the skills people with disabilities need to learn in order to live more safely both in services and in the community, so all I could do was suggest that given her skill set, she needed to learn skills that would allow her to fulfil her dream and move into the community. Here's what I hate writing, because of immense pressure, not from the agency I worked for, but from the team supporting her. I did add a line in the report about her vulnerability.

This is something I regret.

I have not always been strong enough to do my job both ethically and well.

Well, she did well on her behaviour plan, primarily because the plan looked at how staff needed to respond when 'behaviours' occurred and when resistance was met with reasonable discussion, a new kind of relationship was begun with the staff in the home. I don't know what happened in the intervening years, because I was done, and I was gone.

Then, the other day, I noticed a woman in a scooter, headed towards me smiling. I thought I recognized her, so I waved. She pulled up beside me and said 'Hi.' It was the voice. I remembered her voice. We pulled off to the side to talk. She told me that she'd been using the scooter for about a year and laughed and laughed as she talked about the things she destroyed learning to drive it. I asked her where she was living and she told me about her apartment a bit nearer the top of the city. She paused and looked at me, "I'm in my own place. I've had it a long time."

I was thrilled. I knew this was her big dream, her professionally determined, psychologically assessed, 'impossible dream' came true. I asked her what it was like to have her own place. She looked at me strangely. She said, "People ask me that all the time and I don't know what to say. How do you like having your own place?"

You know I don't think at all about 'liking having my own place,' I like my place but that's a different thing. I never assumed I wouldn't have my own place so having it was kind of immaterial. What I had taken for granted, she had had to fight for, tooth and nail.

We spoke a few more minutes and then she said, "Do you still work at the same place?" I told her I didn't. Then, I said, "I want you to know I'm different now, I listen better and I have more courage about what I need to say and when I need to say it."

"Good," she said, "good."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Stranger: Three of Five

The presentation was over. It had gone well. I'd enjoyed the audience and the audience had seemed to enjoy my presentation style. I was packing up, getting things ready to go back into my wheelchair bag or into my briefcase, a few people had asked questions afterwards but the room was nearly empty now.

Then, she came in. She was a young woman, I had noticed her right from the start. She had a unique and quite beautiful tattoo wrapped around her upper arm. I also noticed that she was one of the people who had reacted emotionally to a lot of the stories I told and was also one of the few who had the daring to ask a question. I say daring because, the larger the group, the fewer the questions. There are risks in asking any question, but those risks increase where there are more there to hear the question and then judge you for asking. It's odd that those who come to an event to learn can be very judgemental about those who participate in their own learning process.

All that to say, I recognized her. Joe tells me that I sometimes explain too much, I tell him, "yeah but it's interesting right"? Joe gives me a look that I've yet to really be able to interpret.

She approached me at the table and I could tell, which surprised me, that she was quite nervous. She'd seemed so confident during the lecture itself. When she got to the table she put her hand out for me to shake, which I did and she introduced herself. She didn't introduce herself by name, or by occupation, as most do, she introduced herself by gender. "Hello, I am a woman," she said. I was nonplussed because, though I am a gay man I recognize women with a fair degree of accuracy. I said, "Clearly, you're going to say something to me that makes that introduction necessary." She nodded, gravely, without a smile.

I had told the story of Ruby in Florida when she was 3 as the closing story in the lecture. She said she liked the story and asked, "Am I correct in assuming that you love that little girl?" I said that I did and that I had mentioned that fact in the story.

"Well, then, she said, this total stranger, "I noticed that you used the word "B*tch" in your lecture a couple of times. I nodded, that I had.

"I have a question, how are you going to feel the first time Ruby is called that as a name simply because she's a woman?"

I didn't have to think.

"I'll be angry."

"Then why, during lectures to make it an OK word for people to say? Why do you make it easier for a little girl that you love to be hurt by such an ugly word. You recognize it's an ugly word right?"

I was standing there stunned. To be honest, I'd not thought about the word anywhere near as deeply as I was being challenged to think about it. My first response, as it always is, was defensiveness. But I got over that fairly quickly, I think, primarily, because I really love Ruby and Sadie, who came along a little later.  I said "I'll think about what you've said."

She nodded, a bit of disappointment on her face, she didn't understand that when I say, 'I'll think about it' I really will.

As she reached the door I called to her. "OK, I've thought about it." She smiled, surprised. "I won't use that word ever again in a lecture and I will take it out of my speech and out of my writing. You're right, I love those girls, I love my women friends, I respect the women I work with, I need my language to show which side I'm on."

I've kept to my word. I've slipped a couple of times, and I've apologized when I've done so. Further, it's out of my spoken language now, pretty much for good and I haven't written the word since.

A stranger, with courage in her heart, came and challenged me.

And  I was made different.

She may never understand how deeply that confrontation changed me, how it made me think about the simple things we can do to make the world safe for women. I learned to be intentional in interacting with the world that those two girls are growing up in.

Love, isn't just an emotion, it's a responsibility.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Different Coming Out

Sometimes there is a depth of sadness that comes with disability that is frighteningly deep. I felt it today coming home from meeting with and speaking to wonderful people up in Owen Sound. We were driving up Church Street and there's a place that I would desperately like to go. If you don't mind I'm not going to tell you where that is, it's kind of personal, and I'm not sure that, if you heard where it was you would understand why I felt like I did. Anyway, I glanced over and saw it.

I knew it was inaccessible. I realize it anew every time I go by. My first thought is always, "Oh, I'd like to go there." My second thought is, "Oh yeah, it's not accessible." People speak about accessibility and inaccessibility all the time, I have have done so myself many times here. But, I'm coming out. I'm going to state, categorically, that sometimes the experience of wanting to go somewhere and not being able to because it has one step, as in this case, or ten steps as in many other cases, is devastating emotionally. In short, it hurts. Really hurts.

Today I had the 'Oh, I ..' and the 'Oh, yeah ..' experience again and suddenly, felt like weeping, just letting go and crying. The sadness I felt at the simple fact that I can't go somewhere that I really want to go because ... and here's where this thinking is dangerous ... I have a disability.

I had to wrench myself away from that thinking. That's thinking that will lead, for me, to depression. I had to remind myself that the source of my sadness is the inaccessibility, the concrete barrier, the prejudice built into design, that I was faced with, not the wheelchair I sat in. The wheelchair that carried me up to Owen Sound, the wheelchair that made the lecture possible, the wheelchair that gave me the life I have.

But none of that matters.

What matters here and what I want to say, is that there is a deep sadness, a barbed sadness that hurts when you swallow it down, that comes from watching others step in to where you can never go.

I've pulled myself up from where that feeling left me, but my emotional muscles will be sore tomorrow.

Inaccessibility isn't just inconvenient, it hurts.

Really. Deeply. Hurts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"I really don't mind," she said.

We were in a real hurry, Joe had picked me up from work, rushed me home, and because we were so pressed for time, we changed our routine. Normally, Joe comes in with me, helps me into the apartment and then goes and parks the car. I am so much stronger now because of the weight lifting that I thought we could try something different. I asked Joe to help me into the building, we don't have disabled access doors, and then I'd get to the apartment, and in, myself. He agreed.

Once in, I pushed the button for the elevator and was alone when one came. With Joe there I back in, I realized I couldn't do that alone because the door would close before I got in. No one else was there to let on first so I began to roll in, I got in, turned so I could push the button, and was surprised that the door wasn't closing. I thought maybe I hadn't pulled in enough. I turned to look and a woman was holding the door open. I saw her and she said, I swear I don't make this shit up, "That's OK, I'll take the next elevator."

Now, the way I was in did preclude her getting on, but, what?

I said, "Thanks."

She said, I swear, "I really don't mind waiting for the next elevator." Her hand was firmly planted such that it blocked the door from closing.

I said, "Thanks."

She said, I really do swear, "It's really OK for you to go by yourself, I can take the next one."

Her hand didn't move and the elevator was now protesting the blockage and beeping.

I said, "Thanks, could you let the door go now please?"

She said, do I have to swear again, "I'll just wait here in the lobby and take the next one, you go on up yourself."

I'm now frustrated. I want to get up, because I've got to get in, eat a really quick lunch and head out for a meeting downtown. I said, "Let. The. Door. Go."

She said, even to my incredulity, with the elevator beeping loudly, "You go ahead then, I'll wait for the next one."

I sat there. I didn't look at her. I didn't engage with her. I just let the elevator say in it's own dialect, 'get your hand of my freaking door.'

That worked.

She let go.

And presumably, though I'm guessing here, waited for the next one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stranger: Two of Five

I arrived just after it had started. It was near 30 years ago and out and out protests with and for the disability community were new to me. I'd marched in other marches, but never one like this. We were in front of the Ontario Legislature and we were really, really loud. We were there protesting the limited hours of WheelTrans, but, as always, other issues, more personal issues, kept entering into our discussions with each other. I was there with disabled students from the school where I worked as a support staff. I had been called into the principles office and warned about my 'rabble rousing,' that's actually what she said, with the students. They complained about the limited service, I suggested they attend the rally. "We'd have to skip school!!" "Yeah," I said. these students were all in grades 11 and 12. What kids of that age haven't skipped a day or two of school?

Several of the students showed and they were flying! They were unused, even as teenagers, breaking a rule or two. So they grabbed signs, joined in the chants and went to it. I marched behind them, prouder than hell that they were there and having this experience. I did wonder if I'd have a job the coming day, but, for the moment, I just joined in with the protest and the sense of real community there.

He came on a power wheelchair carrying something in his lap. It wasn't till he was closer that I saw he was carrying the charger for his chair. A small cheer rose from a small group when they saw him. He grinned in response. He rolled right in to the protest and eventually ended up beside me. We didn't talk, we were busy yelling and making noise. Eventually, though, when we took a break I heard him tell his friends that the staff at his 'home,' I put home in quote marks because his staff had called the night before and cancelled his ride to the protest. They didn't want him to go.

He got up in the morning, got into his wheelchair, all in the usual ways, then he grabbed his charger and headed out the door and down the road. He said he had to stop twice and ask people to plug him in to get enough charge to keep going. "It's surprising how easy that was to do," he laughed. Once charged up he continued on. He said that he thought his staff were frightened about any kind of change, "Anything that makes me freer, somehow seems to make them feel diminished," he said. "I think they fear our freedom," he said, "I think they fear loss of control."

The students from my school and I were sitting nearby and listening. They asked me if what he said was true. They didn't know about me, or my sexuality, or my time spent marching in parades.

"I hadn't thought of it that way," I said, "but I think he's right."

I still do.

That stranger with wisdom in his words rocked my way of seeing the world.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stranger: One of Five

Image description: Guest illustrators drew two pictures of a young man wearing a pink triangle. The pictures are signed by Ruby and by Sadie.
I had moved to Toronto for several reasons. Chief amongst those was that I wanted the anonymity of a large city. Being the fat kid in a small town for all of my growing years, I felt so incredibly visible. I envied the casual invisibility of my peers. Then, at University, being gay, being in a very, very, very, closeted relationship, made me fear that anyone see, actually see the me that lay hidden behind the me that I presented to the world. A city, like Toronto, I thought, might hold a place or two of sanctuary, where I could be safe, where I could be hidden somewhere in the middle of a crowd. Joe and I had lived with fear for years by the time we arrived, so we craved respite.

The idea of coming out of the closet was terrifying to me. I remember writing a letter to the editor of a gay paper, using a pseudonym of course, decrying the push for gay people to come out, to be public, to confront stereotype with reality. I felt that the gay movement was begining to classify good 'out' gays and bad 'closeted' gays. I stated that this was an unfair way to measure because everyone's circumstances were different. That letter was published, and the reaction swift, the discussion caused by that letter lasted through several of the following issues.


In essense.

I was afraid.

Let's be clear, my fears were real. I feared violence, and violence was to be feared. I feared losing my job, and losing my job was to be feared. I feared an intensification of the bullying that I'd experienced all my life, and like my other fears, this too was real. I thought I'd found safety, and to a certain extent I had. The bars that we went to  were safe, inside, though going in and coming out were, simply stated, dangerous.

Then, one day, I got on the streetcar. I saw a young man wearing a button with a pink triangle on it. I knew, of course, that this symbol, taken from what LGBT people wore in the Nazi camps, had become a symbol of gay liberation. I'd never seen it on a button. I'd never seen it on a shirt. I'd never seen it out in public. Ever. I approached the young man, spoke to him, indicated the button, and thanked him for wearing it. It gave me, if not courage, hope.

A stranger on a streetcar and I remember him to this very day. A stranger with the courage to actually do something to make the world a different place, lit something inside me. He will never know. But I do.

We make decisions all the time. When we are out in the world, when we are in with our families and friends, we make decisions and those decisions have ramifications, consequences and outcomes.

I have decided that over the next two weeks I'm going to write 5 stories, this being one, about people, total strangers, and the impact that they had on my life, even if only after the briefest of contacts. I may have mentioned them before here on this blog, but I'm going to string them together.

I don't believe that, even in the face of social adversity, or prejudice, or violence, we are unable to respond in a meaningful way. One person can make a difference.

He did.

In me.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Communities Supporting Communities

Some of you are aware that Vita Community Living Services is taking part in the Communities Supporting Communities fundraiser for Choices of Fort McMurray. Choices supports people with intellectual disabilities and, because of the horrific fire a few weeks ago, services have been disrupted, people with disabilities dislodged from their homes and scattered around the province. It's an awful situation and we, who have disabilities, along with we who support people with disabilities, are gathering to raise money to help out. I am giving a benefit lecture, right dab in the middle of summer, on July 28th at Christian Horizon's Toronto head office on 155 Dearhide Cres. The topic will be 'Making Community: The First Hello' and the cost is $60.00. There will be coffee, tea and muffins on sale in the morning and you will be able to purchase a (we're hoping) BBQ lunch (veggie options available). All profits from coffee, tea and food sales will go to the fundraiser. Every cent from ticket sales will go to the fundraiser. There are only 60 seats and they are selling for $60.00 a ticket. You can register by contacting . She doesn't know that I'm doing this this weekend, so why not surprise her with your registration. It's a great cause and it will be a great day. Christian Horizons offered right away to partner with Vita on this day ... what happens when people come together is extraordinary. 

Today's post follows:

Psychological Lips Assign Blame

Image description: A face with the Greek letter 'Psy' often used as a symbol for the study of Psychology' as part of the lips of the person. Underneath the drawing are the words 'psychological lips.'

It's easy to demonize those who society once thought were possessed by demons. It's easy to blame those who are held accountable for things vastly out of their control. It's easy. It's lazy and it's dangerous.

I hear a lot these days about how we must not confuse those who commit violence with their membership in any other group. Individual responsibility does not mean group culpability. I have always gotten that, as a young gay man I dreaded news of another gay man doing anything, even parking, wrong. I knew I'd wear the crime, I'd hear talk of 'those homosexuals.' So. I get it. Don't do it.

But there is another subtle attribution that I find extremely disturbing. It's that I hear terms used about the man who shot up the gay bar in Orlando, terms thrown about in 'I'm an expert on these things' tone, even from those who's only qualification is that they have an opinion. They have 'psychological lips.' Those terms? 'Lunatic.' 'Crazy.' 'Mental.' 'Out of his mind.'

Why do people simply and automatically decide that anyone who acts on a heart full of hatred is 'disturbed?' I think the answer is simple. It's an easy, and I'll say it again, lazy explanation that makes everything better for those who say it and those who hear it. "Ah, he was just 'nuts.'" This allows them to stop thinking, the mental work has been done, the explanation has been found, now let's distract ourselves with the next bit of sensationalized news.

It might be irony, I'm never sure what that is, that during our week in the States afterwards we heard talk shows where people said , 'They got what they deserved.' and 'The only bad thing is he didn't finish the job.' and we read comments on news stories that spoke, with vitriol and hatred, about 'sodomites' and 'perverts' and 'pedophiles.' These same people with identical hatred to the shooter, with identical ideas of violence, all ended by speaking with psychological lips.

Nowhere do I hear protests about the propensity of the public to diagnose and prescribe solutions. Let's do this to those with mental health issues or concerns. Let's do that to those with mental health concerns. Let's go after the people who didn't actually do anything. More than that, let's fear those who display any kind of behaviours that makes us question their mental health, us being experts after all. Let's work on silencing all those people who do have mental health struggles. "Dave, that guy who write that blog, I hear he has trouble with depression and anxiety, best stay away from him, maybe not hire him to speak at a conference."

Let's think for a second about this idea that people who do bad things are people who are made bad by mental health struggles. Hmmmm. I grew up in a school where I was bullied and teased on a regular basis, where I had to find hiding places where no one knew where I was just for a moments respite. Hell, I get it now, every day I go out, every day I spend any time in public. Those people must all be needing a diagnosis, a whack of therapy and time locked up in a ward somewhere. I'd be walking empty streets, and schools would be out of business for lack of business. Cruelty exists separate from diagnosis.


Oh, they need education, you say.

So the two ways we explain cruelty and violent action are 'ignorance' and 'mental illness.' Um, let me tell you that the people who bully and the people who hurt others simply because they can, are not 'ignorant' of what they are doing. And the suggestion of training is blaming the victim ... 'well if you weren't so damn different we wouldn't have to train people that hitting you, hurting you and calling you names, is wrong.' Stop.

Let's consider another reason.

The heart has the capacity to love deeply, it has the capacity for passionate, passionate love. We know that.

Well, it also has the capacity to hate, to despise, to vilify, to want to annihilate others. People who are 'in need of training' or who 'need time with a therapist' don't have a greater capacity for hatred than anyone else. They simply don't.

I fear that authorities and those in the general public will be running after people with mental health concerns with 'solutions' while those who simple hate deeply, slip by. The capacity to hate is a normal human trait.

Now that hatred is going to be targeted at a group, or in this case a couple of groups of people, who simply don't deserve it. Lazy thinking will lead to social violence. Exclusion. Fear. Isolation. Things that can have impact on a person's mind, heart and soul.

Let's root out hatred.

Let's confront it.

Let's be clear that no one group, no one person, is more capable of hate than any others.

Let's look for it in ourselves.

Didn't someone once tell us to take the splinter out of your own eye first? I think that's pretty good advice.

Oh along with, shut up with the mental health reference will you?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Home again, Home again

We are home.

There is an indescrible sense of relief when we come home. Even though we had wonderful times, met terrific people, did work that we believed in and, bonus, snuck in a holiday, home is home. Our van was stuffed full of stuff, it's a rental and it had to be cleaned out for pick up this morning, so Joe had to spend a fairly long time bringing stuff up. I did a few work things on the computer, ordered the pizza, and then shortly after having my half, went to bed. I could hear Joe moving around the apartment, putting things away, making sense out of mess, and to that lovely sound of him puttering away - something he loves to do, I fell asleep.

Unfortunately I never sleep well the night we get home. I woke, as old men do, for a pee somewhere around three and couldn't go back to sleep. I needed time, of course, to worry about all the things I have to do at work today, things I need sleep for, but, worrying is more productive than sleep, and, whew, it got done. I was up way earlier than I needed to be, because after the worrying was finished, I was wide awake.

This morning I will be going in to my office and I have a few big tasks to finish this morning and then a meeting all afternoon, they've been worried about so, that part of the job is done and now it's just the doing. One thing that popped into my head during all this was that I was back in the land of 'no surprises.' I know my office, I know it's accessible, I know the people there, I know they all have welcoming attitudes. I know my home, I know the adaptations made here, I know it's accessible. For people with disabilities those kind of 'no surprises' days are wonderful.

We did have the issue with getting rooms that weren't quite accessible on the road, one had the wrong kind of toilet, I spend so much freaking time talking about toilets. I'm guessing there are at least a 1000 people, total strangers, over the last 8 years of disabled travel, that I've talked to about pooing. Where I poo, what I need to poo, what I need to get up from pooing, how far I can go down to poo ... it's endless. We only had one of these incidents when the toilet guarenteed wasn't the toilet given ... and then there was more talk about poo and more talk about promises which turned out to be worth poo and people scurrying around looking at rooms for me to poo in. When an entire hotel staff knows about your poo needs, it makes it hard to order breakfast.

But no surprises today.

Not of the accessibility kind.

What ever else, it's nice to be home. Adaptations and all. It's nice to be going to work. Adaptations and all.

Thank all of you who made my lectures possible on this trip, all of you who came to hear me ... some people even said that I had been on their bucket list, which I thought was wildly cool ... and thank all the people who provided me assistance when I needed it. I appreciate you all.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Small Gestures

Image description: The word "KINDness" in blue capital letters and the words 'tiny gesture' in red in the heart of the word.

Sometimes an act of kindness is just the smallest of gestures. And sometimes the smallest of gestures can indicate an heart overflowing with gentleness. We had pulled up outside a store where we needed to do shopping. Because of the steepness of the ramp, we need to pull up to a sidewalk wherever we can, if we can't find one I have to back down which isn't the easiest thing to do. Here we found that we could pull up to the end of a sidewalk, without a curb cut, and to do that the van was oddly, but safely positioned.

A woman from the store, on a smoke break, was out front. She watched us pull into position, I could see she was curious why we were parking the van in that spot. It didn't make sense to her, until, that is, Joe opened the door and let down the ramp. I got out of my manual, Joe removed it from the van, and I transferred into the power chair. She was still watching. The moment I looked up, our eyes connected. She nodded, in greeting, took two steps forward, off the pathway I would travel and turned her back to us, giving me complete privacy.

I can't tell you what that meant to me.

But I'm going to try.

I'm not used to having my feelings considered. I'm not used to being seen and having my humanity and dignity automatically assumed. I'm not used to being actively 'unfreaked' by others. By the way if 'unfreaked' is not a word, it damn well should be. Because that's what it feels like. It feels like I'm recategorized from 'other' to 'another' and mostly this is a long process, up to three days, but, this was instantaneous. The speed at which it happened almost dizzied me.

I wonder if people understand how simple kindness is ... I wonder if they realize it take little effort, that it's the grandest gesture made in the simplest of ways.

I wonder if people understand how important kindness is ... I wonder if they realize that that little effort can have a huge impact, that it's a powerful testament to shared humanity.

I wonder if people understand how valued kindness is ... I wonder if they realize that, with just a tiny bit of effort, it can tell the world what kind of person you are.

I drove by her and stopped for a second to thank her. But, then I drove on. Instead, I just waved and smiled. She did the same. I think that thanking her would have drawn attention to what we both knew happened anyway. I think it would have diminished the moment. I wanted my face, my smile and the warmth with which I waved at her to be a "thank you" that she would remember.

Because, I will remember her, for a long, long, time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Humanity: The Chore

A round stick-person, in darkness, riding on a power wheelchair up a slight grade. In front of him is an arrow that reads "Humanity three days hence."

When we checked into our hotel in Orlando, where we went for a 6 day vacation, I had a decision to make. It's a decision that I have to make any time I'm going to be in a place for more than a day or two. It took me only one trip to the pool to decide that I would go about making the place safe for me to be in. I recognize, every time that I make this decision that it's impossible for anywhere to be completely safe, but I use the word anyway because it simply makes me feel better than the more accurate 'safer'. Once I made the decision I set about the task.

First let's just recognize the fact that being fat and in a power wheelchair simply just isn't a safe way to be in the world. People make assumptions that are both wrong and which lead to toxic attitudes and behaviour. People, unfettered by any social demands to the otherwise, feel free to taunt, ridicule, namecall and even physically harrass. Remember, one way or another, people would rather be dead than be me. I need, if the strategy is to work, to make my humanity evident. I need to crawl up from loathsome and ugly and disgusting and grasp on to my human status, holding on tight until it's established in other minds beyond my own.

I do this by being conventional. I always wear black jeans, no matter what, but I also wear my black shirt. It is a convention set by others, mostly the thin I think, that fat people should wear black. They say it's because it's slimming, I believe, however, they wish us to be seen as in mourning for the person we could have been if only we'd willed ourselves thus. More than that I take every opportunity I can, where appropriate and without being pushy, to greet or to engage in brief conversation with others at the same place. It's surprising what a moments conversation wherein wit, unexpected because they never expect a sharp sense of humour coming from someone they assume dull, leads to a shared laugh. I'm good at this. Very good.

That's day one.

Day two, I wear a shirt of a dull but brighter colour and continue on being a chipper neighbour, a friendly face at the pool, a helpful guy with directions. I find this tiresome because I'm naturally shy, but in order for me to be safe, I have to be seen as fully human by as many people as possible. Anywhere I go there will be people who come in and leave, with no idea of how to react to me besides horror and horribleness, so I need the social disapproval of those I've won over to keep me safe.

That's done.

Then, after two days of that, I have one more day to go. I ensure that people see me in relationship to other people, people they naturally assume to be normal and therefore of value. This is easy when travelling with the kids and their parents, and a little more difficult when it's just Joe. I say 'just Joe' not to diminish Joe, but remember you know that Joe is my husband, they most often see him as my support worker. But I twin myself with them and my value rises even as I pull theirs down. The kids notice this, don't kid yourself, they notice this ... they see their social value fall simply because they are with me. Kids are finely tuned to their status, really very aware.

Then, I'm home free. I can wear what I want, Behave in a natural way, be shy when I feel shy, quiet when I feel quiet and draw attention to myself when I'm fully engaged in something. I've worked to demonstrate my humanity, I gain allies if not friends, and I'm protected by their realization of my humanity and their social disapproval of people who are unflinchingly cruel.

It's a lot of work to be different and to be safe.

In Toronto, where I've lived for a number of years. I have safe places, stores, coffee shops, bars, movie theatres where I'm mostly safe. My familiarity has lead to a sense of me being a regular even though I'm irregular in many obvious ways.

So days four through six were pretty good. I met mostly with welcome, even if grudging from some, and I was able to relax and be exactly who I am. Publicly, I can't do that often, so I enjoyed it.

It's a lot of work to be different and to be safe.

Note: I wrote this Sunday morning, before I'd heard the news about the shooting in Orlando, I shelved it and decided that I couldn't write about my safety from taunts and teasing when a shooter had mowed down over 100 lgbt-a (ally) people in a bar only a few miles from where we were staying. I decided to publish it, even though it's only a few days later because I think the idea of claiming humanity and staking ground is an important one. I wrote this here in a disability context, I was thinking of it in a disability context, but it's also how Joe and I have survived as gay people and a gay couple. By claiming humanity and staking ground, we made our way forward, we made our way proudly and we made our way through dark, dark times. It is my hope that this will not seem trite or as if I'm trivializing the horror of 'the Pulse' massacre' ... please remember it was written before, without knowing. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

It May Have Escaped Their Notice

Does it matter?

Yesterday, Joe and I gassed up just south of the border of North Carolina, then, we drove straight through. We didn't stop. We didn't buy a single thing. They got none of our gay money. When we planned the trip, we calculated driving time and, if we stuck to our routine, we'd have stayed in a Fairfield Inn about an hour south of the North Carolina and Virginia border. We added an hour and a half and drove to a hotel safely across the Virginia border. North Carolina isn't particularly welcoming to boys who kiss boys so this boy and the boy he kisses just weren't going to support them or their economy one jot.

Does it matter?

We did not go see Me Before You at the movie theatre. More than that I wrote about the fact that we weren't going. Joe and I both spoke to people about the film, if someone brought it up, we made our position clear, if they didn't bring it up, we did. We tried to actively, purposely, intentionally, publically, not got to the movie. I have people say to me that they'd rather be dead than disabled often enough for it to worry me about what they think of me and my life. Oh, and of course, even more often I hear it's cousin, 'there but for the grace of God' ... making it clear that we, the disabled, don't live under god's grace and therefore don't fit into the normal moral equation when it comes to life.

Does it matter?

I was horrified by some of the rhetoric during the Canadian election brought up by a particular political party about people of the Muslim faith. Horrified. I couldn't understand how, in a Canadian election, a Canadian election, that divisive and racist ideology be given a foothold. That's not how I see Canada and it's certainly not how I want us to be as a country. I wrote a letter, I expressed my outrage, and I voted for a different party.

Does it matter?

Today I wrote a comment on a column that appeared which explained why we shouldn't change the lyrics of the Canadian anthem. I didn't even read the column, I didn't need to. I knew what it would say, and, besides, no argument would change my mind. I knew when I was 6 that the anthem got it wrong, long before I would hear the word 'feminism' I was able to see that it said sons and not daughters, it mentioned boys and not girls. So I left a comment supporting the change in the lyrics. Further, it's been over a year now since I pledged to no longer use the 'b' word in reference to women, I used it more than I realized and I was challenged about it one day by a woman who knew that I had two little girls in my life. She asked me how I would feel when they were first called a 'b'. I said that I'd be angry. She asked me why I persisted, by using the word in my lecture, in promoting the use of a vile word that would hurt the girls I loved. She was right, I haven't used the word since.

Does it matter?

Do these small things matter. Will North Carolina ever know that two gay guys drove an extra hour and a half just to stay in Emporia, Virginia, thus not spending our vacation dollars in their state? Probably not. Will the makers of Me Before You ever know that we actively didn't go to their movie, or the politicians ever know how we reacted to their vilifying other Canadians, or those who support 'our sons command' ever know that I made a comment about it on a column somewhere, or will people even notice that I never, ever, use the 'b' word? Probably not.

But will it make a difference?

I'm not sure, but I don't need to be sure, it makes a difference to me. It makes me feel engaged. It makes me feel that I'm not just passively giving up any semblance of resistance. It makes me feel that I utilize the choices I have in such a way to express who I am. It reduces my sense of helplessness and feeds my sense of personal power. I need that. So it makes a difference to me.

And that will have to do.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Thoughts and Prayers: Orlando

Speaking for myself.

I don't want your thoughts and prayers.

I kept hearing about your thoughts and prayers all day today as I listened to news reports of the mass slaughter of LGBTQ people at a gay club in Orlando. People of all stripes, from all parts of the political spectrum, kept sending thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims and to the larger LGBTQ community.

For me.

I don't want them.

Keep them.

I remember well the hatred on the faces of the crowd one dark Halloween night long ago at the Saint Charles Tavern in Toronto. I saw rocks hurled. I saw names hurled. I saw hatred in action.

I remember that first gay pride march. I remember a rock striking Joe's shoulder. I remember fear curdling in my stomach as hatred made itself keenly present, in human form, standing watching us pass.

I have watched with a kind of wariness as the new acceptance took hold. I held myself back from enthusiasm at the seeming change in climate for LGBTQ people. I have never believed that hatred that could throw rocks and enmity that could form a fist could simply just, 'poof,' vanish. I have felt your tolerance and noticed that it didn't feel a lot difference than your opposition.

So keep your thoughts and prayers.

You need them more than I.

You who hate.

You who dismiss our humanity.

You who will us dead.

You want to give me something. You wanna make better, to tend to, the huge bruise left on the gay soul after 50 of us were gunned down, 53 of us lay in hospital, millions of us reeling in a re-realization of who we are and just who you are? You wanna?

Then do something.

Actually do something.

Don't just "like" the latest hashtag.

Don't just write a strongly worded facebook or twitter post.

Actually do something.

Like, maybe, say something when someone makes a bigoted remark, about ANYONE or ANY GROUP. Actually say something. Put your character on display. Make it known that you don't harbour those feelings and you don't countenance them in your presence.

Like, maybe, write a letter to a politician or a religious leader who goes on a bigoted rant against ANYONE or ANY GROUP ... tell them to shut up. Tell them that they've lost your support. Let them feel the consequence of their words.

Like, maybe, give to or volunteer at a charity that supports any equity seeking group. Make your heart big enough to love your actual and your metaphorical neighbour. Make yourself a person whose values show in how you spend your time.

Obviously I know that this act of hatred was specifically targeted at us, we LGBTQ people. I like to call us the 'alphabet people' because as we grow, as our awareness grows, more letters get added to the list. Inclusivity keeps getting bigger, and that thrills me. I know it was aimed at us ... but I think we need to target HATRED. Where ever it is found. However it manifests itself. I can't claim to be an activist for LGBTQ rights and hate any religious group, because there is an intersection within my minorities, where everyone finally meets. So everyone matters.

Just don't.

Please don't.

Send me your thoughts and prayers and go to bed thinking you've done your bit.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Angels Wings

Right now Joe is rushing around getting things packed and ready. We leave our vacation paradise today, the kids and their Mom flew out yesterday, and we leave this morning. When we got back from dropping them off at the airport, we were quiet. The ride home was eerily silent, having two kids in the back of a van is very different than having no kids at the back of the van. But we got back in good order, Joe dropped the ramp and I scooted out.

It was over the next few minutes that I really noticed how easy the girls had made this vacation for me. This hotel is pretty accessible but it has no automatic push doors anywhere. I didn't really notice because they just took over the responsibility of getting the doors open and me through them. There were other things they did to help with the wheelchair, with my comfort in the chair and with ensuring that I got to where I was going.

It was like this great relationship where they gave what they had and I gave what I had and we all got to enjoy just hanging around together. They knew that when I supervised them at the pool there were more rules than when their mother or Joe did. They knew that when we went to the craft and activity area we went a different way, the accessible way. It was just so easy.

I'm glad they are so comfortable around the wheelchair and they know what it means and what it doesn't mean in relationship to me. I'm glad they think wheelchairs are cool even though they understand and can spot an access barrier at 50 paces. Their natural ease around me, with all my differences, and the wheelchair was disarming for several of those who shared the resort with us.

Yesterday morning when we were going over to the craft area, a father of a young boy, remarked to me as we passed by after the girls had opened the doors for me, "Those are amazing kids." I think they are amazing kids of course so I couldn't disagree. What makes them amazing though, is the fact that they are wonderful, caring, smart, kids who are uniquely themselves. Their care of me, their relationship with me, isn't remarkable, I don't think. My wheelchair doesn't make me different in their eyes, it makes me Dave. Their relationship is with me, Dave, who uses a wheelchair. It's natural, not exceptional.

We need to stop giving angelic qualities to those who relate to, who are in relationships with, who parent, who marry, people with disabilities. The suggestion of angelic qualities in one assumes the burdensome nature of the other.

Even with all that said, the hotel room seemed awfully empty when we got back. I would have given anything just to feel, the breeze from those angel's wings.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ice Water

It was hot. It was humid. We'd already been at the park for 4 of the, what would become, 11 hour day. We came upon Moe's Tavern, recreated from the Simpson's television show, where they had tables, with umbrellas, set up outside. Several were vacant what with most people preferring the air conditioning inside. A quick look inside confirmed my suspicion of pandemonium which, though the place was physically accessible, made it dangerous to enter in my power chair. Someone would get hit, the odds were with crunched toes, banged shins all leading to me having my nose broken again. I retreated from my peak inside.

I approached a man of about my age or older who was working at the Tavern keeping an eye on the outdoors. I asked him if he would mind if I scored a shady table while the family got food inside. He made a welcoming motion towards the tables and said, "Go ahead and take your pick." I tried three until I found one that would allow me, in the big power chair, to get some shade. Joe and Ruby went inside to get veggie burgers and Marissa and Sadie headed over to get tacos. I was immediately glad to be sitting outside. It was perfect for people watching and, frankly, I prefer the natural cool of shade to the freezing falseness of air conditioning on high.

I set myself to wait enjoying the few minutes of alone time. Then suddenly, the fellow I had spoken to, the only other person in the area who would be ticking the same age range on forms and surveys that I would tick, appeared beside me. I hadn't seen him coming. In his had was a plastic up full of ice water. He said, "I thought you might like this." I watched him set it down gently beside me, I turned to him and said, "What a nice man you are." He smiled and went back to his job.

I am not a person that people do nice things for. I am a person, stared at, pointed at, joked about and, often purposely, hurt. My size and my chair makes me a sweet target for bitter people. I was, momentarily stunned that a kind act, an act that recognized me as a fellow human, had happened, openly, in public. Giving me ice water was something he did because he wanted to, it's not something that was in a job description, beyond a vague 'treat customers with respect' kind of statement. This wasn't about doing his job this was about expressing his character. By then, there in Universal Studio's theme park, we had seen lots of people dressed up in character, this guy though, he HAD character. Let's face it, I was hot and tired and on vacation, he'd have been hot and tired and working - there's a difference. I say it again, "What a nice man."

When Marissa got back from the taco truck, long before Joe and Ruby would arrive with the veggie burger, we chatted about what happened. As as things do, because we both work with people with disabilities, we came round to talking about service provision in our field. We spoke about the difference between people who do what the job descriptions says, and then the people who do the same things but because of who they are and how they are, they do that little bit more, the unnecessary but desperately needed. It's a wonderful thing to be able to bring the best of you to work and give it the opportunity to express, without words but with incredible impact, who you are.

Years from now, I will have forgotten various bits of this visit to Universal Studios. But I will remember the kind old guy and the glass of cold water. Kindness, unexpected, almost always winds up as memory, doesn't it?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Prejudice Tolerated

I was with the girls as they did a craft at an activity centre near where we were staying. The weather wasn't great but they didn't notice because they were having fun. The door opened and a woman rushed in with her child. She spoke to one of the women at the desk and started to make arrangements for her daughter, who was the same age as Ruby, to stay there for a couple of hours. She was quite loud and quite insistent that she be assured that during those two hours there would be a woman on staff. The activity centre has both young men and young women working there and she wanted to be assured that there be a woman on staff at all times and further that if there was a man on staff that there be two women there at all times. The young woman at the desk told her that during the next two hours there would be two women on staff at all times. That settled it, papers were signed and the woman left.

There had been a boy of about 11 at the activity centre who had turned, like the rest of us, to listen to the fairly loud conversation and the clearly stated demands. The implication that men were not safe was clear and damning. There was also a male staff there, one who had shown real skill when teaching the girls about lizards, he treated them with respect as girls but also as learners with curious minds. He's a nice kid. He heard it too.

Me, I was there on my own. A disabled man, in a wheelchair, with two active girls. I was painted with the same brush by this woman, who had no fear about speaking loudly and clearly in a biased and bigoted manner against all males.

Now, I get she's a mother and she wants her daughter to be safe. I also get that she may have some history that has made her even more protective. But I think that she could have spoken quietly to the woman at the desk and made the arrangements in such a way that ...

... a little boy isn't left feeling guilty for being a boy

.... a talented male staff isn't convicted of crimes he never committed

... an older guy supervising two little girls isn't left feeling like he has to justify his role

Men aren't all bad.

Women aren't all good.

Men aren't automatically dangerous.

Women aren't automatically safe.

Using that as your single measuring stick for a safe environment is a huge mistake. Huge. 

She made that environment unsafe for the little boy who was there, who listened, who took in her attitude that he was somehow bad. I know it affected him, because when she came in he was the only boy at the table with about 5 girls. He had been laughing and talking with the others moments before the entry of the woman with her daughter. After the woman left and her daughter joined the table. He picked his craft up and went and sat alone at another table and quietly went on with what he was doing.

That's not OK.

\A woman worried about the safety of her child, used her voice and her attitude to assault a little boy's sensitivities and drive him to a place of aloneness.

That's not OK.

The next day, at the pool, he was invited by Ruby and Sadie to play a game of underwater tag. He hesitated, only for a moment, and then joined in laughing and having a wonderful time. All of them did.

He's a good kid.

He was having fun.

I watched them playing, hoping that these would be the moments he remembered.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Oh Gosh

Oh, gosh, Joe and I are on vacation, I thought I'd have more time to write not less.

I was wrong.

See you the other side of vacation time.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Antoinette At The Cherry Bank

At the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals conference I gave the closing keynote for the first day. During that talk I told a story about my time back in the early days of service, working in a small institution in Victoria called Glendale. The next day, when we were done and loading into the car I began to get really nostalgic and driving on I75 out of Atlanta I just relaxed back into memory. About a half hour in I turned to Joe and asked, "what was the name of that cocktail bar that we used to go some times?" We struggled a bit, remembering that the first part of the name started with "Cherry," we stayed stuck there until it popped into my head, "The Cherry Bank."

Now we have never been much for cocktail bars, preferring the great beer halls of the day, or, now, pubs. But there was a space of time where we went to "The Cherry Bank" pretty regularly. I discovered 'Harvey Wallbangers' and 'Pimms No. 1' and, of course, 'Pink Cadillacs'. We went there once with a friend who had a physical disability and even though it was down a flight of stairs, if you are young and strong and don't know the word 'liability' you can get people where they want to go. It wasn't our regular bar, but it was our regular lounge.

I developed an odd friendship while at Glendale with one of the nurses. Her name was Antoinette, and here's the thing. She was beautiful. Really, drop dead, gorgeous. She was also funny and kind and all sorts of other things, but all of that was kind of hidden behind the fact that she was stunningly beautiful. To say that she had men lined up to date her, or to try and spend time with her, was a massive understatement. She also had a lot of cool friends, mostly other women who were really pretty and between all this she had a very active social life.

But, even though I was, and always have been, a bit socially awkward, and I've always been fat to the level of social disapproval, Antoinette and I fell into an easy friendship. I liked her, she made me laugh. She liked me, I made her laugh. I told her about our bar, 'The Cherry Bank,' and she wanted to go, just her and me. She maintained that we never had enough time to talk, so we'd go on our own and have a night out. I agreed immediately.

We got to the bar, were greeted by the bartender and waitress, who recognized me from other times, I was asked where Joe was and I told the truth, we was working the evening shift at his job. We sat in a booth and began to talk. Antoinette had been one of the very first people I ever told about being gay, although the word back then was homosexual. She brushed it away as if it didn't matter even though we lived in a time when it mattered a lot. Her ease with who I was, gay and fat and socially a bit awkward, made me feel so incredibly safe in her presence.

We were several drinks in and were both laughing a little too loudly about things that were a little too inappropriate for public discussion, when a man, a good looking man, came over to the table. We had both noticed him and Antoinette had thought that he was 'yummy' ... it was nice to be able to simply agree with her, he was indeed a hottie. He got to the table and said, to Antoinette, "You should know that you can do a lot better than him."

The remark was met with stunned silence. He had clearly seen us as a couple, because what would a man and woman in a bar be, with a limited imagination, the world has few colours. Antoinette smiled, put her hand lovingly over mine and said, "I'm with him because he would never do what you just did, he's not that kind of man, it's a pity you are."

She slid round the booth so that she was sitting right next to me, she said, "kiss me," and I did. He had returned to his table by then, witnessed the kiss, got up and left.

I began to thank her ... she stopped me. "We're not going to talk about this," she said. I don't want him in any part of this evening, men take over things, he's not taking over our conversation." 

We got plastered.

I hadn't thought of Antoinette and our night out in the Cherry Bank in a long time. Some memories shouldn't get dusty, I'd let that one get dusty. Don't get me wrong, I think of her often, the quick memory was of my going away party from Glendale which was held at the Empress in Victoria. She drove me there in her sports car, a low down to the ground thing that I had to lean out and pull myself out of the car by walking my hands along the pavement. I remember that as the start to the evening, I remember us leaning against the car and laughing.

We kept in touch for several years with letters and the occasional call, but then, time does what time does, it fills with things from the nearby and the present and we lost touch.

But that evening in the bar taught me that it was possible to be aggressively kind, because, of course, when she spoke, she was speaking to me, not him. She also taught me that it was possible to simply cut an asshole out of your day, out of your conversation and move on.

I heard a few years ago that Antoinette had passed away.

|It's a privilege to introduce you to her, and in the few moments it has taken to write this, and for you to read it, she lives again, big, beautiful, vibrant and powerfully kind, \Antoinette.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Enough In Atlanta

"It's just a surface friendliness," she said. We had been talking about my experience yesterday in downtown Atlanta. I was describing how nice everyone was, from the people who worked in the shops and restaurants to the security guards who helped me navigate, and find, accessible entrances. I spoke with two police officers who both willingly stopped to give me directions and, here's something wonderful, suggested a more accessible route for me to follow. Everyone was simply nice. There I was being different in the way that I was different in a place where I'd never been my kind of difference before. That may be a difficult sentence to follow, but it's the way of my life. The more often I am out, the more frequent my difference, which I can't hid, is on display, the less interesting it becomes, the less noticeable I am, the more I am able to blend in. But I've never been different here before and, people were nice, didn't stare, and not one person did anything mean.

My friend, who had lived in the south for several years, said that she wasn't surprised. She said there was still an air of gentility and good manners in the south but to beware, "It's just a surface friendliness." Well, she's the expert, but it all seemed pretty genuine to me.

But, what if she's right?

What if it's just a surface, inch deep, friendliness?

You know what?

I don't care.

I'll take it. In fact, that's really all I want. I don't need anything more than that, I don't ask for anything more than that, I'm happy if that's all that's on offer. I'd be thrilled if all over the world people woke up and decided that they'd put on their shallow friendliness and wear it all day while they were out. I think that if we did that, everyone would have a much nicer, much kinder and much more welcoming day. I say that because I had a much nicer, kinder and welcoming day yesterday.

Some of the people I dealt with might have had hostile attitudes to fat people, or disabled people, or two men hanging with each other, but you'd never know it. Their surface friendliness was just deep enough that it allowed them to treat us with respect tinged with a bit of warmth. Maybe when we turned our backs or left the store, or crossed the street, they said or did something unkind. I hope not, but if that did I'm thankful they waited until I was gone. I'm thankful that they recognized that what they were going to say or do would be hurtful and decided to wait on being mean until I was well away.

But maybe none of that happened, maybe they were just nice, surface nice, and maybe after marinating in surface nice, it's got a little deeper.

Like the security guard, a young woman, who I asked about accessible routing on the weekend, which is different because the elevators in the two access points were closed on weekends. When I asked her how I would manage to get where I was going with the elevators both closed down. She thought for a second and said, "That's really not fair is it, you should have access all the time. Give me a couple minutes to go talk to my supervisor." We waited, sipping on iced tea, when in Atlanta ... Then she came back and she and the supervisor had worked out a solution, not just for me, but for anyone in the future who would need access.

I thanked her.

"Things have got to be fair," she said, "That's the least we should all expect."

Things like that happened all day!

All freaking day!

Atlanta I don't know if you've got the gentility and good manners facade down to a science, but even if that's all it is, it's enough for someone like me.

Really enough.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Me Before .. WTF Not This Again

Hey, Hollywood!!

Hey, Hey, Over Here.

Yeah, it's me, the fat guy in the wheelchair.

Listen up.


Do you know what I'm doing right now?

Right now.

Right freaking now.

Nope, that's not it. No empty pill bottle beside me.

Nope, that's not it. I don't even own a razor blade.

Nope, that's not it either.


Right now I'm not in a movie theatre readying myself to see 'You Before Me. That's where I'm not. And it's not the same as the fact that I'm also not at "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," or as they are better known in the disability community, "The Boys." You know how it is different? I just happen to be missing TMNT.

I am pointedly, and with every fibre of my being NOT at "Me Before You."

So you know what I'm doing to protest the latest in a series of disability snuff films?

I'm living.

Yep, the outrageous act of living.

I just finished supper with my husband, who though I am disabled will not smother me in my sleep tonight. He may be tempted but because a couple of times today I was an asshole, not because he helps me put on my socks.

Oh, and tomorrow.

You know what I'm going to do tomorrow to protest your propaganda vehicle masquerading as a 'romance' movie?

I'm going to go to work.


Don't hurt yourself if you fall over, if you get a splinter we may have to end your suffering quickly.

Not only am I going to go to work, all day I am going to pointedly not be at the movies watching your latest opus wherein fictional disabled people are created by non disabled people and portrayed by non disabled people wherein we get killed, again.

Guess what I know a lot of people.

A whole movement of people.

Who are pointedly not going to your movie. Right now.

I know you don't care.

But the fact that our asses remain in our chairs, not yours, will one day matter. Really matter. Because we are a movement that is growing, we are coming into our own, we are beginning to feel our power.

We will have the power, if not now shortly, to call you out.


Yeah, we know what you are.

We even know that you know its and think you are getting away with it.

You're not.

And even if you don't return the favour ...

We see you.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Weight For It

I rolled into the shop for the first time. Up until now Joe's just headed over and picked up what I needed when I needed it. Today I decided that I'd like to go take a look at what they had and ask a couple questions of the clerk. I've not been in a shop where they sell weights and other fitness, and martial arts, stuff ever before in my life. I rolled through the door and over to where the weights were. I own several of two different kinds. I don't like the grip on some of my sets because they are so big, and I have big hands. I wondered if there was a reason for them being designed that way and I wondered how much I should go up, I'd typically gone up in two to three pound steps but was considering going up five.

The clerk was quite helpful and answered all my questions. He was certain that I was ready to go up five pounds and I tried out a variety of weights and decided that he was right. It would be hard work, but I think I can handle the larger step. After the purchase he smiled at me and predicted, with certainty, that I'd be back soon needing another five.

So, I know this is kind of a boring post and not a particularly inspiring or interesting tale.


Shopping for weights is not what I'm writing about.

Tomorrow I have to go to a senior team meeting at a location where I've been before. Because we are leaving on a road trip, to Atlanta first where I'll do the keynote at the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals second annual conference and from there to Florida for a wee bit of a holiday. So, while Joe would normally stay with me to assist me at the venue tomorrow, it's a long push to the washroom, he won't be able to stay. He'll be coming home to get the wheelchair van we are renting and pack it up. Then he'll come to get me.

You know what?

I'm not worried. I know I will have the strength and the stamina to push myself all over the venue, completely unassisted. I've been working to have stronger arms and to have more stamina when getting myself around.

So, boring or not, I'm excited about tomorrow and independence regained.