Saturday, June 19, 2010

Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm

Peter Fagan.

The man who almost married Helen Keller. The man who ran headlong into the complex mixture of power, opinion and prejudice as it relates to the sexuality of someone with a disability. The man who saw Helen as a woman, not as a child, not as a product, not as a disability, but as a woman. His name is never mentioned. Their love story is never told.

Yet the experience of people with disabilities, through all history, is replete with stories of forbidden love, ruined relationships and the icy cold grip of another's control. The first time I was ever asked to break up a relationship between two people with disabilities who had fallen in love, I was astonished that someone thought that this was my job. Many people with disabilities do not love freely. They love under the approval or disapproval of care providers. They love when committees meet, when teams agree, when plans allow. They love, sometimes only in secret, hidden ways.

Helen and Peter met and fell in love. They knew to keep their passion a secret. They knew that others would disapprove. Peter slipped away to get a marriage licence and suddenly the private was public. Helen was kidnapped, by an angry mother and a controlling care provider. Peter was sent away. Their love, ultimately, died. Annie Sullivan may have taught the word water but she wanted nothing to do with the word love. Helen wrote about her desire for love but it would be forbidden to her.

The hardest question I have ever been asked by someone with a disability was 'Is it OK for me to love?'

I knew his parents disapproved.

I knew his agency would throw a fit.

I knew they system would go into apoplexy.

But I said, 'Yes ... but ...'

Helen Keller, we all remember the little girl with her hands under the tap. We need, now to remember her as a woman with her heart under wrap.


(This post is written as part of the Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm, which you can read about by clicking here. I could find no photo of him, but if anyone can Penny Richards can.)


theknapper said...

Yet another piece of history that we need to know.(too many years ago) The first time I heard you speak(too many years ago) I learned about people with disabilities who were let out of institutions to work during the war, and others in Germany who hid in the forests to escape the Nazis. It made me realize that what I had learned before was the history of the services not the people.I have continued the search for those stories. I just ordered the book,Racialized Bodies, Disabling Worlds;Stories of Immigrant Muslim Women from U of Toronto Press.Thank you for sharing history that's not accessible.

Janet said...

This may be one of the most upsetting things I've read in a long time. I imagined Helen Keller's life very differently. I'm not sure I'm glad to have that myth destroyed.

Tamara said...

Very sad story. No matter what the motivation, the results to the lives are the same. But, I still wonder about their motivation. I hope it was more the times, their fear, lack of vision, and distrust than it was an inability to understanding love.

This is a great message for parents. Even those of us who understand that our child has all the same wants and needs as any other human, have to fight the fear and not create our own vision for our children as adults. We need to listen and understand and do what we can to help them realize their vision. Personally, I think that's my biggest challenge - And adulthood is not that far away -

Kristin said...

Wow, thanks for the education. It's so sad to realize she was denied that chance at love.

Penny L. Richards said...

Ha! I don't know of any photos of Peter Fagan either, but I'll ask around.

Beyond Peter, one of the things that gets lost in the myths around HK is how unconforming her homelife was for most of her years. She lived with Anne Sullivan, of course--not really a mother figure, nor a peer, nor an employee--and for some of the time Anne's husband, who was closer to Helen's age and who shared many of Helen's interests; and then sometimes there was a third woman in the household as well. None of it "fits" the usual picture of a family, so it's left out of the story. But for many people, perhaps especially disabled people, that configuration does fit their experience of a family that works and makes sense, messy as it may be to explain on a census form... ;)

Renee said...

What I would like to know is how many of these people are POC, considering that you are participating in Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm day on JUNETEENTH a holiday to celebrate the emancipation of Blacks from slavery? Did it occur to you that this might be in the least bit relevant to Blacks with disabilities or should we just all pretend that race doesn't matter?

Dave Hingsburger said...

Renee, I apologize without reservation. I will admit that I did not know about the Juneteenth holiday nor its celebration. It's ironic because this blogswarm is to address the issue of history and the stories we weren't told. As a result of your post I will set about to inform myself more about the day. I'm sorry that my ignorance caused you pain and upset. I promise that this day will be in my calander henceforth.

I ask my readers to click on Renee's name to find the blog on Juneteenth.

word verification ... realized

Dave Hingsburger said...

Readers, here is the link to read Renee's post about Juneteenth:

Carleigh said...

One of my favorite books is Stones From The River, which besides being a WWII novel (those are always excellent) it is the love story of a woman with a disability whose love is torn asunder by war. Read it for your next book club!

Anonymous said...

the frist hellen keller book I read was hellen keller her true story that was a great book to read and a great book about hellen k

Squeezer said...

Thank you for your inspiration. On readying your blog, I thought you might appreciate this -- my absolute favorite Helen Keller quote:

Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature,
nor do the children of men
as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer
in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure,
or it is nothing.
To keep our faces toward change and
behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
— Helen Keller