the Closet, and Being Yourself:
Musings of a TABaG Man
am a TABaG (Temporarily Able-Bodied and Gay) man. Although I am
currently physically able-bodied, I suspect that because I am
gay I am less than fully-abled psychologically. I am convinced
that society's effort to keep gay people in the closet is a disablement
as crippling to our emotional lives as any physical disability
may be to our bodies.
own experience suggests that many of us actively collude with our
oppressors to maintain the closet's darkness even after we have
found our way out of it. As we work through all the issues of becoming
whole with ourselves as homosexual human beings, I wonderdo
we ever completely lose the invisible scars that bear testimony
to our disability?
then, as I have become aware, many physically disabled people are
stuck in a closet too, even when their disabilities are physically
obvious. Like gay people, they all too often collude with their
hide their disabilities, or even themselves, from the judging eyes
of their fellow human beings.
only do disabled people endure physical limitations, they face the
emotional disablement of the handicapped closet as well. And disabled
gay people have not only their physical disabilities to deal with;
they get a double whammy emotionally, compounded further by being
disabled in a gay world fixated on perfect bodies.
few years ago when I was in the early stages of coming out as a
gay man my local newspaper published an op-ed piece I'd submitted
on being "gay and gray" (yet another set of issues). Steve Gascoyne,
a radical left-wing writer who had worked for UPI and several local
papers wrote me a note about his own experience with a friend who
had come out to him only because he was dying from AIDS.
was very upset that he didn't share that essential part of his being
with me," Steve said. He went on to tell me that the experience
had taught him a lesson that he began to put into practice when
he first started evidencing epilepsy in his late 40s. He shared
that practice on our first meeting. "I want you to know that I have
epilepsy," he said shortly after shaking my hand. "I may have a
seizure at any time. Here's what they look like; here's what you
should to do if it happens."
how you come out," he said. You can't care a damn about other peoples'
feelings about who you are and what you are. You have to make yourself
visible and demand equal treatment. People who see me don't see
an epileptic unless I have a seizure in front of them or I tell
them. When I see you I don't see a gay man unless you tell me or
I see you entering a gay establishment. You've got to get people
to accept you on your terms, not theirs. Those who aren't disabled
or who aren't gay can't make valid judgments about those of us who
and I talked a lot about the judgments made by unknowing people.
We agreed that understanding how those judgments are formed is important
for us as we deal with our physically and sexually "straight" fellows.
Difficult as it might be for us to comprehend, for example, many
of our families, friends and neighbors (and even we ourselves) have
a christianist worldview that sees homosexuality as a deviant sexual
behavior engaged in by heterosexuals acting out some sort of perversion.
By "christianism" I mean the unconscious acquisition of a false
sense of "Christian" values by everyone born wherever the United
States has cultural and economic influencewherever
Coca Cola is sold.
of these same christianists perceive physical disabilities as "punishment"
from the being they refer to as god. They may not say so in front
of the physically disabled, but they will no doubt unconsciously
recall scriptural passage wherein their god-being says he will punish
generations of descendants of sinners. A common colloquialism suggests
how deeply ingrained in our thinking this belief has become. How
often do we hear, or have we said, "My god! What did I do to deserve
if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between human actions
and physical and psychological disabilities.
am certain that my parents felt that having a gay son was a visitation
of their god's wrath for something one of them had done in the past.
They never said so directly, but they made their feelings clear
with offhand stories about other families that were "cursed" by
having gay children.
fact that my younger brother was born with Down Syndrome might have
sent my parents over the edge, but instead my mother decided that
he was a "gift" from her god-being and that her salvation would
be assured if she raised him to adulthood. I guess she'll go to
her religion's heaven when she dies. My brother is forty-eight now.
people can twist their beliefs to accommodate their immediate needs,
something I discovered when a woman I know took fertility pills
in order to conceiveeven
though she believed that her god played the operative role in the
eventuation of children. She refused to consider that it was her
god that had made her infertile and thus intended her to be childless.
Isn't artificially induced conception the opposite side of the abortion
coin? If you believe that babies are your god's will, don't both
practices fly equally in the face of your deity's intent?
the same time that people are unconsciously judging those of us
who are not "straight"whether of sexual inclination or body
also "feel bad" for us, they pity us. A woman I met at a rally for
the Million Mom March told me that she felt bad for homosexuals
because it was so hard for them to get into (her religion's) heaven.
She said it sincerely and I'm sure she meant it. Since I suffer
from internalized christianism just as I suffer from internalized
homophobia my immediate reaction was to engage her on her own christianist
terms. Instead I caught myself in time and replied, "Your concern
is very kind. Thank you." It stopped her in her christianist tracks
(or perhaps I should say "tracts").
christianism pervades American life, it seems likely that many disabled
gay men suffer from an internalized expression of it. Whether consciously
or not, they buy into the belief that a connection exists between
being physically disabled, being gay, and being punished by some
god. As a TABaG man it took me years to rend from my gut the damaging
christianist judgments that family and society had implanted there,
even after I had consciously dismissed them as absurd.
Gascoyne died in the spring of 2003. He had a grand mal seizure
as he was climbing the back steps to his house. His fall to the
brick stoop resulted in a massive brain hemorrhage and his loving
wife followed his instructions, "do not revive."
five hundred people from all walks of life gathered to remember
him. Liberal straight people, GLBT neighbors and friends; people
in wheelchairs, on crutches, with walking sticks, or service animals
crammed a hall where they celebrated the life of the man who said
"I'm Steve Gascoyne. I have epilepsy. This is what it looks like.
This is what you should do…"
have never been as brave as my friend Steve Gascoyne. I have never
met someone outside of a safe environment and said, "Hi, I'm Donald,
I'm gay." I am working on it, though. I hope that anyone reading
this who is in any kind of closet will join me in the struggle.
© 2004 Donald
Illustration © 2004 Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER
Cavanaugh is a gay activist working very hard to overcome his
internalized christianism. He will become an atheist when he finds
a god worthy of disbelief.
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BENT: A Journal of CripGay