I have no real problem with being gay and handicapped, honestly I don't, save for the relatively insignificant fact that I have come to despise virtually all aspects of gay identity, including (but not limited to): pink triangles, rainbow flags, Bob Damon, the term "Miz Thang," Bette Davis, disco bars, and those god-awful leather hats. Oh, and please note: I hang all of my clothes on wire hangers—just for spite.

The truth is that gay life and I hadn't been getting along for quite some time (not that we ever did) when at long last I came to the inescapable conclusion that I wanted out of this abusive relationship. As a result, I left the gay ghetto, licking my wounds and limping back into the closet. For this crip it seemed the healthy thing to do. Besides, I had way too much else to deal with without banging my head against an ever-so-fashionable brick wall.

by Roman C. Justice

For years after my strategic retreat the "community" went its own way and I went mine. Soon all my friends were straight and I enjoyed the luxury of associating with some damn fine specimens of manhood (both inside and out) among whom, for the most part, I was one among equals. An added bonus was the fact that for ten-plus years I never once heard the word "fabulous." (Trust me, this is a good thing.) There was, of course, no physical intimacy, no hope for any, but neither was there rejection based on something I had no control over. I found an acceptance that was denied me out there in Pink World.

I found, however, that my resentment did not vanish. Instead it festered and grew to what can only be described as ridiculous extremes. If there was a gay man in the room, I ran to the opposite corner and glared from a distance. If I found him attractive, I contemplated vehicular homicide. I would drive by gay bars and yell, "ANYBODY FUCKIN'?" On Gay Pride Day I'd wear black and sing "some-WHERE over the rain-bow . . . " to the befuddled amusement of my clueless straight friends. One might say I had . . . issues.

This insular state of affairs, tolerable enough as it was, could not go on forever, of course. Unpleasantness can be ignored or denied for a while—it might even be healthy to do sobut sooner or later it comes out, and when it does it's ugly and it's painful. In my case it started with an innocent viewing of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (dontcha love it?), in which the frumpy heroine makes an innocent life change, goes to school and in the process transforms herself into a desirable woman. Just another version of Girl meets Boy, you might say, but one scene hit me hard: During dinner Guy recognizes Girl from before her transformation and observes, "I don't remember frump girl, but I do remember you. " I can quote this (as well as most of the remaining dialogue) with confidence because I've seen the movie more than twenty times.

When I heard that line for the first time something changed inside me. A shift occurred and I conceded at last, that maybe, just maybe, some guy I am attracted to might be attracted to me. To an outsider this might seem obvious. To this malformed, ugly-as-sin cripgay man it was huge!

Like the girl in the movie, I ask myself what can I do. The answer surprises me. I join the Y and begin working out. I develop, over time, a newfound desire to connect with the physical, to play team sports, to pat my straight friends on the butt—legally The transformation is way too slow, but it's happening. The resentments start to fade, self-esteem starts to grow and, miraculously, gay men start appearing. First a guy smiles at me in the gym and I smile back and we're friends . . . cool! Then my somewhat swishy neighbor asks for some coffee. . . really cool! Nothing sexual, no agenda, just the result of fading resentment and a dawning realization on my part that gay men are people after all!

Then one day . . .

I have to conduct a pick-up choir for a performance at the cathedral. I'm busy arranging music when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a chain on a perfect muscular neck and when I gather the courage to look up I see a symmetrical, friendly, intelligent face and beautiful serene eyes with no hint of judgment. He is one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen. He smiles with perfect teeth and informs me that he is . . . my soloist. The new and improved resentment-free person that I have become reflects on how grateful this guy should be that I do not feel impelled to run him over with my car. Instead we rehearse.

After several more rehearsals I come to know a decent, kind, intelligent man, someone who shares a lot of my interests. We have lunch and he affirms what I already knew: he's gay. But he's different, and I become attracted to what's inside. Even better, I know I am his equal. I will not put him on a pedestal nor look for him to fix me or make me whole. I have much to offer him and he sees that. I have no illusions and pray that I can accept the love he can give me in whatever form it might take.

But still . . . is there a possibility? Is it conceivable?

Over the next couple of months we become friends who enjoy each other's company immensely, while in the back of my mind something flutters ever so slightly and I can't decide if it's hope or fear. Should I ask this man out on a date? One day, before I can summon the courage, he says, "You know, I really am attracted to what's inside, a man's intelligence and spirituality. Of course there's got to be a physical attraction too." Then he tells me about a neighbor he's attracted too and is going to date. All of this is innocent. Once again there is no hidden agenda, just one friend confiding in another.

My heart skips a beat and my smile freezes for an instant—an imperceptible fraction of forever. Old feelings flood in as I remember hundreds of conversations over countless lunches, unrealistic expectations with nameless friends, each one killing a little bit more of my soul, each one sinking me a little further into a hopeless destructive search, until I have no soul, until I become one of the vermin walking the streets, awash in alcohol and drugs. I know I don't want to go there again.

Lunch is over and we both have to get back to work. In the restaurant's glass door I see our outlines: his tall, thin, symmetrical and beautiful, every movement a ballet of musculature; mine deformed, hunched over, every movement awkward and unappealing. And one question repeats itself over and over again, relentlessly, as I remember that big fucking fat Greek wedding.

What the hell was I thinking?

©2003 Roman C. Justice
ILLUSTRATION: "Negative Beauty" ©2003 Robbo


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Roman C. Justice has thalidomide-like deformities resulting in malformed hands. He is an organist and choir director with degrees in music and choral conducting, and making music is his passion. Growing up as "the only one," his recent discovery of a cripgay community has been cathartic, an experience that will no doubt be a catalyst for growth. Although celibate for a while, he is open to new experiences and the possibility of life-affirming ways of seeing our God-given gift of sexuality..

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2003