ADVICE from BENT's own Bear

Everybody knows what bears do in the woods—they sit around telling each other their life's stories and giving one another advice. What else would those big, hairy beasts do when they get together for their Teddy Bear Picnics?

Inspired by the wisdom of my fellow growlers, I'm here to give advice, when asked. So, if any of you have questions you'd like answered by someone who's been around the block a couple of times, please send them to Bear@bentvoices.org.

And in case you're worried that you might have to censor your thoughts, please remember that my walks around the block were often done while dressed in kinkwear and with a thought or two about who I might encounter along the way.

So let me know what's on your mind. If it's a Big Unanswered Question (or even a little one), let me have a crack at it. It is, after all, what bears do best.

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"Escaping Homegrown Paternalism"

Dear Max,

I am a 39-yr-old t9/t10 paraplegic. I was living in Dallas for close to twenty years, but moved back to the Chicago area three years ago when I had my SCI. I am now living with my parents and it has been very difficult for all of us. I have become a frequent user of internet porn, since it is difficult for me to get around. My parents do not want me to go into the city out of concern for my safety. I feel almost as though I am imprisoned here in the Western Suburbs with my Mother (especially) as the warden, keeping a watchful eye to see that I don't get into any trouble. I am thankful for all the help she has given me, but I am very lonely and desperate to get out! What can I do?

Brian

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Dear Brian,

I know all too well about overprotective parents. I grew up with a grandmother who would have still been walking me to school and back if she hadn't died when I was fifteen. I've always suspected that even though they claim to have the best of intentions, some parents almost enjoy having a grown child dependent on them. I know that might sound harsh, but I think it is very easy for a man who has become disabled to be seen as someone who needs protection. What you really need is some loving friends as well as one special friend.

It is also easy for a parent to want to be a martyr to the "tragedy" surrounding a sudden disability, or to want to adopt the role of being a lifetime caregiver. All of these feelings satisfy a parent on some level but all are destructive for the recipient of that misplaced need to help. What your parents are trying to do can end up being more destructive than your SCI. That's something you need to tell them. I have seen far too many disabled people (especially one woman whom I work with) become emotional vegetables, to say nothing of sexual wastelands, simply because the people who are supposed to have their interest at heart have become their misguided protectors.

Maybe the Americans With Disabilities Act needs to add an amendment about protecting people with disabilities from those trying to protect them, which is another word for smothering them. And boy, can I go on and on about smother-love. You know, you did not suddenly revert to infancy when you acquired SCI. Your mother helped you because she loves you. But keeping you as her perpetual child would be an act of total selfishness and not something that a mother concerned about your well being would want to see happen, for your sake or hers. I have known disabled people who have finally told their protectors that they must lead their own lives, despite the obvious risks. And don't we all, disabled or nondisabled, lead lives of risk as part of being human?

Brian, I would tell your Mother that the best thing I could hope for you is that you do get into trouble, trouble of the best kind. Your reliance on Internet porn (which I also love and frequently dabble in) tells me that you want a sex life. And you won't have one unless you gain independence.

You might try contacting your local Independent Living Centers, with the ultimate goal of acquiring accessible housing. That can be the first and probably best step for living with autonomy and self respect. Dealing with overprotective parents might be something that people at the ILC have experience with.

I have no illusions that dealing with your parents will be easy. It will be very hard, for them as well as for you. But others might be able to help. Can you enlist any siblings or close relatives to help you? Are there any disability counseling groups that you can touch base with in your area? Reach out to others through Disgaytalk and BENT, where I know that men have had similar experiences and can offer insights and even friendship.

I hope I haven't come across as being too negative about your parents. I'm sure that whatever they are doing is because they think it is best for you. But it isn't. If they love you, they will let you live your life in freedom. The environment you are in right now is not healthy for either them or you. They also have to live their own lives. Not letting a son or daughter go is like snuffing out a life. Please, whatever you do, vow to go on with your life, not the life your parents impose on you.

© 2004 Max Verga

 

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MAX VERGA has been an activist ever since getting a call from a friend reporting that he'd been in a riot at the Stonewall Bar only hours before. His work is featured in "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories," edited by Bob Guter and John R. Killacky (Harrington Park Press, 2003). For more about Max, see his longer biography.

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2004