BEAR IN MIND

ADVICE from
MAX VERGA
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.

.

"Getting Out After Trauma"

 

Dear Max,

In 1991 my lover suffered injuries from an accident that resulted in a degree of brain damage and speech impairment. Since then, he has become progressively withdrawn, unwilling to socialize, and almost totally dependent on me. For his sake and mine I need to convince him that he can still have a social life.

Jason
New Orleans

Jason, I had to think a long time about how to respond to your concerns about motivating your lover into being social and cultivating friends. There's a vast difference between someone who has coped with disability issues from birth and someone disabled later and perhaps suddenly. Not being able to function as you once did can be traumatic in itself, even more so for the gay man concerned with how others perceive him physically. The tendency to assume that people will reject you socially in these circumstances is too often correct. This can place extra responsibility on the caregiver, who often has to provide social outlets as well as doing whatever is necessary to maintain his partner's comfort and functional needs.

As you have learned, trying to balance care-giving with being a partner is an exceptional challenge. I would not begin to assume that anyone who becomes disabled can adjust easily, even if the original injury occurred "as long ago" as 1991. I do know that many groups exist to deal with disability issues. Many are disability-specific and some are support groups with members who have undergone the same dramatic changes in their lives. Encourage your lover to participate in a group.

I also understand, however, that for someone recently disabled, being in a room full of other similarly disabled people might present a mirror image painful to confront at first. On the other hand, such groups can offer a unique forum for airing thoughts difficult to reveal even to friends or lovers. Once your lover became disabled, did old friends suddenly disappear or become very busy? It would not be the first time this has happened.

Does he have personal interests he can still pursue that might compensate for diminished social outlets? Too often men fail to develop the kinds of interests that could sustain them in circumstances like this. Developing such interests after disability strikes is possible, of course, and you may be able to help.

You did not indicate just how much your partner's ability to communicate has been compromised. It's true that many friends (or former friends) lack the patience to get past the communication barriers imposed by injury. The answers to these and similar question will have an impact on what degree of motivation you believe is realistic at this point.

My last question is a tough one. Has your lover's dependence on you damaged your social life? Very often, we develop friendships as the result of our partner's contacts with others, and if your own opportunities for socilaization have been diminished, you may begin to resent the situation in ways your hardly aware of. I wonder, too, if your lover is one of those men who is content being alone at times and who does not require participation in social situations on a regular basis. Being half-hermit myself, I am always sensitive to this issue.

In so many ways I don't know enough about your situation to offer clear advice. I would, however, encourage your lover to become active with Disgaytalk here at BENT, even if it is just to read postings at first, before he feels comfortable enough to offer any of his own. I think he will come to realize, just as many others have, that there are men whose similar experiences will make him feel less isolated. But when it really comes down to the nitty-gritty, the only person who can motivate an individual is the individual himself. Disability is something that has been openly discussed only recently. We should not expect anyone to come to terms in a few years with something that society has not fully come to terms with to this very day.

Your lover is lucky to have you. Maybe with your encouragement he can come to realize that you are not the only caregiver out there—just the best.

© 2002 Max Verga

Don't wait.
Let us know what you think of this BENT feature.

 

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. He began his activism with the West Side Discussion Group, later became involved with its offshoot theater group, and was one of the founders of Mainstream, a gay-disabled group. For more about Max, see his longer biography.

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2002