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.

.

"Telling a Friend the Truth"

Dear Max,

I have a friend who uses an electric wheelchair and also uses the services of a personal attendant, morning and night. "Eddy" zooms around town all day and seems very gregarious, but lately I've noticed a real personal hygiene problem. His clothes often look soiled and he usually smells bad—like piss, not to mince words. This has got to be a detriment to his ordinary socializing and I know it can't help him in the dating department. What can I do to help?

Frank
San Francisco

Dear Frank,

The only thing that friends can do to help a friend, even if the issue is one of cleanliness, is to talk to their friend and not avoid the issue, no matter how painful.

I think all of us have been in this kind of situation at one time or another. I experienced it on the job. I know I would have hated to have been the one doing the telling; luckily others had that responsibility. But what is the alternative, letting a friend go through life being laughed at or ignored?

The issue, of course, is far more complicated when disability is involved. I presume it is the responsibility of his attendant to take care of any hygiene needs that Eddy cannot manage himself. I also presume that Eddy has a sense of smell intact and should at least be able to detect that a problem exists, so I wonder if the root problem involves communication between him and his aide. On the other hand, maybe Eddy has become desensitized to certain smells, even oblivious to them.

If that's not it, then the difficulty might be Eddy's state of mind. Depression can lead to lack of interest in personal appearance. Maybe Eddy doesn't care about being presentable because he believes nobody will get past his being in a wheelchair in the first place. Are you good enough friends with him to go beyond superficial conversation to try to find out if something deeper is contributing to the hygiene problem? Do you have enough of a rapport with his aide to bring up the issue of job performance?

All of these are conjecture. There might be more plausible reasons. But it's unlikely that Eddy will get the situation straightened out if everyone just holds their tongues as well as their breath. Let me paraphrase: friends don't let friends smell bad. They swallow hard and ask questions or make statements. And they try to do it as lovingly as possible with as much sensitivity as they can muster.

If it turns out that the fault is the attendant's, then friends might have to help Eddy find someone who does the job right and gives him back his dignity. Sometimes being a friend can be the hardest thing in the world. I don't envy any of Eddy's friends for the task they might have to perform. But Eddy deserves to know how his friends feel and that they care enough to do something that might even risk their friendship.

Be a real pal, Frank. Tell Eddy, not me.

© 2003 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. 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