BENT's own Bear
Everybody knows what bears do in the woodsthey
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
a Friend the Truth"
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 badlike 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?
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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
a real pal, Frank. Tell Eddy, not me.
© 2003 Max Verga
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you think of this BENT feature.
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.