Avocados,
Christopher Reeve,

Eating in Public,
and Me

by Larry Roberts

I love e-mail. Instantly I can be in touch with friends and family. I could, of course, pick up the phone and talk, but e-mail appeals to me more. Why? Because I'm a control freak. Sure, I can slam down the receiver if things get tense, but it's so much less rude to just take a few days to finish an uncomfortable conversation by e-mail. I can also deny that I got the e-mail. Who can legitimately accuse me of screening e-mail? It's not voicemail after all.

It's amazing—e-mail saves my sanity, whether it's bible verses, comic strips, factoids from the history channel, or Dan's Chronicles in Disgaytalk, the world is at my fingertips. I can even get Heloise by e-mail.

When I was young it was Heloise I fell in love with. Then Ann Landers. And Elizabeth Post. Now I have a passing acquaintance with Clark Howard, though it's Dr. Joy Browne I carry on a serious affair with. Radio shrinks, etiquette mavens, financial wizards, newspaper columnists—all are members of my personal pantheon of oracles. Helpful hints, complicated life problems boiled down to easy-to-follow advice, these are my secret passion. I have my limits though. Doctor Laura, with a doctorate in physical education instead of psychology, doesn't do it for me.

I'll admit it: for a long time I loathed Abby. When my local paper started running her column after her sister died I thought I would have to give up reading newspaper advice columns altogether. But I agreed to a few dates, and slowly she worked her magic on me. Now we go steady, though Abby understands she can never replace Ann in my heart. She knows I'll never think of her as "dear."

Recently my daily e-mail dose of Heloise proved especially helpful. In the unlikely event that I should discover my conditioner has run out, I can choose among many ordinary household items. Rushing from the shower I can stick my wet head in the fridge and try mayonnaise, or mashed avocados, or egg whites and yolks. Voilą! Problem solved. Heloise offers such tidbits to anyone. She is so helpful.

I hear you, reader, politely restraining yourself. You ache to remind me that the subject of this Webzine is cripgay men and things of interest to them. You are too polite, of course, to say anything; you battle mightily to keep from shouting, "get to the point!"

My dear sir, what could be more to the point than our longing to communicate and our wish to be helpful? As cripgay men, are we not united in this? The ordinary flotsam and jetsam of our multifarious and oftentimes confusing lives—don't we yearn to talk about it all on our own terms? Does not each of us, in his heart-of-hearts, yearn for some kindly sage to tell us what to do?

The question of choice is endlessly complex, after all. Do we "choose" to be gay? If we could would we choose to be non-disabled? I wish someone would decide, once and for all, what "the answer" to those questions is. And how about this one: May I have the hots for Christopher Reeve, or must I sigh with resignation and judge him hopelessly retrograde?

Since advice columns are hotbeds of sex and disability (you hadn't noticed?), maybe the answer does in fact lie somewhere out there in the realm of pulpy paper and smeary ink.

As if to prove my point I read just recently a letter to Abby detailing the drama that ensued when a friend of a man with a disability hired a prostitute for him because the man with a disability lived with his parents, depended on them, and couldn't get out of the house for sex—or anything else. The friend reported that after he had hired the prostitute and made all necessary arrangements the parents discovered the plot and, being very religious, promptly put a stop to the plans for erotic salvation. Abby was appalled, as were her readers. That friend had done his friend a service; the parents ought not to have interfered. Case managers en masse wrote to assure readers that in "their state," where the rights of disabled adults are respected, such things would never happen.

I remember a lengthy exchange between Ann and her readers from many years ago. Reader after reader expressed dismay that people with disabilities were eating in public. Imagine it. Eating. In public! This they found nauseating. Perhaps, they suggested, restaurants might screen the disabled from sight with artfully arranged greenery. Readers were also irritated at parents who brought their disabled children along to the shopping mall. Parents of these unfortunate children, they opined, were at fault for causing discomfort. They should cease to parade their martyrdom before the public.

Ann made clear her displeasure at this worldview while admitting she was at a loss for how to respond. For weeks I struggled to come up with a response of my own, but every one of my drafts dissolved into an incoherent rant. I needn't have worried. Other loyal readers succeeded where I had failed. Ann had provided a forum where writers could respond to stupidity with reason, outrage, and compassion, and respond they did! Apparently it was not so difficult to recognize people with disabilities as human beings after all.

And lest we think Abby behind the times, a mere conservative relic, let us recall her answer to a homeowner who described shocking behavior across the street: queers were coming and going at all hours; wild sex parties were rumored. What was the reader to do? Abby suggested, as I am sure Emily and Elizabeth would have done, a simple solution: close the shades, reader.

What, one might wonder, would Abby make of our difficulty with the problem of choice? Shall I e-mail our queries (Do we "choose" to be gay? If we could would we choose to be non-disabled?) to the surviving twin Goddess of the Clueless? History suggests that not only would we find her answer useful, but that millions of other readers might join us in taping her column to their refrigerators or secreting it away in their handbags for future reference.

 

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

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Larry Roberts really likes BENT. He is endlessly thrilled to have discovered yet another venue to share parts of his life, weaving them, he hopes, together with current events and controversy, in order to make points, make change, and look good while doing it. In his professional life he is the Program Director at his local Center for Independent Living. He and his partner live in Ithaca, NY, where he watches soap operas, listens to a radio shrink, and finds himself waiting each day to see if the advice columnist reprinted old columns for readers who've lost them.

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2003