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January 2002

At You


Have you noticed
how airports seem designed for odd confrontations? My first trip since September 11 was a brief junket to Chicago. Walking into O'Hare to catch the flight home I saw someone walking towards me. He was not someone I know well (I've met him once), and not someone I expected to see, so I was hit with that unsettling moment of encountering a person out of context, that "is it really him" feeling.

In this instance the out-of-context figure was a well-known disabled gay writer, someone whose disability is more apparent than mine, at least when I'm not in motion. When I looked hard to make certain I was not mistaken our eyes met and I thought I saw something in his face that said, "Oh no, not another jerk staring at me." Since that reaction is something I've experienced myself a million times I may have been doing nothing more than projecting my own feelings. All of this happened in a split second, you've got to understand.

Overcoming my shyness I approached him and introduced myself. It turned out he did remember me (the sight of my lurching gait undoubtedly a prod to memory). Whatever mutual awkwardness might have existed gave way to a brief but cordial conversation. Above all else, I was glad to make it clear that I was not just another jerk who was staring at him. But in a way, of course, I was just that—because his different appearance was the first thing I had noticed about him.

Not much of a story, I can hear you say, and in truth not, at least on the surface, but the more I thought about it the more significant its implications seemed. Here were two disabled gay men with everything in the world in common—similar disabilities, similar interests—who were put off, or might have been, by the same approach-avoidance conflict that prevents so many disabled and nondisabled people from becoming friends—or lovers. We might even have been—momentarily, half-consciously— participating in that odious characterization game known as Disability Hierarchy, in which two disabled people size one another up to determine which of them is "more disabled" and thereby less eligible for approbation, public and private. And since both of us are men who love men, maybe we were also running a kind of instant "guy check" routine on one another, trying to see if and where disability and erotic interest intersected or were deflected.

In that brief airport encounter all of these reactions may not have been happening at once, but I know that they have occurred in the past, in my life and in yours. I wonder if reactions like that will be, always and forever, an essential part of who we are, if the odd stare, the second look, the turning away, will continue to define our relations with the Big World and with our own smaller sphere, the one peopled by just us, queer crips.

As queer people, a small percentage of us have fought and died to assert our rights, thus making it safer for all of us to be queer, safe enough in many places, ordinary enough, that some of us have begun to question whether we are just another market share, doomed to surrender the edgy power to criticize and change society that our outsider status has long conferred upon us. If we crips manage, against all odds, to become more visible—at work, at school, every place—will we join our queer brothers in the dubious achievement of acceptance, or will our physical differences, our inability to pass, continue to relegate us to the status of the eternally stigmatized?

In this issue of BENT, Raymond J. Aguilera, Don Lawrence, and Danny Kodmur each takes a deeply personal look at these difficult questions. The answers, some day, will determine our collective future.

Here's looking at you.

Bob Guter

Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of multiple birth defects. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Stagebill, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco.

© 20002 BENT

Don't go yet!!
It's CALLAHAN time . . .

"Don't be a fool, Billy."


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/January 2002