for this month's
tasteless crip humor, don't miss the very bottom of the page . .
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 thatbecause 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 commonsimilar
disabilities, similar interestswho were put off, or might
have been, by the same approach-avoidance conflict that prevents
so many disabled and nondisabled people from becoming friendsor
lovers. We might even have beenmomentarily, 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 visibleat
work, at school, every placewill 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.
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
It's CALLAHAN time . . .
"Don't be a fool, Billy."