January 2003


At times the contents of a particular issue of BENT slide into alignment in a mysteriously satisfying way, so that each contribution illuminates the next, the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts in a way that editors dream of but cannot always achieve.

Because this turned out to be one of those issues, I want to point out a few of the connections I see. You will find more connections for yourself, I know, as you read each feature.

Danny Kodmur's "Life Under the Spotlight: Disability and Depression" is the glue that holds this issue together. The twin challenge of finding our way through lives defined by disability and gayness is often colored by a third factor we might have difficulty acknowledging: depression. With unusual candor, Danny explores this treacherous morass that many of us struggle a lifetime to escape. But "Life Under the Spotlight" is about more than depression, it's also a call to community.

As if to underscore the difficulty of talking about such emotionally explosive issues, two members of Disgaytalk, BENT's online discussion group, relate their own experiences in "Hiding in Plain Sight: The 'Other' Disabilities."

Sometimes I worry that disabled gay men cannot possibly share enough concerns to justify BENT's continued existence. Are there subjects that resonate for all of us, or at least most of us? I think we can discover some of them by using Danny's investigation of depression as an ordering device. What are the things that get us down, maybe even drive us to despair?

For some of us, it's the world's sheer insensitivity to a disabling state, as Bob Feinstein describes in "Sighted People." And most of us, I suspect, have at one time or another tortured ourselves with the question that serves as the title of this month's BENT/Disgaytalk Forum, "Who Thinks We're Sexy?" That same question emerges from Chris Hewitt's poem "Still Breathing," as the poet reflects on a night of lovemaking by observing, "We both think each other beautiful/and say so."

The answer to that "who thinks we're sexy" question plays a big part in how we see ourselves and thus how we are able to function in the world. Advice about one difficult aspect of functioning in the world is the subject of Charlie Squires' eminently practical "Flying While Disabled," an endeavor that seems almost designed to throw those of us with mobility impairments into a foul mood.

Charlie's sound advice is one of three pieces in this issue that we might characterize as peer counseling. Max Verga's "Bear in Mind" column addresses an ordinary social dilemma complicated by disability, while Max joins forces with Ray Aguilera in "Double Trouble" to answer a reader whose plea for help brings us right back to that all-important "are we sexy" question."

In "Life Under the Spotlight," Danny Kodmur writes, "Even if your instincts urge you to alienate them, instead seek out understanding people to stay at your side. Their deeds, their very presence, may do more to break depression's grip than words themselves ever could. In the company of others, each little victory along the path to our futures will be that much more worthwhile."

Let's not forget that we, BENT's writers and readers, are those understanding people. I hope that in the coming year we can all make a greater effort to stay in touch, for by doing so we build community and a more worthwhile common future.

To encourage communication, we now conclude each article with a direct email link. "Don't wait," it urges, "let us know what you think of this BENT feature."

You might want to see this link as a modern version of the old call-and-response song. Popular as a singing game for children in the 19th century, the call-and-response format made it easy for the greatest number of people to participate, even if unfamiliar with the lyrics. The singing game version was undoubtedly an outgrowth of the practice in African American churches, still current, where the preacher "calls" (says a line in a prayer or sermon), and one or more people in the congregation "respond" (by spontaneously repeating a line or a word).

One commentator has observed that "Call and response is an expression of both ritualized communal unity and spontaneous individual freedom."

We're calling. Please respond.

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.

© 2003 BENT