March 2003

 

ONE GREAT THEME

GREAT THEMES are the most difficult to address. Of course. Unless you're Walt Whitman or Dante or Emily Dickinson or [fill in the blank]. Difficult for us mere mortals to address, I mean. If they really are great they should be so self-evident that talking about them risks tumbling into cliché. But if these are themes important enough to warrant our abiding interest, we're inspired, again and again, to tackle the challenge.

Does BENT have One Great Theme? That's not the way I approach this Webzine, since I never want to force it into a Procrustean bed of limiting ideas. Everything is up for grabs here, with contributors welcome to follow their ideas pretty much anywhere they like. Even the intersection of gayness and disability, the reason for BENT's existence, is not something we insist on explicating in a doctrinaire way.

And yet . . . there is one theme that tantalizes our writers. Without any prompting from me, they return to it time after time. At the risk of repeating an imperative that even its author might be tired of hearing quoted these days, I'll describe it in the words of E.M. Forster: "only connect."

Call it connection, call it social interaction, call it love—it might, when reduced to its essentials, be the most frequent subject found in these immediate Internet environs. It's a theme disabled gay men are drawn to precisely because such enormous barriers have been erected to keep us from connecting. Laws, social institutions, cultural and medical attitudes, strictures of Church and State, all of these have, historically, discouraged us, subtly, or prevented us, grossly, from knowing one another and being known by the world at large.

It does not surprise me, then, to discover that all of this month's writers grapple head-on with some variant of the subject, or at the very least make passing reference to it. In the three features that open this issue, by three writers new to BENT, connection is the subject, without a doubt, though treated from perspectives sufficiently different to validate just how rich the theme remains.

In I Wouldn't Sleep With Me, Don Roy explores how physical difference engenders rejection, and describes the frequently self-destructive methods we adopt in order to cope with feelings that threaten to annihilate us. "Alcohol transforms me into a sexual barracuda searching to get laid," he writes. "Sex becomes a full-time occupation, leaving no time for anything else. I am like a vampire, afraid of the dawn, sucking out the life of everyone around me. Sleep with me, prove to me I am desirable, fill me up, make the emptiness go away. I don't care how. I'm never above a mercy fuck. Are you curious?"

Larry Roberts picks up the theme's broad social implications in Going There: Some Thoughts on Longing, and cuts to the heart of the matter with these words: "It's painful how deeply I need to be around other disabled gay guys; I need that connection, but I'm also scared to be met with blank looks, scratched heads, or an 'Oh, please, honey, get over it!' "

T.J. Boothroyd, the third of this month's new voices, contributes Before it Mattered, a piece he might just as easily have called "I'm in the Mood for Romance," since in it he surrenders to that eternal longing for a one-on-one connection that leads him to wonder, "What is it about your eyes that makes my heart skip? Could this be It? Could you be . . . Him?" It's a longing that acknowledges a particular brand of crip anxiety, too, one which prompts him to ask himself, "Have you taken a good look at me? Have you noticed? Of course you have. How could you have not?"

Most of us crips are sensible enough to want it all. We want that special man in our lives and we also want community, which, in crip terms, can have special resonance. Danny Kodmur's On Getting Stuck is a darkly hilarious account of some aspects of a life on wheels, with implications that range far beyond issues like cranky wheelchair motors. "I still think I am fully competent to live on my own," Danny writes. "Whether I want to continue doing so is another question. I'd love to live in a house with others, or in an apartment building where people spent time together. Living alone doesn't worry me the way it might worry my loved ones, but it can frustrate me and make me sad."

Social disconnection, living alone, is something that frequent BENT contributor Robert Feinstein finds himself grappling with when his beloved guide dog dies unexpectedly. "I can manage with my cane," Bob observes in Farewell to Harley, "but what I miss most is Harley as a friend, a dog that came to lick me in the mornings, whose antics made me laugh when I was feeling lonely.

In five intimate views of One Great Theme, these five writers remind us how our cripgay lives are at once dissimilar and nearly identical.

Connection and disconnectedness. It's a subject we have not yet exhausted.

© 2003 BENT

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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 where he publishes and edits BENT.