November 2006

 

The Amputee Issue

 

Fully aware of my title’s double meaning, I want to call this issue of BENT the Amputee Issue. To raise some of the issues that concern gay amputees I have gathered together three pieces from BENT’s past that addressed the subject.

Brian Anderson, 25, was in shorts, a look favored by most of the amputees, who tend to wear their new prostheses like combat medals. His legs are metal and plastic, blue and knobby at the knee, shin poles culminating abruptly in sneakers.
-Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post

An amputee since the age of six, I figure no one can question my bona fides. I’ve written about being an amp before, so I can hear you asking, Why the sudden interest? Lay it at the door of Peter Little, who last month formed a group called San Francisco Gay Amputees. I was surprised at the welter of emotions the group’s first meeting aroused in me.

The assertion by everyone else present that, for the most part, they do not feel disabled set me to thinking about the scarcity of amputees on BENT’s online discussion group, Disgaytalk, and among BENT’s contributing writers over the years. Could it be that gay amps, like gay Deaf men, identify as a group, maybe as a minority, certainly as a community of some kind, but not as disabled?

Looking for answers I came up with what I believe are two of the most provocative articles in the archive BENT has been amassing since 1999. For those readers who ask, “where’s the sex in BENT?” let me point you to Julio Moreno’s Orgasms in Our Ears. Writing with startling candor about sex and power, Julio draws connections between personal identity and the nature of political action:

But let's start with sex: I write because I'm curious about you, my crip brothers, and about myself. Since the self is such a convenient ground for exploration, let me start right here, with me. I have a cauterized nerve in my stump (it feels like a little finger or a small bone) that gives me a great deal of pleasurable sensation when I touch or stroke it. When someone else does it, when a lover or sex buddy plays with it, it drives me wild.

Learning to Look All Over Again combines two essays by Steven Sickles. Examining his own damaged body through the apparently unrelated lenses of weight training and artistic accomplishment, Steven charts the course of a self altered both physically and psychically:

I think I've come pretty far regarding my wounded self-image. I stopped wearing my pricey, largely ineffective, and ultimately pointless cosmetic prosthesis—the Rubber Hand. I even entertained the notion of selling it in a recent garage sale! I wanted to look like everyone else and for a year that rubber thing meant the world to me. I even wore it to go get the mail. Then, one day, as my surgeon and my prosthetist both predicted, I let go of it—completely. Well, there's a triumph.

Writing in different styles and from different vantage points, Moreno and Sickles weave together narratives we can read as essential parts of one larger gay amputee story. In doing so they give us at least partial answers to some of the questions Peter Little and I grappled with in a recent email exchange and, at least implicitly, raise a host of other question that the new members of San Francisco Gay Amputees might be thinking about.

Steven’s story, Julio’s story, Peter’s pioneering efforts to start a gay amp group, my curiosity about the divergence of interests and identities among amputees—all of these point to the difficulty of generalizing about the members of any group created by shared interests, and remind us that exploring what brings us together while allowing us to assert our uniqueness is one of the reasons BENT and San Francisco Gay Amputees exist.

Rounding out this selection of amputee stories from the Archive is an editorial of my own, Thank You, Mr. President, dating from January 2005, which, I regret to say, turns out to be more relevant today than when it was first published. What reminded me of it was Gene Weingarten’s October 23rd Washington Post profile of cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

For those of you who don’t read “Doonesbury,” you need to know that Trudeau sent his longtime character BD to Iraq, where he lost a leg in a grenade attack. In trying to decide how to develop such a controversial story line, Trudeau has become a passionate advocate for and a deeply personal observer of, in Weingarten’s words, “men with burns, men with gouges, men missing an arm, men missing a leg, men missing an arm and a leg, men missing an arm and both legs, men missing parts of their faces …”

In my editorial I speculated on George W. Bush’s skill as the top recruiter of potential BENT writers through his masterminding of what some of us have learned to call Operation Disability Storm. The Commander in Chief’s grim achievement is the ultimate reminder of how inescapably linked the personal and the political can be.

On the day I wrote this the American body count in Iraq had reached 103 for the month of October. The wounded (legless and otherwise) have not yet been tallied. How many Iraqis have died this month? Who can say?

© 2006 BENT
Photo by Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER

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Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of congenital anomalies. With John R. Killacky he edited Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and their Stories (Harrington Park Press), winner of a 2004 Lambda Literary Award. His writing has appeared in the James White Review, Fresh Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco, where he publishes and edits BENT.