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FRIENDS ARE TO LEAN ON:
Your editor (third from left) on a research expedition.

November 2000

POLITICS AS USUAL?

A deaf gay student is murdered at Gallaudet University on a campus where homophobia is rank, gay students claim. Nike runs an advertisement that characterizes disabled people as "drooling and misshapen husks roaming the earth in motorized wheelchairs." Both topics incite an often mean-spirited discussion over activism vs. apathy on Disgaytalk, BENT's online discussion group. I receive an avalanche of emails from gay friends and disabled friends telling me, in detail, why I must vote for Ralph Nader. I receive an avalanche of emails from gay friends and disabled friends telling me, in detail, why I must, under no circumstances, vote for Ralph Nader.

Politics as usual? Then why do I feel so oppressed by all of this?

I think my reaction has to do with the conflict between our public and private selves, the tension that often seems to pull us into internal warring camps. I suspect that that tension is more extreme when disability and queerness are the twin cornerstones of our personalities. Inhabiting a world where we are often made unwelcome at best, threatened (or, in truth, destroyed) at worst, it's no wonder we act tentatively, feel at risk, express gratitude for what should be ours without thanks, defer unduly to authority. And then, made aware of our own behavior, we're overcome with anger at ourselves and the circumstances and people that have provoked it.

Am I paranoid? The historical record suggests otherwise. "Paragraph 175," reviewed in this issue, details the Nazi oppression of gay Germans, while Sandy O'Neil's article, "Useless Eaters," describes how National Socialism used the mass murder of disabled people as a warmup for the Final Solution.

Am I guilty of generalizing from my own experience? Read Chris Hewitt's "Sticks & Stones," and Ray Aguilera's "Café Lady" for up-to-the-minute confirmation that Nike's view of us as "drooling, misshapen husks" is merely an extreme expression of how, after all this time and all this progress, the world still sees us.

It strikes me as no exaggeration at all, therefore, to draw a direct connection between the kind of affront perpetrated by Nike and what happened at Gallaudet. Nike paints a picture of derision. The existence of their mocking canvas encourages others to smear it with violence. The murder of another gay man becomes another smear of paint on that canvas, while disability-as-a-joke makes Nike and its ad agency just a little richer, rich enough to commission more distorted canvases. That's politics and that's personal.

How do we move beyond our individual feelings of annihilation and rage to collective action? How do we transform the personal into the political? That's the challenge. The first step may be the hardest: Recognizing the connection.

© 2000 BENT

Bob Guter
Editor

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.

 

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BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2000