for this month's
tasteless crip humor, don't miss the very bottom of the page . .
FRIENDS ARE TO LEAN ON:
Your editor (third from left) on a research expedition.
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
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
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.
Don't go yet!!
It's CALLAHAN time . . .