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September 2001


Gene Pool


I don't see my younger and only brother very often. He and his wife live about as far from San Francisco as you can get while still in the Continental United States. Last month they stopped off for a brief visit on their way to a backpacking vacation somewhere out past Yosemite.

You know how when you bring up the subject of siblings the first thing people are likely to ask is, Do you look alike? Do Tom and I look alike? I'm 5' 8" and he's 5'11". My hair is straight, his is wiry. I've got my father's big German (maybe Jewish—it's a point of family contention) nose, while Tom's is the little nose that identifies everybody on my Mother's side of the family. The little Bavarian Potato Nose, I used to tease.

Still, everybody who knows us insists that we do look like brothers. Incontrovertibly. From my Crip Perspective, I see differences more profound than noses and hair. I'm talking about the fact that Tom, unlike me, has two feet and the requisite number of fingers. I tell him that he got the good body while I got all the irony, a remark I intend as ironic proof of my own ironic observation.

Does that sound a little hostile? How much is irony worth, after all? Would I give up the irony for the body? ("Would you be cured if you could be?" Well, I would.)

Maybe I'm harboring some resentment that I need to get in touch with. Or maybe it's nothing more than garden-variety disappointment. You see, I asked Tom some time ago if he would write something for BENT. While it's true that first-person cripfag narratives enjoy pride of place here, wouldn't it be valuable, I thought, wouldn't it be revealing, if a few ABs—siblings, parents, spouses—would write about life with . . . us. I don't recall reading many accounts of My Life with a Crip, and so far, still, I've had no takers for the assignment.

It was more than a year ago when I asked Tom if he would write something. He's not a writer by profession, but I know he's an unusually thoughtful guy and I know he writes well. In fact, the urge to get it all down on paper seems to be a defining characteristic of the men in our family. During the last year of his life, when he knew he was dying, our father would sit at the kitchen table every morning, while his wife slept, covering page after page of yellow foolscap. He wrote about his childhood during the Depression, about training his horse, "Glitter," when the US Army still seemed to think it was going to send the cavalry to war, but mostly he wrote about what happened once he got shipped overseas. About rescuing his buddies from snipers and getting blown out of a jeep and being the only survivor and ending up in a Stalag in the Schwarzwald for eight months and other dark stuff that nobody wanted to hear about for most of his life, even though it was the stuff that got him welcomed home as a genuine shot-up-hero with Silver Stars and Purple Hearts pinned to his chest. The war things he wrote about, I finally learned, were things he was deeply proud of and deeply ashamed of at the same time.

If Dad could write about all that, I figured, Tom would have no trouble with my "Life with a Crip" assignment. Piece of cake. Rolling off a log. And there he was at breakfast the first morning, a sitting duck—or at least a sitting brother—in my editorial clutches. (Yes, it's true. The shameless editor will stoop so low as to accost his own brother before coffee. Anything to get the story.) I thought I would soften him up by printing out a few of my more recent favorites, to show him that BENT is a webzine worthy of his efforts. A little prodding, a little encouragement, how could he refuse?

But when I popped the question again (after coffee, it's true), his answer surprised me. What he told me was that he didn't think he had anything to say, because growing up with me had seemed pretty ordinary. Ordinary?! Well, that floored me. I mean, here I am, your typical egocentric crip, sitting in the middle of my own angst and just assuming as Holy Writ that everybody else was wallowing in it with me.

Never easily defeated by someone else's sunny outlook, however, I prodded a little more. Hadn't his friends ever teased him about having a crip brother? I asked. Had he ever been embarrassed by me? No and no were the answers, but he did think he could remember Mom and Dad being worried about how to pay for all those operations and wooden legs. And he knew that Dad sometimes felt guilty for spending so much time with him instead of me—hunting, fishing, ball games—all those things I could not do and did not care to do. (Aha, the Fag Factor enters the picture. Do I recall feeling resentful because Dad was not sitting with me listening to opera LPs?).

Finally we were getting somewhere, I thought. After all, how much more significant can you get than financial anxiety coupled to paternal guilt. But no. That was it. Our conversation petered out just when I thought we had struck gold. Maybe I don't know how to ask the right questions. Maybe Tom is in denial. Maybe there isn't much there to obsess about after all—from his perspective.

I can't help thinking, though, that when you grow up disabled and gay it must have a profound influence on the whole Family Romance. Am I the only one who refused to speak to his father for twenty-seven years, who continues to feel a nagging sense of family estrangement?

But all families are different. Aren't they? Or is it just the details that are different? Now I'm really confused. I want to believe that finding out how everybody's emotions played themselves out in the family circle will help me understand myself (Nature vs. Nurture, and all that) and, by extension, help me understand what I'm continuing to try to do here at BENT.

Maybe that's far too ambitious a goal. I won't give up on offering my writing assignment to siblings, parents, and lovers, however. There's got to be somebody out there willing to spill the beans. I'll even open up the invitation by reversing the perspective, too, so if any of you cripfag readers want to take a crack at the assignment yourselves, all you need to do is let me know (

In the meantime, The Mysteries of the Gene Pool prevail. At least as far as I know.

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.

© 2001 BENT

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BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2001