Monday, April 20, 2015

Sneakers

Photo Description: Line drawing of a sneaker with the laces untied.
 Words.

Qualifiers.

Diminishers.

Words. Sneaky, sneaky words.

When I wrote the blog announcing that Joe and I had decided to get married, I did so with some trepidation. I know that some people reading this blog read it primarily for the disability aspect of my writing and that they are not so comfortable with the gay aspects of the blog. I remember back in the second year of my writing this that someone threatened to organize a boycott of my blog unless I agreed to write about any aspect of my life, or of disability, with exception of the 'gay stuff.' Well, I'm glad to say, that the boycott went nowhere and the support of my blog readers remained strong.

I'm finding an interesting phenomenon though, with words and with how people use words when they write to me, or speak to either Joe or me, about our upcoming nuptials. The use of the word 'gay' as a qualifier when talking to me about the wedding is a relative constant. Let me say it clearly, we aren't having a 'gay wedding' we are getting married. And we are getting married at a wedding. That we are gay is irrelevant to what the ceremony is and what the ceremony means. Using a term like 'gay wedding' or 'gay marriage' may sound to you like acceptance but to me it just sounds like prejudice wearing sneakers.

"I hear you and Joe are going to have a gay wedding!"

This sounds, and I think it intends to mean what it sounds like, as if we are having a different kind of ceremony with a different kind of result. It's not like a straight wedding which leads to a real marriage.

Joe and I have lived together for 46 years. Our relationship is imperfect, which makes it both fun and a struggle at the same time, and we are still working to get things right. We can still be difficult with each other. While we aren't shouters (any more) we can certainly be creative in the ways that we can communicate disagreement and displeasure. It's just a normal relationship between two people. It's not a 'gay relationship.'

So please.

Don't:

Qualify.

Or.

Diminish.

Our lives or our relationship.

Words can communicate so many things. And let me just say that sneaky bigotry is still bigotry. Sneaky prejudice is still prejudice and we notice.

We. Notice.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sigmond Freud To The Customer Service Desk Please!

I thought it was a battle to which the winner would be proclaimed 'the most polite.' That's what it seemed to be when the door opened. Some hapless fellow got there first and, noticing us coming, stood holding the door. We got there at the same time. Me in my wheelchair, her in her industrial strength running shoes. As we got there at the same time, I said, "Go ahead."

And then it started.

"No you go ahead."

"No you go ahead."

As we continued the emphasis began to change:

"No YOU go ahead."

"NO you Go ahead."

The poor guy at the door is looking helpless, he didn't know or how to intervene and get the two of us through the door.

I know I was being stubborn but I offered first. I like to be in a position where I can defer to another's needs. And besides that I OFFERED FIRST.

Finally, I go for a joke, "You know, I'm comfortably seated, this can go on for awhile."

Then she said, "But you have to go first, I'm supposed to help people like you. It's what's right."

I'm guessing she didn't mean 'morally right' but 'culturally right.' It's right in our culture for the non-disabled person to be the person that helps someone with a disability. It can't be right for a disabled person to be in the helping role - that would upset the apple cart and society would crumble into the abyss of equality. Who wants what that shit would bring?

"Well, then, I think I should let you go first because you are a woman." I thought this was the perfect rejoinder to show how silly this was.

She said, "Well, put that way, that makes sense."

And it ended. We were both through the door. The fellow who'd been holding the door said that he felt caught is some weird psychodrama.

Maybe he was right.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Annoyance, Identification and Empathy

Annoyance.

It's part of the experience of daily living for everyone. Everyone. And in many cases the annoyance is understood, people around are empathic, compassionate and supportive. I remember being in a store hearing a woman, upset that she had driven into the city to find that the section of the store she wanted to visit was under renovation, express herself and her annoyance clearly. The staff were apologetic, they made it known that they would feel that way too. In the end they all agreed that the situation was unfair. One clerk called around to where the customer could find similar products in a store nearby. It was resolved.

It wasn't resolved because of the store nearby but because the clerks there understood the frustration, identified with the woman's situation and communicated their acceptance of her annoyance as being real and the situation frustrating. It began with affirmation.

Affirmation.

The other day Joe and I decided that we wanted to go to a particular store to do some shopping on our drive from one city to the next. It was only a wee bit out of our way and I began my work day with the idea that I'd be doing something fun and relaxing before doing the drive to the next city. When the day was over, I got into the van, and we headed to the store. When I rolled in, I could see immediately that the section of the store that I wanted to shop in was the only section of the store that was up a flight of stairs. I could see that there was no elevator. I was disappointed. I had really looked forward to this.

I expressed my frustration, politely, to the clerk. She looked at me and said, "Yeah, well, that's the way it is." I felt slapped. No compassion. No empathy. No understanding. She stood there with her arms crossed looking from me to the stairs with a 'aren't you used to this by now,' look. Joe went upstairs, after hearing what I was looking for, and he and another, nicer, clerk, brought things down to me. This is not how I shop. I like to browse. Neither Joe or the woman helping really understood what I wanted, so I thanked the clerk who'd helped and we left.

At no point did either clerk show an understanding and appreciation for the source of my annoyance. At no point did they validate that, yeah, coming to a store, indeed coming out of my way to a store, and having the section be inaccessible would be annoying. More than annoying, it was isolating. Sitting at the bottom of stairs while people ran up and down bringing me what I didn't want. Sitting there feeling the mounting frustration of the clerk who brought me a selection of things I didn't want, like she expected me to buy something because she brought them. I work too hard for my money to be buying things to make clerks happy.

I sometimes wonder if people get annoyed with my annoyance because they can't, or won't , use empathy as part of their process of understanding. They could identify with a woman, who was 'like' them. Here the clerk couldn't identify with a person 'different' from them.

I wonder if a large part of prejudice is the inability or unwillingness to be empathic with a class of people that someone devalues. I wonder if the idea of empathy, which requires a degree of emotional identification, is terrifying at the least or sullying at the worst, is actually eschewed by those who simply can't accept the essential unifying humanity of an other, a lesser.

I don't know.

But, it would have gone a long way for me and my experience of the store.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Yowza

There is a certain kind of stamina required if you are going to lecture, travel, lecture, travel. I've been off the road for a few months, presenting only the occasional 'one off' conference here and there locally. Nebraska is breaking me in for the next few months when I'm travelling and speaking a lot. But YOWZA it's been a workout. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving every minute of it. I've had lovely audiences, great questions and terrific support, but YOWZA.

My blog hasn't been updated for a few days because when we finish a day, we get in a car and drive and by the time we get into the hotel, get food ordered, I'm just whacked. This isn't a bad thing though, in fact it feels very, very, good. It's that good tired that you get when you've worked hard, concentrated intensely and given it your all. So. I've been sleeping well.

On our way down, we drove so I could have my power chair, we stopped at a hotel and on checking in I was chatting with folks also in the line. They asked if I was going to the casino, I told them that I was getting to bed because I had to be up for a long drive the next day. One of them asked why I was going to Omaha, did I have family there? I said, that I was gong there for work.

A guy said, "Wow, good for you."

It seemed silly at the time. I knew he was being nice, but all the same it seemed silly.

But not now.

After all the YOWZA involved in a lecture tour, I take his comment as a compliment.

I always have a bit of a worry when I've not lectured like this for a couple of months. I worry that I won't have the energy, or the stamina, or the ability to do it. It's a deep worry. It's a worry that brings along with it a premonition of pain.

But.

I'm here.

I've one day to go.

Then I go home.

I'm tired. Good tired. And now the worry is gone, bring on Calgary, bring on Vancouver ... in fact bring 'em all on, I'm good to go.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Where Joe Gets Goosed!

Photo Description: A blue statue of a man's face with two hands, one on either side of the face forming chairs. Set in a park. Joe is sitting on one of the hands.
Joe and I spent a day in Omaha, We'd driven from Toronto to Omaha in two days, which is a gruelling drive and needed a day to relax before beginning work. We stayed right down town in Omaha and right next, or nearly next, to a wonderful walk along the water. It was shirtsleeve weather. The walk was made accessible by a set of switchback ramps on both ends. We strolled along the water, Joe stopping to rest on an odd statue. It looked like, I told him in a huff, the statue was grabbing his butt! And he liked it!

We were able to cross over the water via a cute little bridge. It was a really, really, nice way to spend some time. Sometimes, and I'll explain this, I simply feel blessed to be living as a disabled person at a time when public spaces like this are made to be wheelchair accessible. I know that non-disabled people may feel blessed by being able to walk along the water, but they probably don't feel blessed that they have access to it. I keep trying to remind myself to not feel grateful for what I should take for granted. But, I've not conquered that yet.

Later we went over to the Old Market area for lunch. There were several places we could choose, some because they had outdoor patios, some because they were in buildings built with a flat entrance but we chose to go to Stokes simply because of the ramp. The management of the restaurant built a lovely contraption with a terrific ramp up one side and stairs up the other, both leading to the FRONT DOOR. Once inside we were greeted with great decor and a warm welcome:

Photo Description: Reception area of Stokes Restaurant with their name in some of the metal work decorations with flow through the space.
The food was amazing, the staff were great, the environment, including the bathroom, was accessible. At one point I asked to speak to the manager. They always approach with a kind of worried expression, I'm guessing people are ticked more often than they are thankful so they anticipate the worst. I just told the nice man that I chose the restaurant because of the ramp. The ramp spoke of the intentionality of welcome, not the accident of access. I appreciated it, I wanted him to know and to pass it along to the owner.

It was so comfortable there that we lingered a bit over a final pot of tea for me and a beer that was brewed in Nebraska for Joe. It was a nice day. We roamed around a bit more, did some shopping, very little of the shopping was possible because the stores were, by an large, inaccessible. We ended with having a stop at 'The Max' for a drink and we watched Jeopardy with a few others, some surprisingly, and delightfully, competitive.

I'll have 'Nice Day' for a 1000 Alex!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Windmills


Photo Description: 9 rows of blue children's windmills placed in a park on grass, just coming green, in front of a tree coming into bud.
We checked into our hotel in Omaha and, as it was early enough, and as it was warm enough, went out for a stroll. We were pleasantly surprised that our hotel had a list of pubs in the Old Market area which included one LGBT spot. Right on Marriott! We made our way through town and found the pub which was both physically and attitudinally accessible. Right on 'The Max.' We were there long enough to wind down from the trip and, then, suddenly felt very tired. We said our goodbyes and left heading home a different way.

Joe noticed this glittering, madly whirling, installation of windmills. We crossed the street to see it. It was delightful. Really, really delightful. It was simple. It was joyful. Then I noticed the sign beside it. It said that April was Child Abuse Awareness month and then that powerful slogan, the one that brought me to tears the first time I saw it, "It shouldn't hurt to be a child." I looked back at the rows of windmills and now it seemed that their frenetic spinning might be an attempt to fly up and into the hands of a child who needed, just a little bit of, joy.

We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel quietly. We were tired, we'd done an eight and a half hour drive after all. But I was remembering. Remembering the time that I was called upon to measure and document a child's bruises. She had been beaten by her mother who had flown into a rage because this little girl had woken mom from a nap because she was hungry. I was given calipers so that I could get an exact measure. The child had an intellectual disability but the listlessness with which she greeted me and her frantic compliance to my requests to get a measure of the bruises which covered her arms, her lower legs, her right cheek, told me that she feared me, mistrusted me, and wanted to appease me so that I wouldn't hurt her further.

I took the paper, the one with the outline of the body and with instructions to draw the bruises on the outline indicating where violence had left it's mark. It's silly, I know, but I didn't want to bruise this paper child. I wanted, instead, for the hurt to stop. I've always been good at making up games, on the spot, for children. I didn't want the cold calipers to touch her skin until she saw them as something that could be fun. I managed to get her to measure other things in the room with them. Then, magically, the child began to emerge. She got silly with them, she wanted to measure her fingers, she wanted to measure my big, big nose. She giggled.

When I saw the child. Not the bruised and beaten little girl who had greeted me, but the child. The child who in forgetting the colours of pain on her body became unbruised, I wondered at how anyone could strike her, beat her. After the play, |I set about my work and got the drawing done. I got the bruises measured. The ones on her body, mind, not the ones on her heart, her mind or her soul. As I was leaving she asked if she could keep the toy for awhile, she wanted to measure some more things. I gave it over to her.

It shouldn't hurt to be a child.

It shouldn't hurt to be a child.

But it does sometimes.

And these windmills, twirling furiously in Omaha, are trying to stop it.

Are we?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Being and Becoming More Careful

It's a bit of comeuppance to be faced with your own biases and prejudices all in the space of a few minutes.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, my bigotry happened, unnoticed, at first and only edged slowly into my conciousness as we drove into the setting sun in Michigan. We'd stopped for a bathroom break somewhere at a Meijers store. After so many miles I can't remember where it was we stopped. But, we'd done our shopping and were in the checkout line up. A young man in his early twenties was shopping with his father. The young man was clearly an athlete, wearing basket ball shorts and an easy grin. As I glanced around we caught each other's gaze and he smiled and nodded. I did too.

I felt his natural superiority in that smile.

I caught the, intended or not, attitude of condescension

I resented him for it.

On the way out of the store, I caught the gaze of another fellow. He was sitting on a bench waiting for someone. He wore beige pants that had seen better decades, a tight white tee shirt stretched over his belly, and big, big, boots. His face was grizzled and his shock of white hair needed taming. He gave me a quick nod and smile. I noted and smiled back.

I felt the friendliness in his gesture.

I caught the, intended or not, attitude of welcome.

I was grateful to him for it.

These interactions were so natural and so simple that I never thought of them. But, as the drive wore on and I had nothing else to think about, we weren't chatting because the van was too full of the cries of Madama Butterfly, I began to think about the old fella in the store. As it happens my mind then flipped over to the same kind of greeting given to me by the handsome young athlete.

I judged them differently.

Because of what they looked like.

That's wrong. If anyone knows that it's wrong, it's me. My thoughts about that young man are mine, they do not have a direct impact on his life. Yeah, right. Bigots say things like that don't they?

I need to be careful.

I don't want to be, I don't want to become, someone I can't respect.