Perpetual Fight – 3/11/2020

        

In November of 1981, during my senior year of high school, I was invited to participate in a somewhat unique social experiment.  Eight students from my school were chosen to attend a weeklong national high school summit in the mountains outside of San Francisco.  Our delegation comprised four physically challenged students, four able-bodied students, and a teacher. 

Unbeknownst to me, when we arrived at the conference location in Camp Jones Gulch, the seven other high school contingents also had four physically challenged and four able-bodied students. The camp had a main lodge, which doubled as a makeshift cafeteria, and ten cabins.  The name of this summit was entitled “Project Interdependence.”

The meals always came out of the kitchen cold.  The weather was overcast with sporadic rain all week that soaked us to the bone.  There was no heat in the cabins.  And, we had the time of our lives.

Shortly after our arrival, we were escorted into the lodge and sat in a semicircle near the stage. A few minutes later, a middle-aged man in a power wheelchair slowly made his way to the front of the stage.  There was a breathing tube by his mouth that ran down to a small oxygen tank attached underneath his chair.  I recognized instantly, by his forced body movements, that he didn’t have cerebral palsy—but another type of neuromuscular condition. 

As his caregiver lowered the microphone stand to his mouth, there were mumbles, and some giggles, amongst the students.  In that moment, I recall feeling anger towards the gigging teens.  Upon reflection, I suppose that in a way, I took their giggles as a personal insult.  My sentiment was that they were prejudging this man based solely upon appearances.  When I heard that level of disrespect emanating from them, it struck a chord inside of me.  I flashbacked to all of those times when I endured reactions that were derived from ignorance.

The emcee introduced this man in the power chair and oxygen apparatus as “Ed Roberts.”  The emcee went on to say that Mr. Roberts is a pioneer of the disabled advocacy movement.  As Mr. Roberts started speaking, one of the event organizers prompted the  audience to settle down.  I’ve got to admit that as he began orating the first thing that caught my attention wasn’t the content of what he was actually saying, but rather how he had to heave his torso in order to give enough oxygen to each word. 

To his credit, Mr. Roberts recognized that many kids in the audience had never interacted with a person in a wheelchair before.  So, he interrupted his speech, smiled, and told a joke.  All of us burst into laughter.  After he did that, the overall mood of the audience changed.  The mumbles and giggles were replaced by silence and intense focus as we were hanging onto every word.

He went on to give us a brief biography of his life and what circumstances propelled him to become a disabilities advocate.  For example, in 1957 as senior in high school he had completed all of the necessary classes for graduation.  But, a school administrator wanted to deny him a diploma based solely on the grounds that Roberts couldn’t complete the physical portion of the driver’s education class.  Eventually, Roberts took the school to court—and won. 

Later on, he had to endure the bigoted remarks of a U.C. Berkeley dean who wanted to deny Roberts entrance into the university.  The dean is quoted as saying, “We’ve tried cripples before and it didn’t work.”  After another self-advocacy skirmish, he not only gained entry, but went on to earn his Bachelors (1964) and Masters degrees (1966)—in political science—from that very university.  His admission to U.C. Berkeley, in 1962, paved the way for other students with severe disabilities to attend that school.  They formed a club called “The Rolling Quads.”

His inspiring oration set the tone for the rest of the week.  The kids broke up into teams of eight.  During the day, we participated in various activities.  One day, we went hiking on a dirt trail that transformed into mud due to a sudden downpour in the afternoon.  I remember pushing my manual wheelchair backwards, with my feet, and laughing at the unpredictable nature of life.  As I glanced at the other kids, all of them were making jokes about our circumstances.  By the time I got back to the cabin, my shoes were caked with mud and my body was waterlogged.

Another day, we did trust exercises.  One particular activity from that day will always stand out for me.  We did something that they called a Ropes Course.  We were in an area with tall Redwood trees.  Two ropes connected two trees that were approximately thirty feet apart.  The lower rope was ten feet high while the higher one was fourteen feet high.  The goal was to get from one tree to the other by rope.

Each person had to wear a safety harness and helmet.  Then, they would be hoisted to the ropes by the other seven people.  After watching the first two kids successfully cross, I decided to give it a try.  Since my variation of cerebral palsy only affects balance, I thought that my above average strength would allow me to move my hands along the top rope then drag my feet along the bottom rope. 

After being “geared up,” they hoisted me to the ropes until I had a firm grip on the top rope and my feet on the bottom one.  I took a quick look down at the now far away ground and all that previous false bravado washed away as I felt some moisture in the front of my undershorts.  I looked back up and began my journey.  Halfway into the walk across, I was doing good by focusing on one motion at a time. 

But, when I was about ten feet from the end, both of my feet slipped off the rope and I was hanging on by my hands.  My teammates quickly responded and pulled on their harness rope to hoist me back up.  At that moment, I gained confidence in them that they had my back.  With a new outlook, my once tentative steps became bold strides.  And, I made it to the other tree.

However, prior to each day’s activities, we would have a half-hour team meeting.  We would toss around different ideas on how to better integrate students with disabilities in the high school culture.  Our team came up with some great ideas.  And, I had a few of my own.  When that week ended, the event organizers urged us to apply what we discovered at the conference and try to implement them at our own schools.  With all of our fresh concepts in tow, and the optimism of youth, we set out to make complete cultural inclusiveness—for people with disabilities—a reality.

Well, let’s fast-forward four decades.  What has really changed between then and now.  Many people point to The Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A) as a magic bullet that leveled the playing field.  Don’t get me wrong, that now 30-year-old piece of legislation was a step in the right direction.  But, over the years, its original purpose—and effectiveness—has been deluded.  People who wouldn’t otherwise claim to be disabled, have successfully expanded the term “disabled” just to benefit from the ever expanding A.D.A. umbrella. 

Unfortunately, as a counterbalance to these A.D.A. abuses, at least two disturbing trends have emerged.  First, in the workplace, a recent hiring strategy amongst companies has emerged as a way to indirectly exclude candidates with disabilities.  Even when a job requires no lifting—such as data entry—employers are wording job requirements stating that potential candidates must be able to lift thirty pounds.  Second, in the schools, inclusive education—or mainstreaming—has been around for almost fifty years.  Yet, in many areas of the country, there’s still a resistance amongst school administrators to provide basic accommodations for differently-abled, but academically capable and competitive students. 

 The sad part is that these discriminatory tactics against people with disabilities are still happening four decades after I attended the Project Interdependence Summit.  Back then, as a teenager, I thought that the ideas coming out of that great week would inspire some great cultural transformation—silly kid! 

So, what’s the solution?  As unpopular as this may sound to my fellow disabled brothers and sisters, it’s up to us to perpetually advocate for our rights in all areas of society.  Because the unvarnished truth—when it comes to disability rights—is that many able-bodied folks will eventually regress to doing what’s convenient for them.  Yes, ableism does exist, it is a real obstacle.  But, at the same time, it would be naïve to expect the able-bodied population to become suddenly “enlightened.”

Moreover, at this juncture, we can never rely on A.D.A. to take the place of old-fashioned self-advocacy.  As the old saying goes, “Anything worth having in this world is always going to take hard work and struggle.”  So, no matter how tiring or frustrating it may be, the disabled community needs to continue to push and push and push for our full inclusion into American society.  If we are captains of our destiny, rather than mere passengers, full inclusiveness will come to pass. 

False Teachings – 1/9/2020

            Almost all of us want to do the right thing.  We have been told to be respectful, courteous, and understanding towards others.  And, for most of our day-to-day encounters, this task is accomplished without too much drama.  Sure, once in a while, we run across a difficult person who makes us angry—and provokes a knee-jerk response.  However, sooner or later, we return to our natural emotional state because being perpetually pissed off is unsustainable and unhealthy. 

            When encountering a child, our body language tries to appear open and our voice softens.  The overlying reason we act this way towards a youngster is because we have the presumption that they haven’t been hardened by the world yet.  Furthermore, due to their naivety of how the world works, and its dangers, children have parents who are supposed to be their guides to adulthood. 

With all that being said however, I need to discuss my number one pet peeve—infantilization.  The dictionary defines infantilization as: treating someone as a child in a way which denies their maturity in age or experienceIn other words, thismeans that even after a person has attained adulthood, some people still look upon that person as a child.  Now, I used to believe that I was the only one who experienced this form of disrespect.  But, as I speak about this subject to people in the disabled community, I’ve discovered that infantilization of people with disabilities is all too common.

            I’ll give you a typical example from my daily life.  One day, my friend and I were at a steakhouse and we called the food server over to take our orders.  The server was a college aged young woman.  Anyway, she took my friend’s order first without much fanfare.  Then, the theatrics began!  She turned to me with a goofy look on her face—giggled like an idiot—and oozed, “What does the little guy want to eat?”

            Now, when I was a kid, this kind of treatment still bothered me.  But, I rationalized that it would stop happening when I grew up.  However, much to my chagrin, I was wrong.  Sometimes when I’m a social function, there are scattered conversations going on and I observe how people interact with each other.  Everyone seems relaxed during their various chit chat sessions.  The verbal exchanges sound very natural and fluid.  But, when a person from one of these conversations comes over to talk to me, the whole dynamic changes.

            Usually, they’ll bend their knees, ever so slightly, and significantly alter the tone of voice.  Then, invariably their opening line doesn’t involve what’s happening at the function.  And, it isn’t a standard ice-breaker such as inquiring about my occupation or other interests.  No, unfortunately, more times than not, they want to know who takes care of me.  Or, do I need help finding the person who brought me?

            While I could give you a myriad of other examples where I’ve been subjugated to unintentional disrespect, I don’t want to turn this post into another anti-ableist rant.  There is a plethora of good bloggers who are tackling that issue.  But, if you’ll indulge me, what I’ll try to do is deconstruct the mindset of someone who may have unfounded predeterminations about disabled people.

            Before continuing, let me be very clear about essential point.  In no way, shape, or form do I excuse bigotry or ignorance.  Moreover, these two unsavory ingredients are key to making ableist stew.  But, in my half-century’s worth of experience dealing with many iterations of this topic, I believe that the best way to solve social or cultural misperceptions is by trying to figure out why people hold certain beliefs. 

            Within this context however, we must make a delineation between bigotry and ignorance.  Bigotry is having an unfounded, irrational, and sometimes hateful prejudice against a given subculture.  Ignorance involves making erroneous innocent assumptions about a given subculture due to a lack of experience with them.  For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus upon ignorance about disabled people.  Because I’ve only met two individuals who actually expressed vitriol towards me based solely on my cerebral palsy. 

            Various forms of the entertainment industry are complicit in promoting the “Tiny Tim” archetype to the public.  Going all the way back to the classic black and white movie, “A Christmas Carol,” to present day flicks such as the flaming piece of dung—“Me Before You.”  Movies with disabled characters in them advance the same false narrative.  The message is that it’s better to be dead than in a wheelchair.

            News Media also fans the flames of ignorance towards people with disabilities through their reporting.  When I see a news story—or feature—that centers upon a person with a disability, terms such as: “Confined to a wheelchair,” “Cerebral palsy victim,” “Courageous,” are often used to describe them.  What this type of language does is pre-condition viewers into believing that people with disabilities are less equal to everybody else.  And, it plants a seed in the overall cultural consciousness that people with disabilities should be thought of as innocent children who are incapable of acting responsibly or fending for themselves. 

            Unfortunately, the average non-disabled person is inundated with misinformation from these two types of media outlets.  Therefore, if the misinformation goes unchallenged, people begin to accept it as fact.  So, if they don’t have any prior personal experience with person with a disability, they are likely to accept media portrayals and apply them in broad strokes.  The entertainment industry and news media like to purport themselves as being on the cutting edge of social righteousness.  But, both conservative and progressive platforms continue to encourage the infantilization of people with disabilities. 

            One way to at least curtail this problem is to encourage young adults with disabilities to go into entertainment industry.  By becoming actors, producers, directors, or screenwriters the next generation of disabled pioneers can help flip the script by presenting more realistic stories and portrayals of people with disabilities. 

MOM – 12/25/2019

Depending on your background or experience this time of year can bring about a potluck of memories and emotions.  Some cherish reuniting with relatives and sharing stories.  Others, find their long, lost sense of wonder when they espy a child sitting on Santa’s lap.  But, if you’ve been around the block a few dozen times like I have, there’s a treasure trove of recollections to choose from—some good—some not so good.  Today, I’m going to share a couple Christmas memories with mom.

The first thing that you have to know about my mom is that her family was her heart and soul.  The level of commitment that she had for us was pretty amazing.  For example, despite having a significant hearing loss in both ears, she still managed to teach her three kids how to read using phonics.  She knew when it was time to advocate for us or when to tell us we were wrong.  She could’ve penned a bestseller on how to raise a well-balanced child.

The first Christmas memory that I wish to share was the first tradition between mom and me.  I guess starting when I turned five years old.  We would team up to make Christmas cookies for the family’s holiday dinner.  She would sit me at the kitchen table and put down a cutting board with wax paper on top.  Then, she’d knead some dough and use a rolling pin to flatten it out.   

Then, mom would place cookie cutters—with Christmas shapes—near my right hand.  There was a: reindeer, Santa Clause, tree, and elf.  I’d select a shape and she guided my unsteady little hand with her hand.  After the first round of cutting our first shape, she rolled the next batch of dough, and I chose a new shape.  We repeated this process until all of the shapes had been used.  At each stage, mom made me feel like I was a critical part of making our family’s Christmas a happy one. 

The second memory occurred in my twenties.  Mom loved to make multiple course Christmas dinners.  If I didn’t see her prepare and cook every dish with my own two eyes, I would’ve sworn that it had been professionally catered.  Before the rest of the family came, two tables were set up: the dinner table and one for appetizers.  Then, she utilized her kitchen appliances to their maximum potential.  On this particular year she: cooked ham, baked lasagna, made yams, garlic rolls, two kinds of salad, pumpkin spice cake, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple other things. 

Anyway, that year, I just got a new computer with a printer that could actually print in color!  Until that year, color printers were pretty rare.  So, mom had an idea to make a menu to hand each guest.  Then, I offered to do the menu on my PC and print it out.  She fell in love with the twist on her take.  And, before I knew it, I was typing up a dinner menu on my then state-of the art Intel 486 PC.  However, I didn’t tell her that I planned on color-coding the menu. 

When organizing the menu, I first divided food into their proper categories.  We had: snacks, appetizers, entrées, desserts, and drinks.  After formatting the design, I then highlighted each section and gave it a unique font color.  For example, snacks were in green, appetizers in blue and so on…  However, just as I finished, and started printing, our doorbell rang.  My brother and his girlfriend arrived early! 

Since mom had her hands full in the kitchen, dad and I had to let them in.  Upon reaching the front door, I heard my dot-matrix printer still chugging away in the background.  When my brother and his girlfriend entered, I tried to keep them occupied with idle chit-chat as long as possible.  Finally, when I couldn’t think of another word to say, there was a sudden silence in the other room!  The printing was finished!

Then, about fifteen minutes later, my sister arrived with two of her long-time friends—who were married.  Soon, everybody was mulling around the kitchen trying to steal a glance inside the simmering pots.  When mom playfully shooed them away, she directed them to form a line and go over to me.  There were quizzical looks at first, but they eventually formed a queue and I had crowd.  Then, one at a time, I handed out menus.  Their reactions caught me by surprise. 

I heard laughter but I also heard a couple of “WOWS!”  Mom turned her head and asked, “What’s going on?”  Then, my brother showed her his menu and her eyes got big.  She looked at me and smiled at me from her eyes and heart.  That special smile was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received! 

Touch: Pt. 3/3 – 12/10/2019

Three years after beginning monthly massages, that type of human touch experience became second nature to me. At that point, I was ready for the next step in my quest towards sensual nirvana—lap dances.  So, one of my friends drove me to a strip club an hour away from home. Upon entering, I saw nude and semi-nude young women twirling about on several poles. Then, we worked our way through the throng of vocally appreciative men. Finally, we seated ourselves at a stage and watched as each stripper teased and tantalized her admirers. In return, each man placed dollars on the stage. After each 10-minute performance each stripper walked around the stage to collect her tips.

After about six performances I was totally immersed into the scene. I noticed that some strippers seemed to have a favorite customer who they’d pay particular attention to during their act. Then, something unexpected happened to me. A dazzling college age blond, sporting piercing baby blue eyes, came prancing onto the stage wearing Catholic school girl attire: white ruffled blouse with rolled up sleeves and a mid-thigh length plaid skirt. Halfway through her performance, she strutted up to my part of the stage and made eye contact with me. She knelt down and ran her hands ever so slowly down my chest while smiling and licking her lips seductively. When her performance ended, she softly asked if I wanted a private lap dance. What do you think I said?

At that point, I really didn’t care that I’d have to shell out $40 for a three minute totally nude lap dance. I just wanted to go into that semi-private room, sit on the plush, red couch and have that nice, young lady sit and grind my crotch. After transferring from the wheelchair to the couch, my friend motioned for the lady to come in. As soon as my friend left, she began by quickly disrobing from her school girl outfit. Next, my eyes gazed upon a sight they’d never been fortunate enough to see in 39 years of existence, the female body in all its splendor!

My reaction must’ve given me away as a virgin. I felt like a kid who was visiting Disneyland for the first time. Sensing my now obvious stunted sexual growth, she proceeded to give me an impromptu female anatomy lesson. Then, she climbed my lap and we were facing each other while she reached down and stroked my manhood through my thin fleece pants. At the same time, she let me bury my face in her luscious C-cup breasts. She was thrilled that she caused such a reaction in me. Finally, she turned around and sat on me while making a slow, hard oscillating motion that sent my mind and senses soaring! That night, I had five separate lap dances with that young lady—you do the math! Upon reflection, I definitely feel that I got a bargain. Not just because of the sensual thrill, but also my fear that no woman would ever want to touch me was completely put to rest.

On top of a feeling of euphoria which lasted a few days, I also learned a valuable lesson. While seemingly obvious to anyone else, what I gleaned from my experience that night planted a thought in my head which has since completely changed how I view women. In younger years, I grew to think of females in my peer group as: unapproachable, aloof people who wouldn’t talk to any guy who she deemed unworthy of her time—let alone a guy in a wheelchair. In retrospect, I suppose, that some girls and women in an attempt to hide their insecurities, come across as elitist. The bottom line is that women are just like me: flawed, insecure human beings who are just trying to muddle through life.

A few months later, I was proud of the intimacy goals that I had accomplished but I was far from satisfied. In order to fulfill my desires completely I had to find a way to make love to a lady. A guy like me just can’t pick up women in bars or clubs. Moreover, some people may not like hearing this but there is a built-in prejudice in American culture that refuses to acknowledge the sexuality of people with disabilities.  Over the course of my lifetime, people have told me—to my face—that “people like me should be sterilized so we never have those nasty thoughts.”  So, I’ve come to realize that the topic of intimacy amongst disabled people is one of the last taboos in a culture that boasts about its increasing inclusivity.  

I knew that a half an hour away there were prostitutes walking up and down a main city street. However, I was leery of that scene which was rife with: STD’s, drug addicts, and under cover police women posing as prostitutes. Knowing that legal prostitution existed in Nevada, I searched the Internet for more information. I found that there were legal brothels scattered throughout the state. Since I visit Las Vegas once a year, I looked for the nearest Vegas area brothel. The closest one was 55 miles outside Vegas. Next, I found their website and posted my situation on the message board. Within a matter of hours, I received messages from three ladies. After two weeks of e-mailing all three ladies one emerged as a clear choice. I won’t use her real name here but for our purposes let’s call her Leslie.

A few weeks later my friend and I visited the brothel during our Vegas trip. I was as prepared as I could be. I was freshly showered and shaved with my credit card in tow. As we pulled into the driveway I noticed a disproportionately high number of disabled parking spots which made me suspect that they had a number of disabled clients. After rolling my chair up a long gentle sloping ramp, I rang the doorbell. About two minutes later, a middle-aged, distinguished looking lady opened the door wide and greeted us with a broad smile. I don’t know what I expected to see as I entered but I was pleasantly surprised. There was a cafeteria sized greeting room that had a: fireplace, luxurious sofas, sculptures, and paintings.

A few minutes later, Leslie came sauntering my way wearing only sexy lingerie. She was drop dead gorgeous! She personified a cross between an Amazonian princess and a Norwegian goddess: six feet tall, flowing red hair, legs that can make a man drool and snap him in half, well-proportioned breasts, firm abs, and mischievous eyes. When she greeted me, I could barely get my name out because I was in awe. Once in her room, I told her that I was hoping to spend two hours in her bed. She smiled and without changing her sweet tone informed me of her price. Now, I’m not a guy who gets shocked very easily. However, her quote nearly made my eyes roll in the back of my head! After informing her that there was no way that I could pay that amount, she asked me to negotiate. After some back and forth we settled on an arrangement we both could live with.

Before she undressed me, I handed her a one-page outline detailing my desires. Since I have impaired speech, I figured that this was the best way to ensure that I got everything I wanted to get from my time there. She had no trouble whatsoever undressing me. This leads me to believe that she has had disabled clients before and that made me feel at ease. The next two hours were like a dream. She treated me like a long treasured close male friend who needed comforting from life’s stresses. I’m happy to say, that in this rare instance, the actual encounter far exceeded the anticipation. When it was over, she dressed us both and before she opened the door I turned her around and gave her a big hug as I thanked her for giving me one of the top three highlights of my life. And yes, I finally received a very good sensual spanking!

Now, I visit a brothel once a year just to remind myself that I’m human and worthy of intimacy.

            For the most part, there has been a disconnect between the disabled community and mainstream society in regards to intimacy.  Sure, we’ve advocated for basic rights, and have had landmark laws passed such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.  However, while legal mandates may pave the way to social equality, you cannot legislate away deep-rooted ableist attitudes about treating people with disabilities as whole human beings.  And, yes, this encompasses all aspects of human touch.  Hopefully, we’re migrating towards the day when seeing disabled and inter-abled couples in public will be the norm—not the exception.

Touch: Pt. 2/3 – 11/26/2019

As the years wore on, yearnings for a romantic relationship slowly consumed more of my idle thoughts.  Christmas and Valentines Day were my low points.  Seeing couples kiss under the mistletoe, or watching a commercial of a guy giving chocolates to a lady, served as painful reminders of what I didn’t have.

At the start of each year, I vowed to create more social opportunities with women. Yet, no matter how many promises I broke to myself, or how my sexual frustration grew, I just was a yellow-bellied coward when it came to interacting with the opposite sex. The funny thing is that I had overcome obstacles which made this phobia pale in comparison. The core of my fear stemmed from how I would sound to a lady as soon as she heard me speak. Like an instant reaction upon suddenly opening a carton of spoiled milk, I feared getting that disapproving, befuddled, awkward gaze.

However, on my 36th birthday, I decided to have a life-changing experience. As my friend and I strolled through a local mall, we passed by a tanning salon. I stopped and read their services which were displayed in the window. Listed amongst them was a one-hour full body massage for $65. My friend asked me if I wanted a massage. Before I knew what happened, my friend made an appointment for me the next day.

A day later, I entered the salon full of anxiety and apprehension. I craved the touch of a female message therapist. But, I was worried that my nervousness would exacerbate my spasticity making a massage virtually impossible and really pissing her off. After a five-minute wait at the front desk, a short, fit, attractive blond woman came up to me and introduced herself as “Stina.”

I tried to shake her hand.  But, she firmly grasped my hand with both her hands, looked into my eyes, smiled, and softly told me to relax and not worry about my involuntary body movement. Then, before escorting me to a private room, she asked me if I wanted her to give a certain area special attention. After mulling it over, I informed her that because I sit in a wheelchair all day, my bottom gets sore and numb from lack of blood flow. While not a false statement, as you can no doubt ascertain by now, my motives behind this request weren’t totally asexual.

Before going further, I must provide some background on why I getting a massage gave me anxiety. Ever since experiencing mainstreaming in school, I have been a control freak. I thought that, given my condition in order for me to succeed in school, I had to keep on top of as many things as possible. This philosophy served me very well throughout my academic career. Unfortunately, over time, I became acutely sensitive to how others perceived my involuntary movement. Every time a group of strangers gathered around me, I would devote part of my consciousness to clenching my hands tightly together, so in case I became startled my perceptible movement would be minimal.

Therefore, when I was on the massage table for the first time, I went back to an old, bad habit. No matter what the therapist said, I truly believed that if I moved too much that she would refuse to work on me ever again. Also, she might spread the word to other therapists and blackball me from getting a massage from anybody ever again! I now realize that my thoughts were irrational but remember fear thrives upon ignorance.

During that first massage, I kept my boxer briefs on. Incredible shyness and immaturity around women prevented me from completely disrobing and letting go of old insecurities. All I could think about was how to not move around too much. Moreover, I needed to tense my hands in order to remain still, which defeats the whole purpose of a “relaxing” massage.

About halfway through, Stina did something completely unexpected.  She gave my bottom ten firm pats and a rub—also known as a “sensual spanking.”  After that, my body just surrendered to her strong, supple hands. During that last 30-minutes I found a wonderful psychological tool which I use now whenever I get stressed out—submission. As it applies to massages, it helps when I think of myself as a helpless little child being compassionately nurtured by a maternal woman.

            Yes, after all those years of trying to blend in and appear as “normal” as possible, did I finally discover my true path towards feeling comfortable with women?  The answer turned out to be realizing that no matter what I did, not everybody was going to be comfortable around me.  I had to accept the reality that I couldn’t change the world.  On the other hand, when I stopped overthinking about the consequences of a social misstep, I finally released the burden of trying to be perfect.  In part three, I’ll share how this personal discovery motivated me to make bolder strides in my quest for intimacy. 

Touch: Pt. 1/3 – 11/12/2019

Humans are innately social creatures. A strong part of each person’s identity stems from how we were nurtured by our parents and how successfully we assimilate into our assigned peer groups. For most people, this is a natural process; however, many disabled people fight a life-long uphill battle towards acceptance let alone full inclusion. But, let me emphasize that this dilemma isn’t simply an issue of discrimination! While a factor, discrimination is but one aspect of a very complicated problem. We won’t address this issue now. What we will address however, is one by-product of social disenfranchisement, human touch.

Yes, I said human touch. Like breathing in and out, most of us take human touch for granted. Most of us, myself included, were lucky enough to have at least one loving, nurturing parent. From our earliest bonding experiences with mom as an infant suckling her for nourishment; to, having her fix our boo-boo’s while consoling us; to, sitting on daddy’s lap, for better or worse our initial sense of worth is in large part defined by the quality of those experiences.

The other component is how we interacted with our siblings and friends. As anyone who has brothers and or sisters can attest, roughhousing is a part of life among siblings. Although roughhousing is borne from sibling rivalry which may initially stem from competition for mom’s attention and affection, nevertheless, we learn lessons from it. What feels good and what hurts. If roughhousing goes too far, we learn boundaries between fun and pain. We also begin to learn compassion. A child can’t be expected to sympathize with his brother writhing in pain until it’s his turn. That may not be the politically correct thing to say but from my experience I believe it to be true.

Heading into our teens, friends and peers greatly influence one’s sense of worth. Puberty is a bumpy, hazardous, transitional bridge from childhood to adulthood. Acne, body hair, body odor, first crush and subsequent first heartbreak, and more provide a veritable minefield for a developing adolescent. Whether in the form of a playful punch in the arm or pat on the back, teenage boys console each other through these masked acts of kindness. On the other hand, as far as expressing physical affection is concerned, teenage girls are culturally allowed to be more affectionate with each other through: hugs, kisses, and pajama party pillow fights. By engaging in these forms of welcome physical contact, one can feel connected to their peers at a time when others, who don’t forge bonds easily, are overwhelmed by this transitional phase.

Now, imagine being an adolescent, having a severe disability, and finding a peer group at a regular school. That was my task. Moreover, having spent my grades K thru eight in primarily schools for the disabled, I was suddenly thrust into a high school where I was the lone wheelchair student. Not only did I have trouble dealing with “regular students” but they seemed likewise hesitant in their encounters with me.

While I was there, my main objective was competing academically. However, on some level, I hoped to find a subgroup or clique that would look beyond my wheelchair and accept me into their fold. Finally, in the late stages of my junior year, a group of guys called the “Cowboys” took a liking to me for some reason. While this was a step in the right direction, what I secretly ached for was female companionship and touch.

Yes, whenever rolling through the quad invariably I would witness a girlfriend and boyfriend engaged in some sort of subconscious bonding ritual. Whether it was holding hands, kissing, or playfully spanking each other’s bottoms I envied their closeness. At the time, I felt myself particularly intrigued by the spanking activity. However, lack of social maturity prevented me from understanding why I secretly yearned for a girl to spank me with a smile. I discovered much later in life, among certain people, spanking by members of the opposite sex, releases “good feel” endorphins which trigger a pleasant, sensual, calming sensation, which given my perpetually high stress level, I was in dire need of.

As it turns out, my biggest obstacle to happiness is my own mind.  In the eighth grade, I got up the nerve to tell a girl in my class that I liked her.  She not only laughed at me, she said that “boys like me should be castrated soon as they know we’re not normal.”   For a number of years after that humiliating episode, I was mired in a logic trap of letting my C.P. and speech disability double team my desire to take a chance whenever a female seemed interested in me.

The two little devils on my left shoulder always muffled the little angel on the right. The guys on my left always told me that girls and women would both laugh at and mock me if I dared to venture outside my crip social stereotype. You know, equal but separate. With each passing year, my little angel increasingly influenced me ever so slightly. However, knowing what to do and having courage to follow through are two different issues.  In the next post my first tentative steps towards finally incorporating sensuality into my life at age 36.

PC Labels — 10/29/2019

There used to be a time when I could simply wheel down a sidewalk or be in a public area and not be harassed. Sure, my wheelchair and I always garnered predictable stares from children and stealthy glances from adults. However, by the time I’d reached my 18th birthday, I treated such rudeness as par for the gimp course. Then, beginning in the 1990’s, an insidious plague spread across America.

Political Correctness, or PC, disguised itself as a way for people from different ethnicities, sexual orientations, or “differing abilities” to comfortably interact.  By and large, PC labels were created for groups of people who have been persecuted or marginalized by society.  We know all the substitutions by now: “African American,” “LGBTQ+,” “Differently Abled,” etc… Unfortunately, PC turned out to be the quintessential example of a cultural Trojan horse. 

Whenever we run across someone who falls outside of what’s considered “normal” we quickly attach a corresponding PC label.  But, even with new-fangled branding, we still subconsciously package the old stereotypes with them. Moreover, until we begin treating each person as a unique entity–and not an embodiment of their subculture–nice sounding labels will never change anything. So, PC can be thought of as a cheap mascara applied to society’s blemishes for purposes of mass delusion.

During my 55 years on this planet, there have been many iterations of socially acceptable terms for a person with my condition.  I believe the sequence is as follows: gimp, crippled, handicapped, disabled, physically challenged, differently abled.  As an aside, “differently abled” is a very weak term because it describes practically everybody.

Do you know how exhausting it is for me to keep up with my latest label?  A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a stranger and I referred to myself as handicapped.  He quickly cut me off, with a petrified look on his face, and said that the word “handicapped” is offensive.  He said to use “physically challenged” instead.  Now, “physically challenged” has fallen out of favor for the latest label, “differently abled.” 

Personally, I use the word “handicapped” because—given my speech disability—it’s easier for me to pronounce.   PC has become an acceptable conduit for labeling. People who don’t fit a “norm” are labeled by people who do. Remember the saying, “Good intentions pave the road to hell.”? Well, here’s my real-life example.

My usual routine is to go to the gym in the morning, have a 90-minute workout, eat lunch out, and come home to write. I’ve been going to a local gym for three decades. Before the days of PC, I could exercise in peace and everything was great. But, these days, people in the gym feel empowered to walk up and label me as an “inspiration” or “courageous.”

At first, the conversations were based upon my, “physical challenge” or, my “racer” wheelchair or, comparably acceptable euphemistic prattling. As people became more emboldened, they’d walk over to my stationary bike, and pat me on the back, while admiring my “determination”, and telling me that they’d rather die than be “confined” to a wheelchair.

How the hell is that supposed to make me feel? Are they really complimenting me or, are they wondering why I don’t put my wheelchair on our nearby train tracks and wait for the next high-speed train to end my suffering?

To a degree, I suppose, how a person acts or responds in a given situation depends mainly upon two factors. First, if they lack essential knowledge surrounding a situation, their decision to avoid or engage rests primarily on each individual’s ability to interact with others.  Secondly, within a specific situational construct, previous experience, or lack thereof, determines whether they display aptitude or ignorance.

For example, from an ambulatory person’s perspective, encounters with people in wheelchairs are rare. To them, a “funny” off the cuff remark is useful in lightening a “downtrodden” disabled person’s perceived burden. An ambulatory person thinks he’s said something clever, witty, or uplifting. Unfortunately, to a disabled person’s ears, such remarks are akin to Chinese water torture because they’ve been heard countless times from other ambulatory do-gooders.

Now, I’m not trying to discourage ambulatory people from interacting with me. To the contrary, most of my friends aren’t wheelchair users. Additionally, I have had quite a few productive encounters and discussions with people of the walking ilk. All I’m saying is that when someone comes across a person who uses a wheelchair, they should interact with the human being behind the eyes, not their means of personal transportation.

In an odd way, attractive women suffer from a similar social typecasting. A woman can have degrees and professional certifications yet, if she’s wearing a tight fitting business suit the first thing that her male colleagues notice and, unfortunately, judge her by, are either her breasts or her bottom.

To a lay person, it may seem that I’m making much ado about nothing. So what if some people say stupid things to me? Why can’t I simply slough off these ignorant and insensitive comments and just move on with my life? After all, you may argue, each individual is responsible for their own self-esteem and identity. Shouldn’t I be grateful that people are finally trying to reach out to me?

While you might think these are valid points, I would like to present some current societal examples of how dangerous it is to allow ignorant statements to pervade a culture. We all have a father, uncle, or acquaintance—who grew up in an era before PC was in vogue—that delights the crowd with jokes based on racial or sexual stereotypes. All of these jokes are essentially passing down stereotypes from generation to generation.  Unfortunately, people laugh at these jokes not because they want to but because certain stereotypes are so ingrained in our cultural brain that even when we hear offensive humor our impulse is to laugh.

On the surface, these types of jokes seem innocent enough. However, at the root of every joke is a perceived truth. By and large, people aren’t innately cruel and vicious. Children are born innocent and accepting of everyone and everything. We learn to be: ableist, racist, and sexist.  Moreover, as long as conversations transfix upon a person’s: wheelchair, cane, guide-dog, attitudes towards disabled people will be slow to evolve.

Fortunately, over time, social constructs are dynamic not static.  The first step is to interact with the person, not their external packaging such as a wheelchair or other adaptive device.  Once this is accomplished, we can successfully build a bridge in order to organically transform society’s perception towards disabled people. Finally, if you meet a person in a wheelchair, and you want to know more about them, just strike up a conversation–about anything.     

Disabled Parking Blues – 10/15/2019

                                               

My friend and I went to the supermarket last Saturday. While attempting to maneuver our van through the crowded lot, we noticed that all nine disabled spots were taken. Since we live in a relatively small town, I know there’s a very sparse wheelchair population. During my 40 years of living here, I wheel past one of my comrades maybe thrice per annum. So, either a great influx of wheelchair users decided to make the trek just to buy produce from our supermarket, or there was a revolutionary new brand of wheelchair that was camouflaged so well that the user looked ambulatory.

Imagine for a moment if such a chair really did exist! No more putting up with awkward stares. No more having to explain how you “landed” in a wheelchair to every compassionate soul you met. Last, but not least, no more having to be called “courageous” or “brave” twice a day. Logically, however, I knew why the spaces were full.  Human nature was at fault.

Unfortunately, left to their own devices, most people will take advantage of a situation without regard for anyone else’s well-being.

Yes, I’m afraid that most ambulatory people don’t think twice about parking in a disabled spot. They don’t see the harm in parking there, just for a minute, to grab a quart of milk. Some go a step further.  They hang an illegally obtained or out of date disabled parking placard from their rear view mirror. They don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Compounding this sentiment is law enforcement’s seemingly lax attitude toward writing tickets for these violations. Tens of thousands of dollars in city revenue are lost per annum because of this oversight. Some people even have the audacity to argue that scooting in a wheelchair is easier than walking.

Our next best option was to find two empty parking spaces and use their combined width so my ramp could fully extend and provide enough room for the wheelchair to exit the van. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of single spaces available. Given no other options, my friend and I were forced to employ a risky alternative.

We parked halfway into a space so we could let the ramp extend and clear the back of the next car. A very risky proposition to say the least!  With half of our van sticking out in traffic, I went down the ramp as quickly as possible. Most of the other drivers understood our predicament and carefully drove around. Suddenly, a car sped into our aisle and instead of slowing down, the driver dangerously maneuvered around us.  As he hurried by, he honked his horn.

After I caught my breath, his utter stupidity made me chuckle. For some reason this moron thought that we were at fault because his speeding almost caused him to kill me. However, we were not out of the woods yet. We still had to walk behind a line of parked cars to reach the store.

There’s a trick that you learn when you’re in a wheelchair and you’re forced to wheel behind parked cars. You might think that I just can wheel behind them without a care in world. This, however, would be a tragic assumption. You see, when a driver looks in his rear view mirror, while backing up, typically he’s looking for an upright pedestrian. The problem is that I’m significantly lower than your average adult pedestrian.

A lot of drivers can’t see me either because I’m too low or they only do a cursory glance behind them. So, the onus falls to me to make sure that a car isn’t about to back out. The first trick that I learned was to listen for engine noise at each car I was about to pass. This worked for awhile but, then I found that some newer cars were very quiet.        Next, I began studying taillights to determine if a car was on the move. It seemed foolproof! Before a car backs out, its taillights light up. Again, this strategy worked until my wheelchair was tapped by a fender.

While wheeling in another lot one day, I carefully examined each car. As I was passing the back fender of an old VW bug, it backed into me! Fortunately, my chair took the brunt of the impact and still sports a scratch from the encounter. The young man driving the bug, to his credit, sprinted from his vehicle to see if I was okay. He had an absolutely horrified look on his face. After assuring him that I was fine, he apologized profusely until I told him that his family wouldn’t lose their home.

These days I employ my third, and hopefully last, strategy. I look to see if there’s anyone sitting in the driver’s seat.

Like everyone else, sometimes the minutia of my own life obscures the bigger picture. When we fall into the pattern of disregarding the needs of other people, we’re inviting them to reciprocate in kind. Disabled parking spaces exist so that people with physical challenges can safely transfer from their vehicle to a place of business. Society works best when people try to be compassionate and mindful of one another.

Lost Identity 10/1/2019

             From the outset of my consciousness as a human being, I’ve spent a good part of my time explaining myself to others. From inquisitive youngsters to curious retired doctors, it seems like I’ve performed my now perfected monologue thousands of times. The same questions always arise. What disease do you have? Can I catch it? Why can’t you walk? You talk funny, are you retarded? Are you going to die soon? Can they “fix” you?            

Just recently, I discovered a hidden impact that these questions had on how I viewed myself. By constantly explaining and justifying my right to exist to others, I denied myself the opportunity to examine who I was from the inside out. Whenever I told someone that: I had academic achievement awards or that my brain injury only affected my fine motor skills and so on, I was explaining who I wasn’t instead of truly engaging them with honest conversation which would reveal my true self.

Because I was in perpetual defense mode I never participated in what’s referred to as “small talk.” While strangers who meet in the street typically discuss superficial topics like the weather or sports, I never mastered that skill. Like a Pavlovian archetype I always felt compelled to recite my monologue even when I’m not asked about my disability.           

  I used to waste so much time and energy just defending my value to a society whose value system is myopically focused upon a person’s physical appearance. If we assume that this cultural construct as a given, people like me stand no chance of making a positive first impression. So, one might wonder, if I already knew that I couldn’t change anything; why did I attempt to sway opinions of ordinary people who would probably forget who I was ten seconds later? Wouldn’t I be better off just dismissing such ignorance and putting all of my energies towards accomplishing goals which I’ve set for myself? In theory, this seems like a simple thing to do. Doesn’t it?      

       Unfortunately, the nature of my particular disability doesn’t afford me the option to become a hermit or shrug off other’s opinions. I depend upon a host of people from my caregiver to social workers and doctors. Moreover, having to rely on so many people for my very existence doesn’t afford me the luxury of adopting a private person’s mindset. I can’t be open-minded to one group and flip an “off” switch to the public at large. No one has that kind of mental discipline. You’re either open-minded or close-minded, optimistic or pessimistic, extroverted or introverted, liberal or conservative; personality traits are an all or nothing proposition. Whether I like it or not, I’ll always stand out in a crowd and be objectified. While I can’t control how others see me however, I can control how I see myself.    

         Lately, mostly due to my discovery of Buddhism and its teachings, I’m starting to find my inner self, my true being. Among other things, Buddhism teaches one how to clear away all of the “mind clutter” by focusing on the simple act of breathing during meditation and nothing else. Through practice, I’m developing an ability to see things as they are, taking both extremes hope and fear out of the equation. On the surface this philosophy may not appear to provide much spiritual comfort. However, viewing events stripped bare of their emotional packaging doesn’t allow me to recede into a victim’s comfort zone.

Instead of cursing the fates when adversity comes along, now I either take action to deal with it or decide to let it run its course with as little emotional investment possible. I’m finding a new calmness, as well as compassion for others, through looking at life from the inside out. So, who am I? Well, I no longer define my being by defending who I’m not. I have stopped acting like a PR representative for a corporate polluter.

I’m beginning to engage people in real conversations about mundane day-to-day stuff like weather and sports. However, every once in a while I catch myself starting to break into my monologue–bad habits are hard to break. Now, when a youngster asks me a question that I’ve heard 10,000 times I try to have compassion. While, I may have indeed answered that question 10,000 times, from his perspective he’s only asked it once. If part of my path is to be a conduit for knowledge and enlightenment, who am I to joust at windmills?