Funny the World...


May 23, 2000

I’m mad.

I’m very mad.

I did a transport this morning for Breaking Barriers. The deal was I would pick up Joe, who is blind, and his friend (who is also blind), and take them to a conference on HIV issues as they concern the disabled community. I said I would wait until Joe finished his presentation (about an hour) and then drive him home again.

As it turned out, this was a conference for educators, and it was a panel discussion, with Joe as one of the panelists. I decided to sit in on the discussion. Two of the panelists were deaf, one had a speech impediment, and one was mentally challenged. Joe was the last person to speak. He is blind, wears two hearing aids, and has epilepsy.

The first woman spoke, through a sign language interpreter, about how she learned she was HIV+ two months after her husband was diagnosed and about how she had seen him through his disease and is now dealing with her own condition. She spoke about how her family disowned her on hearing that she was HIV+.

The mentally impaired man spoke and was eloquent in his description of the difficulties encountered by mentally impaired people, how he had received no information on HIV prior to his contracting the disease, and how difficult it was for him to get help now. He did proudly relate that he learned that it’s necessary to use condoms and that he uses them "almost all the time" now. He then became very emotional as he talked about being the only son in his family and how his family had "thrown him away" when they learned he was gay. He cried when he talked about the loneliness, about his outreach to his family, and how much he loved his family and that he couldn’t understand what he had done wrong.

Joe spoke last. This black man stood with dignity and talked of his blindness, his deafness, and the difficulties of getting information about HIV, since all the information printed in Braille is so outdated. He has difficulty taking the 32 pills he takes each day because he can’t find someone who can write the instructions in Braille for him. Someone asked him about his relationship with his family and he said he was one of 14 children and that his parents respected him as a gay man, but he left a lot unsaid. On the ride home, he elaborated a bit more. He has a brother with full blown AIDS, who got it as an IV drug user. He remarked bitterly that his brother’s illness was accepted, while his own HIV+ status was rejected because he had gotten it "the bad way."

It’s an amazing, incomprehensible thing to me that a parent could "throw away" a child because of illness or orientation. You throw away garbage; you don’t throw away your flesh and blood--especially not at a time when they most need you, when they are feeling lost and alone and scared.

I spoke with a gay friend of mine recently on the subject of family acceptance. He said "I once asked my mother if she was proud of me" (he is quite publicly respected in his field). He said, "she didn’t answer." I could see the pain in his eyes.

I understand that pain. My father threw me away as well. Not because I was gay (I’m not) or because I was ill (I’m not), but because I stood up to him once. I stood up for my child. And I paid for that act of defiance by being thrown away like so much garbage. At his funeral, his neighbors shunned me because of lies he had told about me. I understand my friend’s pain.

My father was good at tossing kids away. He’d thrown my sister away too, for pretty much the same reason. Two weeks later she was dead, a murder victim. He lived the rest of his life crying crocodile tears about how much he’d loved her. Where the hell was his love while she was living? ...or for his remaining daughter?

I’m wondering about the families of those folks at the conference today. When their child, their brother, their sister, finally dies of this disease--because it will kill them sooner or later--will they weep bitter tears and spend the rest of their lives tormented by "what if’s," the way my father was after my sister’s death.

I have two dead children. I know the pain of losing a child. One of my great comforts is that the last words I spoke to both of our sons the last time I saw each of them was "I love you," delivered with a big hug. That memory sustains me, and on good days, it even makes me smile to know that I loved those guys with all the love that was in me to give.

What a sad, sad state of affairs that some families think so little of their children, their brothers, or their sisters that knowledge of who that person really is could cause them to be tossed aside so easily.

To use the conservative Christian mantra: is that what Jesus would do?

I think not.

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created 5/23/00 by Bev Sykes