Being different has never been a good thing in human history. From witches to Jews, if you’re different you’re likely to get persecuted at some point. For some reason, humans just don’t feel that comfortable around anything that’s too different. There is of course the rare person here or there who is the exact opposite, but in general this is the case.
And this is exactly why I’ve always felt a kindred connection with gays. After breaking my neck, I got a crash course in what it’s like to be different. From being taunted to ignored in high school to being stared in public, when you’re different and everybody knows it, there’s not much you can do about it. It’s there, is obvious, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Just like a birthmark.
While wallowing in my unhappiness in my early years of being paralyzed, I went to rehab in the city, leaving my suburban home where I grew up, and finally met some really cool people…who just happened to be gay. It was incredibly happy-inducing at the time. I felt like I finally met people who could see past my disability because they too understood what it’s like to be different. They may not had been in a wheelchair, but they knew what it’s like to not fit in in a pretty hardcore way.
I remember my first experience with a gay man. He was a PCA at the rehab center I was staying at, and he was assigned to help me get out of bed one morning. I can’t tell you how happy he made me feel. He did my hair, he made me feel beautiful and not once did I feel like he was jealous of me; something so often you can sense from hanging around other women.
After he left, I remember I was happier that morning than I had been in a while. His levity, his positivity, his quips, he treated me like anybody else because he knew I needed a pick me up. Of course anyone could’ve figured that one out, but he did it in a way that didn’t seem condescending. I had not had that kind of social interaction with anyone since my injury. Granted, I had been subjected to hanging around ignorant high school kids before meeting him so almost any positive social interaction would’ve made me feel that way, but there was something very special about him.
There is certain kindred-ness that happens when you share a moment with someone who understands. It can be quite joyful if it’s real. And so after that encounter, I went off to college and embraced gays wherever I could because I knew they would accept me and I of course would accept them. From a gay check-out person to a gay person at a house party, they consistently embraced me at every turn. I didn’t have to worry about making them uncomfortable simply because I could tell my wheelchair really didn’t phase them. They know the misfit-bond all too well.
When you’re both down-trodden and know what it’s like to be such, I don’t care how different your differences are, when you know what it’s like to be truly different, there’s a bond there that can never be broken. And this is why this past weekend, with Pride weekend in full effect, I was at my usual place along the parade route, cheering and supporting everyone who walked by. I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years.
I may not be gay in the slightest, but that parade makes me feel proud just the same. To see any minority group celebrating who they are instead of silently wishing they were like everybody else makes my heart swell with understanding. This is a struggle every person with a disability knows intimately. We wish we could look or be like everyone else. Oh how easier that’d be, we think. And then another wave comes – the embracing of our misfitness. And that’s what the parades get awesome.
See, our differences as humans are always more alike than we realize.
Have you felt a kindred spirit with gays as a person with a disability?