Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Left Foot

Last week I almost became permanently disabled, and it wasn't an 'inspirational' moment; nope, actually, it was a pain in the ...foot.

It's all inextricably tied in with life, work and my creative writing, so bear with me if I get a bit tangled up.
On October 5, after seeing Lady Bunny's hilarious show, and while cycling to The SF Eagle for a photo shoot of local drag diva Moni Stat's 30th birthday party, I was riding through a notoriously dangerous intersection in south of Market, 9th and Harrison streets.

You may know it as the locale of The Stud. Next door are, or were, the offices of the Bay Area Reporter, where I worked off and on for my 21 years living in San Francisco. The funky former motel has been sold, and this week, the BAR fulltime staff has moved downtown to offices shared with the SF Examiner, SF Bay Guardian and SF Weekly. It's a partnership (not ownership) that will greatly benefit our venerable publication with expanded resources, distribution, and personally, a welcome change of setting.

Beware of 9th & Harrison
You see, while I may become nostalgic later, I'm glad to leave that office. That intersection of 9th and Harrison has a dark past. From our balcony at the office, usually on a Friday, the two one-way streets often confuse commuters who enter the city via the churning volley of two highway offramps. Confused by which direction to head for, drivers often crash. 

To make matters worse, the veering traffic makes crossing the street dangerous, and a sign clearly states that pedestrians should not cross 9th on the north side. But that doesn't stop stupid people –tourists, mostly– from stopping traffic and causing fender-benders as they jaywalk.

Mike Salinas and Jim Provenzano, NYC 2011
One serious accident with a pedestrian who wasn't jaywalking happened to then-BAR Editor Mike Salinas. Years before he died tragically in New York, Salinas was struck down by a speeding car at this intersection. He lost the use of his hand through months of physical therapy.

So I should have known to pull over and avoid this turning intersection. But that night, instead, I drove on in the straight/turning lane, and got sideswiped by a grey SUV. I took a tumble, traffic stopped, and a nice beary gentleman helped me up and handed me my tossed bike lock. I checked my injuries - a serious pair of elbow scrapes, and a dull pain in my left foot. 

After assuring the man that I was fine, I thanked myself for wearing my helmet, but shamed myself for not having worn a jacket, which would have absorbed the elbow scrape.

The staff at the Eagle were very helpful, and bandaged my arm. I continued to enjoy my evening at the bar, pointing out fun angles, a cute bartender and very hot gogo guy for photographer Georg Lester to document for upcoming issues of BARtab. A few beers dulled my pain, and I soon went home to rest.

I didn't feel anger, but more regret that one second of indecision messed up my body and my life for what's now been a week.

Oddly, the first thing I thought as I saw the asphalt street from the ground, sideways, was not my life passing before me, but 'Did we switch to our new healthcare plan yet?'

You see, as we made the transition in our company, we had made plans for a better healthcare deal. While the government was conducting its odious coup of Teahaggot Koch Brothers-funded rightwing treason. Shutting down the government over heathcare was on everyone's mind, and still is.

Fortunately, I was already in the Kaiser system, and a quiet Sunday visit to the sports injury clinic resulted in a very cost-efficient doctor visit and X-rays of my left foot. The attending doctor had made a mistake at first, the X-ray technician noted, by citing my injury as in my right foot. No, I knew the difference, but the forms had to be redone. So she asked me relax as she got the paperwork redone.

My left - and right - foot...feet
Lying on the examination table, I contemplated my foot, and my other shoed foot. Decades before, I had suffered a stress fracture in my right foot from a dance injury. I knew the difference between a sprain and a fracture. But having a healthcare plan that efficiently diagnosed that it was merely a sprain was a luxury many can't afford.

So, I've been trying to rest while still needing to get around. I took cabs for a few days, comparing the timeliness of arrivals for an upcoming BARtab article about car serves. My work seems to work its way into lots of daily activities.

Perhaps I should be relieved that the driver of the grey SUV didn't stop. I could have been attacked by the reckless driver for scratching his/her car. One can never tell with tempers flaring after an accident.

Similarly, I've narrowly avoided a few potential gay-bashing incidents over the years after enduring a few back in my New York City years in the1980s and early '90s. Part of that avoidance is accomplished not only from my years of wrestling (self-defense skills come in handy), but by not even walking down problematic streets. By cycling, once can avoid sidewalks altogether.

Not so for the Canadian man who was attacked in Nova Scotia. "Police said 27-year-old Scott Jones was airlifted to a Halifax hospital with critical injuries after being stabbed twice in the back and across his throat in a vicious attack in New Glasgow, N.S., reported the CBC.

Scott Jones
The attacker severed Jones’ spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, according to a family member. The stabbing took place as Jones and a companion walked home from a local lounge and eatery, where they had been with a group celebrating the opening of a local art gallery. The rest of the group was some distance away."

It's almost impossible for us non-disabled people to comprehend the life-changing agony of becoming disabled. But when it happens via anti-gay violence, it's really tragic. Unlike a car or bike accident, this was caused by homophobia. Is that an undeserving qualifier? That one way of becoming a paraplegic is worse than another?

A similar violent incident occurred to writer-editor Robert Drake. In January 1999, he was assaulted by several men while in Ireland. His brain injuries have left him unable to walk more than a few steps, and he lives in Philadelphia, still working on his motor skills and recovery.

Robert Drake in the film 'Where I Am'
Drake's assault and subsequent disability were overshadowed by the similar assault on Matthew Shepard, whose murder had occurred in Wyoming only months before. The recently released film Where I Am, about Drake's experience, won acclaim at recent film festivals. In the film, Drake returns to Ireland where his assault took place.

This capsule review gives the film high praise: "Juxtaposing lyrical imagery, particularly of the Sligo landscape, against a story of mindless brutality, Drynan mines a heartbreaking but life-affirming tale of pointless loss and hard-won redemption, the power of self respect and the complexity of forgiveness."

I'm not sure if I would be brave enough to do such a thing. My comparatively minor accident's locale is now history; gone, done. I always hated that intersection at my former office, and will probably do my best to avoid it altogether, now that I no longer work there.

It's documentaries like the story of Robert Drake that often touch me to the core, and make me question the validity of concocting fictional versions of stories about disabled LGBT people. Of course, having nearly completed my sequel to Every Time I Think of You, I'll continue to explore these serious issues in my own way.

Of course, my witty choice for a blog title refers to the classic Daniel Day-Lewis film, one of several Oscar-winning film portrayals of disability by an able-bodied actor. As I've focused on the portrayal of disabled people, the rarity of seeing LGB or T characters has become more closely observed and critiqued.

On Saturday, October 19: Superfest screened at the Women's Building. Lighthouse for the Blind and the Paul K. Longmore Institute hosted a screening of "The Dissies," scenes from some of the worst and most ridiculous depictions of disabled people in film history. (

Here's the Facebook Event Page for the Dissies.  And here's my own newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter's coverage of the event, written by James Patterson.

I've previously written blog posts about media portrayal of disabled people, both good and bad (Here, Here, Here and Here). But I'm very curious to find more depictions in the context of such a fun event that skewers some awful portrayals. Unfortunately, I missed this year's screening, due to another commitment.

Of course, the reality of being LGBT or Q and disabled is not as comedic as the Dissies event. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and LGBT History Month. Friday October 11, was National coming Out Day. So, of course, these two communities should share a certain affinity outside of the calendar coincidence, but more often they don't.

Victoria Brownworth is an award-winning author and columnist, and a contributor to the Bay Area Reporter. Her Lavender Tube column covers LGBT representation on TV. 

In a recent essay, Brownworth writes about coming out as disabled for The Advocate. In her revealing story, she shares the changes she was forced to make in her life as MS took its toll, in her life and writing career. But Brownworth also compares her personal experience with that of the more than 60 million Americans facing some form of disability:

Victoria Brownworth
"Ableism, like homophobia, is a thing. It pervades our entire society. The Americans With Disabilities Act is an unreliable farce, and those of us who are disabled — one in five — must battle with employers and landlords, doctors and health insurance companies to get what we need. We have to be activists whether we want to be or not, and yet all the while we must do our best to hide who we really are from those on whom we depend for survival.

"But if one in five of us is disabled, that means everyone knows someone with a disability. Every family has one of us, every workplace, every school, every friend. We are everywhere. But is disability addressed in any community — LGBT or any other — or are we shunted aside as much in 2013 as we were centuries ago, kept out of institutions by recent laws, but not by attitudes?"

For myself, in my very abrupt accident, I dodged a bullet, or more precisely, a bullet in the form of a speeding grey SUV and its careless driver, who deliberately drove off to avoid helping me.

Perhaps because disability is in my head a lot because of my fiction writing, I'm a bit more aware of the possibility of it becoming a real life event. For those who face it in real life, I hope their struggle is accurately portrayed in my fiction, and these blog posts. One thing for sure, I don't need another real-life scare to "inspire" me.

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