Before 40,000 in the BuffRecently, I had the temerity to appear on the cover of the disability magazine New Mobility buck naked. Since then, not a few agonized letters have come to the magazine, calling my display "trash," "disgusting," "ignorant," "pointless," "an embarrassment," "not suitable for children," and "for the wastebasket."
Many of us disabled are painfully ashamed of our bodies. I used to count myself in that number. It had to do with a society that shows only the perfect and the young, dressed or undressed, on television, in the newspapers, in the magazines. We disabled fret about offending people by exposing our unusual if not distinctive bodies, complete with whatever equipment we need to get about.
It's not that I regularly go about showing my nether regions to strangers, but it may have something to do with my hippy heritage. Starting in the 60s, some of us thought that disrobing was a novel way to overturn the political system --- revolution through revelation, so to speak. I joined in the unveiling, but not without some trepidation. The first time I took off everything and got in the communal hot-tub, I thought, "Now I've done it." I figured that after my friends saw me as I really was, they wouldn't love me any more. I was wrong. And now, as I get closer to the grave, I see this fear-of-exposure as neither necessary, nor good.
The fear that children will somehow be hurt by seeing a 67 year old crippled man sans gêne says a great deal about our society. The same kids we are so eager to protect have grown up watching all sorts of sexual humping (and humbug) in the comfort of their own homes everywhere on cable and the internet. Most probably, the moment our backs are turned, many are busy finding places on cable or on satellite or online where they can can see what they call "explicit material" --- things certainly far more startling than the bum of an old geeze like me.*
I did what I did for three reasons. First, it was fun. Second, it was a milestone for one of the first "disability" magazines. Finally, it was meant to prove that indeed, after all these years, with all that has happened to our bodies, there's nothing for the old and the disabled to be ashamed of. This is what we are. It's neither good nor bad. It's there. And I suspect that I have nothing to lose by letting others get a peep at what little I have left.
By the canon of the day, my body is no great shakes: it's no longer youthful; it's certainly not perfect. But, by god, it's my own, and I would be very foolish if I thought that it would harm the readers of a magazine who have seen (and gone through) far worse. The cover photo shows me with a flower on my fanny. One reader, the same one that called the picture "disgusting," misidentified it as "mistletoe." Had I been so subtle! Unfortunately, it was a mere flowering pickleweed - - - one of the few plants that can survive in this blighted area.
§ § § *If you insist of seeing me au naturel,
the most revealing shot can be found at
Back copies of the September 2000 issue
with an appropriately lurid picture of me on its cover
can be ordered from
The United Spinal Association
120-34 Queens Blvd. #320
Kew Gardens, NY 11415