David-Elijah Nahmod is a film critic and reporter in San Francisco. His articles appear regularly in The Bay Area Reporter, South Florida Gay News and Hoodline.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been physically disabled, unable to leave my apartment by myself. I’ve been using a walker for mobility–I’m hoping that my doctor will allow me to switch to a cane sometime next week. A physical therapist comes over three times a week to help me get my bad leg back into shape. I have an orthopedic chair in my shower stall as I can only stand on my own for a few seconds at a time. Stairs are particularly dangerous for me.
I can dress myself each morning. I have a long pole with a claw at its far end–I use this contraption to slip into my jeans and socks since my knee does not yet bend far enough for me to put my clothes on the “normal” way. My neighbor, bless her heart, has come in a few times to vacuum my apartment and clean out my cat’s litter box. She’s even done my laundry, since such activities are, at the moment, physically impossible for me.
My doctor signed me up for Para-Transit services so I can get to his office for our appointments and to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. I’ve had friends with cars take to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, where I use an electric scooter which the store provides–I wouldn’t dare try walking up and down the store aisles in my current physical state.
This is the aftermath of full knee replacement surgery. I expect I’ll be like this for another two months or so until I’m fully recovered. Being physically disabled been an educational experience like no other.
I have physically disabled friends and I’ve always strived to be sensitive to their needs. But I’ve never before had a true understanding of what their lives are like. Losing the ability to perform mundane, everyday tasks, albeit temporarily, is a sobering reminder of one’s mortality.
Being disabled has made me think about other things, such as compassion for others. I’ve been meditating quite a bit in recent days on how we as human beings should be treating each other, particularly in the gay community.
A few nights ago I ended a friendship with a man I’ve known on and off since the 1980s. He is well aware of my current physical state and has a car. When I asked if he could drive me to the store, he declined.
“I’m sorry honey, I can’t,” he said. “I have a Grindr hookup.”
Actually, I don’t begrudge him the Grindr date. While I’ve never logged on to the popular dating app, I’ve had more than my fair share of pick-ups/one night stands in bars. Nothing wrong with anyone doing that. But I could not imagine telling a sick or disabled friend “I can’t help you out because I need to get laid.” What kind of a person does such a thing?
This person, who is a gay man, felt no shame about saying such a horrendous thing because he’s part of a community which has steadfastly refused to stigmatize such behavior.
Unfortunately in the gay community–note that I said gay, not LGBT–this kind of selfish hedonism has long been considered acceptable. We as gay men have never cared about each other. We have never had each other’s backs. Fifty years after The Boys in the Band our cruelty towards each other remains at the very front and center of our culture. In addition to thinking about my body’s mortality, I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about this.
Every afternoon since getting home from the hospital I’ve been getting a free meal delivered to my door from Project Open Hand, a locally run non-profit which serves meals to physically disabled LGBT people or people suffering from chronic HIV-related health issues. I’m in Project Open Hand’s temporary program for people recovering from surgery. These meals and the cheerful college age kids who deliver them have reminded me that there are good people in our community.
In a few months, I’ll be fully recovered. With the return of my mobility comes a desire to pay it forward to those who’ve been kind to me while I’m down and out. As soon as I can I’ll be attending a volunteer orientation meeting at Project Open Hand. I’d like to deliver meals to people for whom recovery is not an option.
This is the kind of community I want to be part of.