I tore the envelope open and ashes flew out. I was startled and stunned. Looking in the envelope for explanation I found amongst the ashes bits of paper that had not been consumed by flames, looking at it, I saw that it was from my book, “I Contact: Sexuality and People With Intellectual Disabilities.” Gradually I realized that these were the ashes of my book, burnt.
I found taped to the outside, behind the address label a short letter telling me that I was a disgusting pervert, that I was sullying the innocence of the innocent and that I had no business working with people with disabilities, “God’s Forever Children.” I still remember that phrase.
Over the years similar things would happen to me. I have been called both the agent of Satan and a purveyor of pornography. And why? Because I believed that people with intellectual disabilities had the right to love and be loved, to fall head over heals for another person, to experience sexual intimacy. Things I still believe.
But, yesterday, I thought about the ashes and how they stained my fingers.
I was coming back from picking up lottery tickets, everyone in human services has to have a retirement plan, and zipping by a gathering spot under the escalators in a mall near my home. There are lots of places for people to sit, to talk, to eat, to have coffee. It’s often full and I often see a man with Down Syndrome, of about 30, sitting there. Always alone. Sometimes having a sandwich. Sometimes a coffee. Sometimes just sitting, quietly, watching the world.
We met once before, when he was surrounded by bullies on the street. I intruded into their harassment of him and, as cowards do, they fled. We have a nodding acquaintance. Sometimes we speak, but not often. We are simply fellow disabled people that share a community together. I believe he would watch out for me, and I know he know I would for him.
He’s always alone.
But yesterday, it was different. He wasn’t alone. He was sitting with a woman, who also had Down Syndrome, and they were talking over coffee. I smiled. I was pleased to see that he had friends in the area, I’ve never seen him but alone.
And then. She kissed him.
His arms went around her shoulders, and they held on for a few seconds.
“He loves her,” I thought to myself, followed immediately by, “and she loves him.”
They love each other.
The enormity of that still overwhelms me. Here they are two people with intellectual disabilities out together in the community. Out together as a couple. In love. This shouldn’t be surprising. This shouldn’t take my breath away, but it does.
Because I can feel the ashes, still, as if it was yesterday. I can feel them soil my fingers, pages that expressed a believe in love, burnt, spilling on the floor, puddling like the blood of prejudice around my feet.
And it is yesterday.
In many places.
For many people with intellectual disabilities.
And it shouldn’t be.
She kissed him. He loves her. What’s to fear in that?