Stranger: Four of Five


Image description: A drawing of a shirt becoming yellow from a dark brown.

I had just done a workshop for self advocates that was difficult, emotionally draining, and, paradoxically wonderfully rewarding. I was tired. I sat in the lobby of the hotel while Joe went up to get the car keys to take me out for a drive. We were in Halifax and I just wanted to go to one of those spots where your breath is taken away by the sheer beauty of the place.

The reason I waited in the lobby was because I knew that if I went to the room, I would collapse on the bed and that would be it. I didn’t want that. I wanted beauty, I wanted quiet, I wanted to sit in the quiet embrace of my relationship with Joe. I had worn my yellow shirt for the first time that day. Many of you know the ‘yellow shirt’ story and I won’t tell it here. But it was the first time I’d sat in public wearing a shirt that was anything but dark. I had all the shades of dark, but dark was the overall theme.

Engrossed in my book, which I’d brought because I wanted to both do something and to send a message to others that I didn’t want to engage in conversation. The workshop really was draining, and I really was tired. Because I was reading, I didn’t see her coming. Suddenly there was a shadow over my book. I looked up and saw an elderly woman standing blocking the light. She reached over and touched my shoulder.

She said very quietly, “You shouldn’t wear yellow. We can see you when you wear yellow.”

I sat there stunned. I watched her walk away. She looked so frail. But as frail as she may have been, she had the ability to deliver a blow to my heart, my mind and my soul. I hurt. Really hurt. I suddenly felt stupid. Stupid because I had chosen to wear a shirt that was bright, that brought light into a room, that pointed an arrow at an outsized person.

When Joe came down I begged him to get me out of there right then. He did. I got in the car, slumped down, and we drove away.

That was many years ago.

Much has happened since then.

I had worn that shirt, then, in confidence. I believed that I had been mistaken, in my dark browns and blues, and that I could begin to move out of the shadows. I could take my place, take my space, where ever I was, whatever I was doing. I had been wrong.

I missed the step before confidence. I needed to begin wearing the yellow shirt, the light green shirt, the electric turquoise shirt, the soft lavender, in defiance. I needed to go out knowing that I would be more visible, more easily seen. I knew that I was making myself more of a target. I knew that in breaking convention, I was spitting in the eye of the beholder – and that sounded good to me.

There has been a credible threat against the pride march here in Toronto. I have been clearly stating that people with disabilities who rely on assistive devices to get around need to consider two risks. The first is the risk that everyone else faces, that there might be someone there wishing us more than harm, they are wishing us death. Like the eugenicists, they think we are better dead than gay. Without disabilities, you can clamber over the barriers set on the street to separate the crowd from those in the parade. People with disabilities, like me, will be trapped. Joe and I have talked this through and looked at what possible strategies might be. We have a couple, just in case.

I am wearing my yellow shirt.

Because I want to be seen.

I want my presence there noted.

Because, that lady in the lobby was right. They can see me when I wear yellow. The lady in the lobby was also wrong. She assumed that since they didn’t want to see me, I should grant their request. Fuck that. So let them see me. Clearly.

I’m here, I’m a queer on wheels. I’m a fat guy on parade. And that bright yellow shirt, it’s a shirt, not a target.

People need to get that. Those with guns, those with judgements, those with insults and those who would abuse me.

I’ve thought about it a lot since that stranger approached me in the lobby. I think I’ve learned from it. Here’s what I want her to know:

It’s a shirt.

Not a target.

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