Bil Browning

A heartfelt apology

Filed By Bil Browning | March 03, 2008 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Site News
Tags: make an apology, offending, people with disabilities, PWD

I owe an apology to our readers and I'd like to offer it now. I'm sorry that I was an ass. I didn't mean to and it was callous of me. I stand corrected. I should have known better and I'm embarrassed about my mistake.

Where is this coming from? I got this letter from reader David in the ole inbox this morning...

First of all, congratulations to you and everyone at Bilerico for your recent rise to national attention! It warms my heart to see such a great voice for GLBT issues, especially eminating from my home state, a "Red" state.

I'm originally from Indiana (born in Lafayette), and moved to the Boston area in 1965. I have been a GLBT activist since 1970... In 1986 I became disabled and so have quite naturally drifted into being a disability advocate. While there are a few issues of disagreement, it seems to me that the GLBT and PWD (People with disabilities) communities have many of the same civil rights issues. It has been gratifying for me to see, in general, a lot of acceptance, understanding, and cooperation between the two communities -- which underscores my feelings that they ought to be natural allies. My years in the GLBT community have helped me personally to understand disability as a diversity, justice, and civil rights issue just like GLBT stuff, and I have seen the way our society uses language in perjorative ways -- even sometimes using the proper terms but in hateful ways.

So, as proud as I am of being from Bilerico country, it recently has been a bit embarrassing to read postings on disability e-lists that refer to your recent comments on Bilerico in which you use disability terms in a perjorative way (I'm referring to your recent posting on Ted Haggard.) I don't know you or your writing style well enough to understand whether you were serious or joking, but in either case several posters on other e-lists found your words very insulting and disrespectful of PWD's (as did I). Some folks have the impression that you are at least not comfortable around disabled people, and at worst have a very negative regard for PWD's and our worth and rights as human beings.

I went and looked at the post and noticed the comments taking me to task for my insensitivity. I hadn't been paying attention when they came in and didn't notice the comments. That doesn't, however, excuse my behavior. David is right. It is embarrassing. I shouldn't have been so thoughtless.

To help rectify my mistake, I'd like to share something that I've never written about before in a blog post. I'd like to address the highlighted part of the above e-mail because David is right, it's something that I struggle with. I'm not very comfortable around some disabled people.

Mostly because I'm disabled myself and I'm not comfortable with that.

I've never really said anything about this on the blog, but I have mentioned it in a couple comment threads. I'm bipolar. Sometimes my brain backfires and things get difficult. I was diagnosed about four years ago after a major mania that scared the bejesus out of me. I don't think I have ever been so scared or ashamed of myself for mood swings and emotions that I knew weren't normal but couldn't stop.

I ended up on disability and there have been times that I've struggled. I've had to make some concessions, of course. Alex and Michael already knew and have covered for me here on the blog when I needed it. A few of the contributors knew too, so my support system on the site has been spectacular. Yet, I've not only never really mentioned it in a post, I've deliberately avoided it like the plague.

I don't want to be seen as anything other than on target and at my best - never crazy and therefore untrustworthy. Bipolar disorder is my Achilles heel. I'm not comfortable with it. I don't like it. I hide it. To quote Terrance:

...too many people see mental health problems as moral or character failings, and Americans have a almost pathological desire to separate the "lambs" from the "goats"

Hell, I heard through the grapevine in the past couple of weeks that a former employer of mine told a friend who mentioned me, "Oh? Has he had his meds lately?" By digging at my mental illness, he tried to undercut me personally and professionally. Despicable and cowardly? Yes. Common? Oh yeah.

I am just guilty. I judge myself according to these standards. Am I crazy today? Should I triple-check everything to make sure I don't look stupid? Maybe I need to stay home since I'm talking a little fast or my finger is twitching because of my meds? I'm either "on" or I'm not in my world. Perfect or not. Positive or negative.

Whenever I notice someone on a blog say something like "He's off his meds," I get slightly offended. I've written friends about something they've said on their own blogs that was rather rude and when I could be anonymous I've left comments on other blogs about thoughtless statements. I still get hurt by small things that people say when they don't know I'm bipolar - because I try to hide that part of me.

I can completely see how my joke would offend others. I was an ass for not thinking that someone who is blind, short or has a cleft palette would - understandably - be pissed off at my glib word choice.

Forgive me, my friends.

Thanks for holding me accountable. As a disabled person, I appreciate it even if I won't usually admit it.


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Bil, it takes a lot of courage to face your issues publicly. By doing so, so honestly, you will allow many others to face theirs.

Some day this society will stop treating people they perceive to be "different", differently, and begin to accept that we are all different.

Glad you have support, it is soooooo important. I am beginning to believe that you only learn who your true friends when you go through a health crisis.

Thanks for all you do with this blog! It is in my "must read"s daily
Cris

Janis Walters | March 3, 2008 9:41 AM

Bil, thanks for your honesty and for sharing the part of you that we perhaps have not known or needed to know. I had not noticed or been offended by any comments about PWD's.

I choose to keep my disability in the closet and only share when I feel it is appropriate. Having let the L and T parts of me out of the closet was difficult enough.

I hope David accepts your apology. I respect you even more for your integrity. Keep up the great work here at Bilerico.

Love & Peace,
Janis

Bil, you will always have my love.

David and Bill,

Thanks for bringing accessibility of our communities, our movement and our blogosphere out of a deep dark closet! We need more honest conversations and owning of our own ableist attitudes. At Creating Change this year, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force worked closely with a committee of people to make the event ever-more accessible to all. It wasn't perfect. Accessibility is a constant struggle, but it is well worth all of our energies and time that we put into the project. Our places and spaces need to be open to all of us, every one of us.

Let's keep talking, people!

Sue Hyde

I've been less than sensitive to other people's mental health challenges in the past; listening to what others go through is definitely an awareness building exercise for me.

I'm glad you've written about this, Bil. Talking about mental illness openly breaks down the stigma and makes it less difficult for people to assign blame for something that you definitely deserve support for, rather than recrimination and cattiness.

Bil -

Thanks so much for your apology - admitting a mistake, especially one that changes a point of view, is incredibly refreshing in a world where shameless sham is commonplace.

Thanks also for the depths of your honesty. I hope you find it freeing and an important contribution to our larger conversation. And I do not say this lightly. A friend of mine committed suicide because he was so ashamed of being bipolar and ashamed of having to take medication to control his moods and behavior. He felt perpetually unsettled.

But mental health is only one aspect of a range of disabilities issues, as Sue pointed out.

There are several points politically where the LGBT movement intersects with the Disability movement - aside from supporting full equal rights.

Consider those left disabled by a vicious hate crime - such a Trev Broudy here in West Hollywood. Trev was a successful voice-over artist who was beaten so viciously, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and can no longer read and has difficultly remembering things. We don't really talk about that when discussing hate crime laws.

And what about our wounded LGBT soldiers doubly impacted by an injury suffered on the battlefield as well as having to keep their sexual orientation secret so as not to be discharged and possibly lose their health benefits. Perhaps we should start including that - and how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder effects us - when talking about repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

So you and David have raised a number of important issues that belong in our political and daily dialogue. Thank you.

Karen O.


Disability is def something we need to talk about more. Thanks for bringing it out there, Bil.

As someone who also struggles with mental illness and is currently fighting to get disability, I appreciate this post. I spend most of my time alone and the web is one of the few places I go because I can be relatively anonymous and I don't usually have to let people know about my "weaknesses". As with being gay, visibility is important in helping people feel less alone and your post did just that for me.

Michael Bedwell | March 3, 2008 2:13 PM

Bravo.

"I was walking down 42nd street one day....NOOOO! I wasn't WORKIN' 42nd street I was WALKIN' 42nd street! And this amazing thing happened to me. It was July, it was about 89 degrees. It was hot, hot for New York, you know, and I was walking east and this humungous person was coming west.

And she had this big blue house dress on peppered all over with little white daisies. She was almost bald but sitting on top of her head, forehead, you know, on her forehead was this fried egg. Which I thought was really unusual. Because in New York City the ladies with the fried eggs on their heads don't generally come out until September or October, you know.

Here was this lady, this demented lady with a little fried egg on her head in the middle of July. God what a sight! And ever, ever since I saw that lady not one day goes by that I don't think of her and I say to myself, 'Oh God, don't let me wake up tomorrow and want to put a fried egg on my forehead! Oh God'.

Then I say real fast, I say, 'Oh God, if by chance I should wind up with a fried egg on my forehead'—cause sometimes you can't help those things you know, you can't—I say 'if I should wind up with a fried egg on my forehead—don't let anybody notice'.

And then I say real fast after that, 'And if they do notice that I'm carrying something that, that's not quite right and they want to talk about it—let 'em talk about it but don't let 'em talk so I can hear. I don't want to hear'.

Cause the truth about fried eggs....you can call it a fried egg....you can call it anything you like......but everybody gets one.

Some people they wear 'em on the outside.

And some people they wear 'em on the inside.”

- Bette Midler, Live At Last tour.

It was kind of a tacky comment. I don't believe it was made with any malice. OOPS! It was very big of Bill to admit his mistake

Things like this get harder all the time, there is always somebody, someplace that will be offended by something that is said.

Thanks for the compliments on the blog, my friends. I got Sue Hyde to comment? I've achieved Nirvana! *grins* (Sue is in charge of coordinating Creating Change, for those who don't know - that's one HECKUVA job!)

One small shoutout to Steph who actually was one of my friends who made a small comment that irked me. When I pointed it out to her, she automatically "got" it. No one else I've ever talked to about an issue like this has grasped it as quickly as she did. I love her even more for that.

A friend of mine committed suicide because he was so ashamed of being bipolar and ashamed of having to take medication to control his moods and behavior. He felt perpetually unsettled.

I've been there, Karen. Feeling "perpetually unsettled" is a good way to describe it. Sometimes I think if I hadn't had my first real mania at 30, maybe I'd have been able to adjust better, but you never know what life will throw at you.

I spend most of my time alone and the web is one of the few places I go because I can be relatively anonymous and I don't usually have to let people know about my "weaknesses"

Chad, you don't have to do that. You're always welcome to e-mail me so you're not alone. I'm no shrink and I have no answers, but sometimes a friendly e-mail makes all the difference...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 4, 2008 8:49 AM

Bil,

I am very grateful for this site and like the others above thank you for this honesty. REMEMBER that we are each an amalgam of strengths and weaknesses and you are not the first to hide what you thought to be a weakness in yourself. Julius Ceasar conquered the known world, but had epilepsy. Here is the important thing to remember, without this self perceived weakness, that he conspired to hide during his lifetime, could he have been as great? The "weakness" was his hidden strength. All of us, without exception, in the human race are PWD if we are honest with ourselves. All of us compensate for what we know are our strengths and our weaknesses. "Oh, if only I were taller, shorter, smarter, or had better hair, teeth, complexion or friends." All humans quietly hide their self perceived flaws and in the words of Voltaire: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." All any of us can do is to try and be the best version of what we know in our hearts is right. If we slip, we must be the first to forgive ourselves, apologise to others (as you have) and pursue the lifelong quest to learn.

The two characteristics I admire most about human beings are: kindly speaking the truth and taking responsibility. Thanks for doing both, Bil. It's a beautiful thing! You run a fantastic blog here, and I, for one, am proud to be affiliated.

Bill: It takes a big person to come forward and say they made a mistake, and apologize for it.
You have hit on something we gender variant folks have known for a long time. We too have to hide we are gender variant, and then many of us go stealth after we transition. We then wind up hiding even from ourselves.
The point here is how many people reading this consider themseles absolutely perfect? I want to see a show of hands. Come on now. Don't be bashful - How many are perfect in every way?
Hmmmm. I don't see many hands in the air.
I guess none of us are. If we only love perfect people, I guess it would be a lonely existence.
I think we need to love one another despite our imperfections, don't you?

(Insert image of Monica with her hand in the air.)

Just kidding.

It's interesting that I have a job because people and their creations are not perfect. I work in the corporate and business repair department of a major telecommunications company. I tell my customers all the time that, "Human beings are inherently flawed and everything we touch is inherently flawed and will eventially break." There is no perfection in nature.

We ALL have something wrong with us. It is how you handle your own imperfections and how you accepts imperfections in others that speaks well for your character. This posting from Bil speaks volumes on his good character.

tobyhannabill | March 4, 2008 4:48 PM

Small mistakes are understandable, especially if you apologize for them in the same manner you have made them. God only knows I've often done the wrong thing and with me it is usually due to my ego and unwillingness to admit when I'm wrong.
You're still my favorite writer on Bilerico and more often than not you are on point.
Keep up the good work.
Bill Browne