Thursday, April 7

politically incorrect

I'm shocked, incensed, and disappointed. Last week I ordered a custom designed debit card from my banking institution. I spent a good ten minutes of my valuable time browsing through my photo library to find just the right pic, and I knew it was a stroke of genius when I came to this...

You may remember this was a photo taken last year at Joey and Heidi's Birthday Karaoke Throwdown. I uploaded with excitement and placed the order with dreams of shocked and confused store clerks everywhere, asking "credit or debit?"

"Debit, please, with a side of stereotype-flipped-upside-down-crazy-confetti-party." I was going to spread the word, one plastic transaction at a time.

And then...I got rejected. Several days later I received a letter in the mail from said banking institution, denying my request on the grounds that it did not meet their guidelines for debit card art. What?! I felt a little silly as I skimmed the guidelines, realizing that my photo did potentially fall under several categories for dismissal. It could be considered 'shocking' and 'offensive,' even, I had to admit with embarrassment, 'sexual in nature.'

But that was the point! That's why the photo is so great. It embodies everything I want to say about disability–that it's interesting and edgy and challenges the status quo. It is sexy, darn it, and I'm bringing it back. I don't even care about custom debit cards; I only did it because they lured me in with a free offer. And now I've been censored. I'm just like Alice Paul, dragged off to jail to stop her protesting for women's suffrage in front of the White House. Well, at least a little like.

I feel like I got slapped on the wrist and put in a time out for even attempting something so 'outrageous.' And this isn't the first time. I can't tell you how many times I've told a joke about my arm to the reaction of an uncomfortable grimace and "Oh, no, you can't say that." Let me repeat: I'm telling a joke about my own arm. But that is not allowed. Those are the rules. They're meant to protect me, but it turns out, I'm the most offensive one.


I went out for a beer with Beto on Sunday evening. He's been depressed lately because he never went to college and, now in his 40s, feels like he hasn't done anything with his life. I tell him that some of my favorite people have not been formally educated. 

"I love their fresh perspectives," I say, "They don't have a filter. School is supposed to open minds, but it teaches certain acceptable ways of thinking, making sure everyone comes out politically corrected. It's like they're all..."

Beto at work
"Brain-washed," Beto finishes. I nod sadly.

Beto should know about brainwashing. He was 'inducted' into a notorious gang in the late '70s. He pulls up the Gangland episode from YouTube on his iPhone to show me his old neighborhood. I can hardly contain a bemused smile at this.

He got out of the gang in the mid '80s, but under the tattoos, he still bears emotional scars. 

"I should be in jail," he admits. But he spends every chance he gets with his ten-year-old son. Otherwise he's at the gym or the restaurant where he works, unmistakable at 6'2'' in 50's style, always ready with a hug and a cheerful greeting between bussing tables. "I always tell people, I'm not what I do," he says, "This isn't me." 

"I tried to dress mainstream for a while," Beto says, "it just wasn't me." Respect for individuality seems important; he gets excited when he talks about defending people who get picked on and bullied. 

"You're a mentor," I conclude.

"What?! Me a mentor?," he laughs, shocked at the suggestion.

Beto is getting ready to go to a Rockabilly convention in Las Vegas. "So, what exactly happens at a Rockabilly convention?," I ask, "Is everyone wearing poodle skirts and singing 'Greased Lightning'?" Beto rolls his eyes under a perfect pompadour. Apparently poodle skirts are a stereotype. But I had to ask. How else will I learn?

Stereotypes have to be poked, squeezed, and up-ended to get to the people underneath. That's what humor is for.

Politically correct me if I'm wrong, but how else will we learn?