After losing my sight, I noticed I was engaging in conversation with random strangers a lot more often than when I could see.
Most of the time, the men and women who stop me on the street with the polite, “Excuse me, Sir” are curious about my guide dog, Oslo. But once in a while, I do get the occasional person who wants to explain to me why I am blind.
The folks with the unsolicited advice frequently reference lack of faith, lack of hope and lack of prayer. But most memorably, they reference bad luck as a result of a wrong I must have done.
With time, I have learned not to listen. Still, sometimes, their words get under my skin and it’s in these moments that I reach out to other disabled people for words of encouragement.
Lisa Larges is 51 years old, a native of Minnesota, and holds a Masters in Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Larges, who was born blind, identifies as queer and is a long time member of Noe Valley Ministry.
Larges came out to friends at 19 and around 24 to her family. She admits that, like many conservative families in the mid-‘80s, her parents had a hard time with the news.
“I am certain,” she said, “that part of their anxiety was worrying about my carrying the double stigma of being lesbian and being blind. My family followed that not altogether uncommon journey of growing into greater acceptance.”
Additionally, Larges gives her family a lot of credit for hanging in and supporting her goal of being ordained in the Presbyterian Church.
When asked about the connection between bad luck and disability, Larges said, “Stuff happens -- and that happening makes us who we are. I’m happy about who I am. I’m crazy lucky to be blind. A little less lucky to be blind at a time when we haven’t yet gotten to the place where valuing everyone’s worth, and the inherent commitment to full access and universal design, is a given.”
Larges believes that growing up queer and blind was a recipe for creating rich internal worlds.
“Rich internal worlds,” she adds, “are good for a certain kind of personal religion. That internal world -- that place of connection with God -- gave me a space to be fully who I was, and lessened my sense of aloneness, or alienation, or otherness.”
“That faith,” Larges continues, “didn’t necessarily hold up well as I went crashing into early adulthood and love, and rejection, and grief, and experience, and life. But, in time, I found my way back into faith.”
As someone who writes a lot on disability, I was curious to know what Larges’ thoughts were on religious philosophies around pain and suffering. And while she doesn’t agree with many of them, she does believe in healing.
“God won’t give you more than you can bear,” said Larges.
To that, I say, “BLECCCHHH!!!!”
Every day, people experience grief and affliction and loss that is simply unbearable.
We want some way to soften our dread of suffering, but suffering is pretty much just dreadful.
And, still, regularly enough, people tell me that I can be healed if I pray hard enough.
People say it to disabled people and to queers. And for a lot of queers of my generation, plenty of us wanted to get out from under the weight of the shame and the stigma of being queer.
We got our healing when we found our pride and when we started organizing.
“That kind of healing I’m in for,” Larges said.
Larges does not believe in good luck charms and would rather get lucky without them. However, she does believe that we are all a bit more lucky than we think:
“Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive. Most, 90 percent or more, of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune. You spring from an unbroken line of winners going back millions of generations, and those winners were, in every generation, the luckiest of the lucky, one out of a thousand or even a million.”
Although technology has made disability a lot easier to manage, dealing with a life-changing health problem is tough -- no matter what options are possible.
For anyone who identifies as LGBT and has been recently diagnosed with a disability, Larges offers the following words, “It can suck, and it can be fabulous -- the trick is to try and lean a little bit more toward the side of fabulous.”
The queer community isn’t without its prejudices against disabled people. But, the queer community has always made space for people to be outrageously different -- so, work it!
Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the career expert for the Ed Baxter Show on Talk Radio San Francisco 910AM. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com.