Book of the Month: Disabled and Gay
Matthew, from Ottawa, ON, Canada, joined the Human Library in September 2020 after an acquaintance had posted about the organization on social media. The slogan, unjudge someone, spoke to Matthew, who already loves public speaking and believes in showing people that everybody has something they’ve struggled with. “I thought, this is so everything that I’m about, and the more I learned about it, the more I thought, OK, I want to do this too.”
He regularly publishes online with two different topics – Disabled and gay.
Joining in the Covid year of 2020, the online version of the Human Library fit perfectly into Matthew’s life. “ I’m housebound at the moment, so I haven’t gone anywhere in a couple of years.” he says, “That’s one of the biggest things that drew me to the Human Library, that you could do it at home. But I hope to someday do an in-person event.”
It is Matthew’s mixture of physical and neurodevelopmental disabilities that keep him at home in Ottawa, something he often talks about when publishing his “Disabled” book.
“I’m autistic, and I have some learning disabilities. I also have really extreme sensory overload and a lot of anxiety, so that’s why I have a hard time going out. And then I also have a chronic condition called polycythemia, which is where my body makes too much haemoglobin and too many red blood cells.” Matthew explains during our hour-long video call interview. Polycythemia is a chronic blood disease, requiring weekly draining of the blood and replacing it with IV fluids – Something Matthew has had to learn to do on his own at home. “Unless I want to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week, nobody in Canada can come to my house and do it. And the scary thing is that you die of a giant blood clot in your body without that treatment.”
Matthew’s readers have the opportunity to learn how the intersection between neurodevelopmental differences and physical disabilities creates serious roadblocks in receiving treatment for either. “I’m intensively trying to develop the ability to go out and do things, but it’s very slow-moving. I’d be making more progress with the sensory issues and the nervousness about going out if I had a more stable foundation to work from, I think it would make a huge difference.”
Coming out, Family and Unforeseen Acceptance
His other topic, gay, is also frequently published online and naturally leads to some very different questions. “It’s a lot of questions about my family. Were they accepting or supportive? What were they like? I had a tough childhood, but none of it had to do with my family. My home life was better than anybody else that I know to be totally honest. But my school life and everything else was the hard part.” he shares.
While his parents and siblings were unsurprised by Matthew coming out at age 16, he often shares a story of his grandmother during readings. “No one wanted to tell my grandmother because she was French Canadian, from a small town in New Brunswick, where she wasn’t even allowed to talk to anybody who wasn’t Catholic,” he says, explaining how his grandmother once told Matthew’s mother that there was a nice girl for him at her bingo nights. “And my mom said, I don’t think he wants to meet a nice girl from the bingo. And then my grandmother said, oh, does he want to meet a nice boy from the bingo? And my mom said, yeah, I think he’d much rather do that instead.”
His grandmother’s reaction was strong – but unexpected – “My grandmother lost her mind and started yelling at my mom. But she was yelling, ‘you better love him’, ‘that’s the way God made him’, ‘if you won’t accept him, he can come be gay at my house and live with me’. She was just amazing, and nobody saw that coming.”
Discovering Acceptance and Community in the Human Library
Acceptance, support and community are some of the things that Matthew has found within the Human Library. He tells a story of the first time he came to this realization, triggered by going into an event on a tough day. “I was having a really bad, overwhelming sensory overload day, and I thought, I just need to look OK. And then this thought popped into my head that was like, no, you don’t. You’re here to be yourself. If you freak out, it’s gonna be all right. These are the kind of people you can be like this around. I just started feeling like I’m going to bawl my eyes out because of this feeling of not having to pretend to have it all together or to be OK.”
He smiles brightly through the video call, obviously touched by retelling this realization, which was followed up one year later when Matthew experienced going into a panic attack during a reading. “I remember making it through the end of that, going into the break room and expecting the librarians to say, you’ve got to do it anyway because that’s what my life has always been. But they said, do you want to leave? Can we get you anything? Do you want to talk to the therapist? Is there anything we can do?” he shares, “I just needed a minute to calm down, then went and did the second reading. Afterwards, three of the session organizers wrote me to make sure I was OK, and that was probably the most amazing feeling ever, it was just this real acceptance.”
“To get to experience that level of acceptance in a really hard moment and at an internal level within the Human Library was amazing because it showed that actually, this model and this slogan, it comes from the core and radiates out”, Matthew says.
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