D for Different

By Vasu Sojitra and Amir Sojitra

Photo Credit: Seth Langbauer Photography

"Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.” 

- Hunter S. Thompson

Just recently, my friend, Nicki, and I decided to go on a short road trip over to Missoula to go see the musicians Trampled By Turtles.  Wanting to get out of Bozeman temporarily, we packed up and headed out on a scenic drive through the Big Sky Country. Being only a 3 hour car ride from Bozeman to Missoula, the time flew by with music, conversation, and podcasts. Funny, I say “only 3 hours” now. Back on the East Coast, I rarely made the drive from Burlington to Connecticut to see my parents and that took the same amount of time. Perhaps space changes our perspective on time.

We made our way in search of something different — a different setting and a different pace to leave behind complacency. Isn’t that why we all enjoy the act of traveling; to unstick ourselves from the gravity of routine and robotics of discipline? I know for me, change is a concept that helps me truly experience myself and find my joys. Likewise, something new I have NEVER experienced works to refresh my perspective. If I had to venture and say something radical, it would be this: travel is a science. I usually don’t analyze like this in the moment, just afterward looking back on the internal changes the external space has made in me. Let’s take Indian food for example. People ask me all the time if I’ve tried the local Indian place in town and I usually say no. Weird right? If I’m Indian, shouldn’t I like Indian food and eat it more frequently? My answer: I have had the opportunity of growing up in an Indian household with my mother’s authentic cooking, so my internal mechanics direct me away from the Indian food designed for the space that is called “America”. My perspective on the space that is “India” has shown me that the “Indian” food in America isn’t actually Indian food at all, it kinda sorta actually is…American food.

space changes our perspective on time.

Back to our concert in Missoula, — we ate, drank and were merry. We were having a great time with the opener to Trampled, Lord Huron. Dancing, chanting, making friends with everyone around us. As the night went on, we started shifting closer and closer to the front so Nicki could see a little better, and well, who doesn’t want to be in the front? We were second row when Trampled came on and began jamming on all sorts of stringed gadgets. Nicki was still having trouble seeing above anyone so I tried to make room with my crutches. This didn’t work, so seeing a tiny opening to hold on to the front row railing, I grabbed it without hesitation. The idea was that now my friend who’s shorter then those around her might be able to see, and I might even be able to rest my shoulders by taking the weight off my crutches. The plan didn’t exactly go as I had thought.

As I was holding on the railing, the group next to me, mostly comprised of what appeared to be the LGBTQ community,  started to blatantly push me out. Maybe I’m getting too old for this, I'm only 25… I tried to politely explain the situation, but they were not having it or they couldn’t hear so I was repeating myself to make sure. The situation escalated a bit dramatically, and for some reason they started swearing at me, and then shoving me. I became stubborn and started to stand up for myself. I was asking them why they were so angry at me —  pushing me, and swearing at me? I couldn’t tell if it was because of my gender, race, physical situation, or something completely irrelevant. And then I heard “he’s just using it!” from one of the group. They were presuming that with me having one leg, I was using it to get to the front row.

I have to pause. First of all, I wasn’t. Second, even if I was would you trade places with me? Is this a conscious choice I made, to not have a leg just so I could get ahead in a concert venue? If it helped me to enjoy life and not feel that different when I got exhausted from standing on one leg, wouldn’t it be okay for me to stand on a railing even if it displaced an "able person"? Regardless of these rants running through my head and wanting to express them, my heart had already broken. I began balling like a child in pain. In that moment it had turned into something bigger than just standing up for myself. I felt like the world was expecting me to be superman.

“HE’S JUST USING IT!”

Nevertheless, advocating and educating for the sake of individuals with disabilities and their equality is the career path I have chosen to pursue. As such I began trying to see this as a test of personal strength. Later, I began thinking about the injustice ensued upon people that are different and about how irrelevant the minor social injustice that I had encountered really was. It cannot compare to what happens to millions of people everyday, where if they say or do the wrong thing it’s like murder. Social bullying, entitlement and irrationality is something our society has never truly cleansed from the woodworks. And for me this was the single greatest bully creeping out. It was an eyeopening experience and I don’t regret holding onto that piece of metal. I can laugh now and say I felt like the amazing Rosa Parks sitting on the bus seat, refusing to get up. That laughter still contains some pain.

Again, I was a thrown off guard when a security guard saw the scuffle and the first thing he did was pour water on me and shove the cup in my face. I didn’t lose my temper, and still I stood my ground. I explained to him nicely that I was not intoxicated and that I was holding on to the railing because my friend couldn’t see and my leg had started hurting. Really how often do people look at someone’s legs in a crowd, he simply hadn’t realized I was on crutches. However that wasn’t my purpose in informing him. I just wanted him to not assume the wrong doers in the altercation based on numbers and noise. And who knows, maybe I was the wrong doer, but that didn’t strike me as not deserving of justice — a fair trial and a fair judgement based on some facts and maybe even some emotions. At this point another security guard had come and was asking me to leave, but I explained the same thing and they both understood my perspective. They were very nice about the situation, though after an unexpected baptism. I was still pretty emotional so they supervised to make sure it wouldn’t escalate even more. The women were still arguing and swearing at me while another women on my left was of absolute opposite demeanor: incredibly compassionate and empathetic. She picked up my glasses when they fell and gave me an embracing hug while I was crying. She even offered me a spot next to her in the front. I kindly denied and stood my ground with the individuals that I assume were mocking me and my physicality. The situation did calm down a bit, but I wasn’t sure if the argumentative women had understood my sadness. Perhaps it was me that hadn’t understood theirs, I could only leave it to a natural flow of things and hoped we all could learn something from this.

this was the single greatest bully creeping out

Now for the strangest thought I had in retrospect. If my assumption was correct about the individuals being part of the LGBTQ community, wouldn’t they be mindful of maltreatment of others that are different. Wouldn’t being part of a minority help open one's mind to other minorities and what they are going through, have been through, and will go through still? I have yet to fully wrap my mind around it. I only have a couple guesses. The first is that the LGBTQ crowd I encountered viewed equality with such an extreme perspective that equality is always equal no matter what. What I mean is no one should have a privileged helping hand. Everyone should be treated the same regardless of social, physical, emotional, or intellectual standing. This is something I don’t agree with. Equality is ever changing, and often times it can still include an able hand helping a hand in need. This relates even to our political landscapes and the wealth inequality in our country. If social services are cut out, then yes, it would then truly be an equal capitalist system, but does that mean we should cut out social services? Aren’t some people naturally disadvantaged and some naturally advantaged? Are we a society that should function on survival of the fittest?

The second guess, and again it doesn’t apply to all LGBTQ individuals — in fact only literally to that handful — is that power has a way of diluting compassion. LGBTQ has gained more traction in the United States currently than at any point in the history of the world on a mass scale. Gay marriage is federally legal. The Pride Parade has more individuals walking than ever. Once someone starts feeling powerful, they could also perhaps begin complacently basking- they are now part of the crowd and can see those that aren’t. They are now “in” and can see those that are “out”. Please, don’t regard my speculations with angst, I am simply trying to provide — even for myself — a perspective to stay always grounded. To never lose where one comes from, and what one has been through. And this applies to any group of people not just LGBTQ. And even if opinions don’t align, communicating about the differences help communally open our minds and shed light on those differences, bringing to surface the suffering — and like any good song, to hopefully even provide catharsis.

CHANGE IS A CONCEPT THAT HELPS ME TRULY EXPERIENCE MYSELF AND FIND MY JOYS