Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Right to Be

I was wheeling towards the computer set up in the corner of the breakfast area of the hotel. To get to it I had to go by two large tables. As the tables were fairly near the wall, I had to move the chairs that blocked my path and I did so easily. I do this often, there's an organization to it that's way easier to do than to explain. I got into the computer and managed to check emails, read blog comments and the like. Joe was busy getting things from the car and taking them into the seminar room where I was teaching summer school.

He came to join me and we talked about a couple of emails that he'd have to take care of when he got home. I turned to head back. The first table remained with the chairs moved, leaving a clear passageway, as I had left it. At the other one, the chairs had been moved back into place and there were glasses of orange juice at the places indicating that the spots were taken. I assumed the people who'd claimed the spaces were up at the breakfast bar getting stuff.

I rolled along and moved one chair, the other was in a position not easy to move so I bent down to pick it up. At this point I was spotted by a woman who was obviously at the table that I was trying to get past. She headed towards me. My heart sped up ...

A few days previous:

Joe and I are heading over to the local, our new pub of choice. He has a beer, I have a tea, we have a chat. It's nice to be out amongst others just relaxing. We were travelling side by side talking over the day. I was suddenly spoken to by a passerby, a man, dressed in running shorts and shoes. He barked at me calling me a 'lazy bastard' and complaining about me 'being in the way.'

On Gay Pride Day:

I  end up chatting with two women, both on scooters, both about my age. Joe and Mike are getting hot dogs for us. Ruby is seated on the curb by her mom and sister, they were all attacking cobs of corn we'd just bought at another vendor. The women and I were commenting about the day, they'd asked me if I'd had any difficulties. I didn't know what they meant so I asked, they told me that twice they were told that they were blocking people's way and should go home and stop being a bother. Yeah, right, on a day that's supposed to celebrate diversity.

... when people approach me with an unreadable face I anticipate the worst. Of all my interactions out in public with the thousands of people who cross my path in a week, 99 percent of the interactions are neutral to mildly positive. It's the other 1 percent that are concerning. It's a flip of the coin as to the nature of the interaction. That guy who swore at me on the street, he's one of the very, very, very, very, very few who do that. But the difficulty is that those very, very, very, very, very few people do exist. They aren't marked in some way that allows preparation. So, I never know.

As she got to me at the table, I had picked up the chair and was handing it backwards over my head to Joe. We've done this a million times, I've got the upper body strength - I do push a big guy you know - and Joe can easily grab it behind me and put it back into place. Before she could say anything I smiled apology, she said, 'Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize we'd blocked your path. I should have seen.' Well, I didn't expect that she 'should have seen,' so I said, 'Oh, no, don't apologize, you have every right to be here.'

She said, quickly, without thinking, so I know she meant it, 'Well, you have a right to be here too.'

I nearly dropped the chair on my head.

As much as I was caught off guard by being called a 'lazy bastard' as I innocently rolled down the street. I was caught off guard by such a lovely comment.

I mean, I know I have a right to be there, to get through, to have access. I just don't expect other people to know that, to say that, to acknowledge that.

A second later I was through and had wished her a good morning. I couldn't have said more to her because I would have cried.

Trouble is, it seems that there are way, way, way, way, way too many of him. And absolutely not enough of her.


GirlWithTheCane said...

It's always nice to be surprised by people who "get it". :)

Jess and Glacier said...

Very well put. :)

Kristin said...

What a wonderful way to be surprised.

Jean said...

That is so lovely. Comments like that are great. I can empathise, as my ridiculously handsome (OK, I may be biased)autistic son (who looks "normal") often gets dirty looks and tuts of annoyance at his strange behaviour. Mostly I don't even register them, but sometimes it gets to you.
That's so ironic to get nasty comments at gay pride! xxx

CT said...

I held my breath. And then I teared up.

Joyfulgirl said...

what a horrible man. i'm glad there was a positive interaction shortly afterwards.

Andrea S. said...

I do know what you mean about there being too many of the nasty folks and too few of the ones who just instintively recognize you have as much right to access and use the environment as they do.

Sometimes I think it only SEEMS as if the nasty folks outnumber the ones who "get" it because we tend to remember them, and the hurt they cause us, more vividly. But: even if this might be true, there still *are* often too many of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

And, I have learned to not expect others to see that I have a right to be part of the conversations happening around me, or to have the right to an interpreter in contexts where I need them ... I expect them to view my access as something people do because they are "nice" (i.e., as a special favor) and not because I deserve this. So I'm always surprised when people suddenly *do* get it.

I am fortunate to have great colleagues in my office who have been great in inclusiveness, and I had a similarly positive experience in the last workplace too. And that helps. But it doesn' cancel out the negative experiences I have also still had.