I was stopped by a young woman, with a physical disability, who was looking for directions to Dundas Square. I've always liked giving directions, it seems like such an easy way to show my pride in my city and it allows me to add to its reputation as a wonderful place to visit. So, I took my time and explained her options. She could continue on, directly south, or she could turn back and take the subway directly there.
She was shocked at the idea that she could take the subway, she had automatically ruled this out as a possiblity because she assumed it would be inaccessible. She turned to go towards the subway, and was now heading the same way I was. So I rode along side of her and I shared a bit of her excitement in her first subway ride. I know the subway around here fairly well and told her that the subway wasn't completely accessible but the two stops she needed were.
I suppose I showed off a bit by telling her what to do when she got off at Dundas, where the elevator up to the street was, and where she would cross over to the square. She chatted with me a bit about her trip to the city and that she was having fun. Toronto was more accessible, she said, that her home city. Too, she found the downtown core exciting and she felt entirely safe as a woman alone. I was beginning to swell with civic pride.
The only problem, she said, was that she noticed that Torontonians stare at her a lot. Back home, she said, people tend not to look at people with disabilities and while that has it's own problems, it feels somewhat safer and much more anonymous than the open and overt stares of the people of Toronto. She confided in me that one of the reasons that she stopped me, to ask me for directions was that she wanted someone who would look at her but not stare at her. This cities stares, she said, were more than curiousity and only a little less than hostility. When she gets home, she looks forward to invisibility again.
By the time we got to the subway, I had decided to take her right there, we'd had a really nice chat and I'd enjoyed her company. I wished her a good vacation and she wished me a good day.
I have written here often about the stares and hostile glances I get as a person of difference when out in public. I often, like she did, want a break from stares and glares - long for someone to look at me rather than stare at me. There is a difference.
But I'm not sure I want to trade that for invisibility, people not seeing me, not registering my presence. I'm curious. How do you all feel about those two polar opposites? Me, I'd rather be seen - in any manner, than to be made not to exist, excised from sight and mind. Although, writing this, I can see there is a seductive call to just slide into the shaded side of prejudice and hide there for awhile.