Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Same Difference

We parked on Queen Street and Joe and Mike ran into a hole in the wall restaurant to order vegetarian Chinese food. Mike had been going on about this place for a while. We'd dropped by to visit with baby Ruby so we had him bring us here afterwards so we could pick up food for dinner when we got home. The place wasn't accessible so I waited in the car and watched the street go by. This was a section of Queen Street that was home to many of the cool and the young. While I've been young, I've never been cool so I watched them in strange fascination.

They were, to a one, pierced and tattooed and otherwise adorned with emblems of outsider status. One woman, no kidding, had blue dots either painted or tattooed on the backs of her legs. The dots were about the sice of a donut hole and started at her ankle and, with an inch between each, went up past her very short skirt. One fellow went by with his earlobes so stretched that you could have driven a limo through them. Another guy was shirtless in the summer heat and he wore a woman's earring through his right nipple. All had adopted that world weary, I've seen it all and every bit of it bored me, look.

Then, round the corner, comes a woman of the same age. She is using a walker, one of those cool kinds that - turn it around and you can sit down. As she approaches I notice that she's quite pretty. Her gait is odd, but she is steadied by the walker and makes quite good time coming up towards me. She like the others has a tattoo, hers is on her neck. When she gets close I see that she's tattooed the wheelchair blue badge guy on her neck. "Now that," I thought, "is cool" and immediately decided to get one myself.

But something happened on the streetfront. Even though she was beautiful, and clearly had both a sense of humour and a sense of purpose, she walked through people who did everything they could to not look at her. Not embrace her with their eyes. I guess this was too much difference.

Why is it that, often, people who affect difference really can't tolerate it? Those who are the 'decorated ordinary,' the 'mutilated mundane,' the 'unextraordinary ordinary' who do everything to stand out with a crowd, only end up being part of one? They like difference - only they like the same difference, the pretend one. I guess to them 'outsider' really meant 'insider'.

It seemed to bother only me because she made her way up the street with the casualness of one who is used to stares. Then I heard a shout from across the street and a young man, with a faux hawk, waved a heavily tattooed arm and made the 'wait there' sign. She stopped, gripped her walker with one hand and raised the other. When there was a break in traffic he ran across the street and swept her up in his arms and they kissed. There should have been movie music.

He linked his arm in hers, she took the walker in her hands and they walked out of my view. But before they disappeared I saw the look on her face as she looked at him, adoration. I heard them laugh together. Then they were gone.

It's amazing, isn't it, how the love of one good person ...

... can erase the indignities of walking the gauntlet of everyday bigotry.

Oh, and only because it matters to me, the food was very very good.


Anonymous said...

Sweet story -- I like your punch line!

Some of why these people are maybe less able to handle "differences" than you seem to think they "ought" to may be because they aren't wearing blue dots on their legs or tattoos or piercings for the reasons you think.

Back when I was in high school, in the days when the idea of dying your hair unusual colors like pink or blue was still considered unusual even for teenagers (ACK! Old person alert! I used the phrase "in the days when"! ACK! ACK! ACK! ;-) ) I had a classmate who had pink hair. She shared with the class one day that sometimes her parents fussed at her about her hair color, and this hurt her because, to her, pink hair was simply something she liked. She liked how she looked with pink hair. It was not a "statement." It was not a form of rebellion. It was not a sign of defiance. It was not an assertion of individuality. It was just a part of who she was -- a person who liked having pink hair.

Sure, SOME people who present themselves in unusual ways may actually BE making some kind of statement.

But I think the majority of the time, observers may be projecting motivations that just aren't there. An adult sees a teenager with pink hair and thinks, "Egad! That hair really grabs my attention and even disturbs me a little bit. Surely she must KNOW that pink hair would create that reaction in me and other sensible adults. Why would she want to create that reaction? Surely this means she must WANT to grab our attention -- therefore, she is clearly dying her hair pink as a call for attention. And she wants to disturb us as a form of rebellion." And so some adults go around insisting that anyone with pink hair ... or blue dotted legs ... or tattoos and piercings ... must clearly be trying to "look different for the sake of looking different." But is it really true? Have you ever gone up to someone with pink hair, or a tattoo, or piercings in places other than the ears, and ASKED them why? Or are you assuming they want to "look different" simply because that's the effect it has ON YOU, and so you assume that's the effect they wanted to create? When, in fact, their motivations likely had nothing to do with you at all. I bet most of them would give answers you might not expect.

So I'm not really convinced that it's any more ironic for a guy with tattoos to be uncomfortable toward a woman with disabilities than it is for anyone else.

But cool that this woman obviously didn't care.

(Used to sign myself as author of the blog ... but now I have a brand new blog at focused on people with disabilities in developing countries.)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Another good anecdote, and since I get off on women with tattoos, a doubly pleasurable one. I don't think she didn't notice I just think she got so used to being unnoticed that it is just background. The first time I went clubbing in the chair I went from a 6'3" female dancing with another female which everyone watched to a female in a wheelchair dancing with a female in a completely full club on an empty dance floor where absolutely no one watched (I admire their will power). Of course, in your story, you watched her (so someone did), so I guess she isn't an outsider to all.

You posts like this always remind me of my PT who saw me before we official meet and who told me it was all she could do to stop from staring as she mentally thought "What a terrible fitting wheelchair, you must stop staring, she will be embarressed if you stare because she has such a badly fitting wheelchair" - talk about your unusual assumptive viewpoint.

ballastexistenz said...

What anonymous said certainly explains my reasons for having purple/green/blue/whatever hair as a teenager. I just liked the way it looked.

I remember being at an event for kids and teens in the system, while my hair was dyed. And someone else there had dyed her hair too.

The other girl's mom turned to my dad and sadly said something like, "Well that's the only way people like them can express themselves."

My dad, to his credit, was baffled and offended.

Anonymous said...

I come from that pierced/tattooed culture back when it was very unusual and much more insular (I'm talking the old skool punk community not the follow fashion community). I have noticed in my years in the field of services to people with disabilities that this group (punky types) is overrepresented as direct care workers. I would hope it's because (many of them) embrace differences and see beyond the oustide. No matter how cynical I am I am still optimistic!

Melissa said...

That story totally made my day.