Friday, February 13, 2015

They Are There

It was the simplest of things.

To understand what I'm going to write about today, I need to speak of my personal experience with discrimination, prejudice and social hostility. These are things I have experienced, at varying levels, as a constant throughout my life. Things perhaps multiplied by disability or sexuality, but not necessarily caused by either. To state it simply, I experience some kind of social violence every single time I leave my home and go out into the community. Most often there are multiple acts, seldom are they subtle in form. Weight is conceived of as a social evil and those who are overweight, significantly like I am, are a socially approved target.

The wheelchair made things worse but only by a bit. The assumption automatically was that my weight was the cause of my wheelchair use, or more precisely the laziness which cause my weight was also, ultimately, the cause of my needing a wheelchair. Those with SMD (Street MD) have the ability, of course, to diagnose and they also have the solution, "You lazy bastard get out of that chair and walk off the fat - you don't need that thing!" I get medical advice like this, delivered by those in line ups and those driving by, at least once every couple of times I go out. Strangers try to pat my stomach with the comment, "Gotta lose this blubber, hey?" they laugh to let me know that they are clever.

I anticipate prejudice and discrimination and hostility from the moment I leave the door of my home. I've been told I see it because I expect it. Um. No. I see it because it's there. People don't hide it. The disgusted looks, the pointing and whispering, and of course the comments: "Look at the size of him!" "Jesus you don't want to see that when you go out." "What the fuck is the matter with him, they should sew his mouth shut, that would do it."

So. I do what I do in my day because I won't cede space, I won't be forced in. I won't fight for a diverse world by refusing to go into it. And so it came to be ...

... yesterday afternoon, waiting for Joe, in my power chair, in the lobby of the building I live in. There are two couches in our lobby, hideous things which encourage people to simply move along, and a young man, maybe 26 or 27, thin, floppy light brown hair, comes and sits on one of the couches. He glances at me, smiles and then looks away. I become aware that I did not smile back. I don't anticipate much but I don't want to be thought of as rude, so I say, "Have you been out yet? Is it terribly cold?" He answered that it was very cold.

Then we had a conversation about the weather, about the upcoming long weekend, about the area. He was then joined by a pretty, very pretty, woman about his age. She sat next to him, his arm casually around her shoulder, and asked, "So what are we talking about then?" With that she joined in. I learned that they were waiting for someone who was perpetually late. Through the window I see Joe coming and I make my way to the door. The fellow I was chatting with offers to get it for me, I thank him and tell him that I'm good to get it on my own.

It was a perfectly pleasant conversation.

I worry.

I worry that because my experience of prejudice, discrimination and hostility is so common that I begin to think, because I do begin to think, that I'm alone in a world of people who despise me for my weight, for my difference. I'm not. There are good and kind and easy people out there, who simply manage to interact with me with social ease.

I forget they are there.

When people make pig noises as I go by.

When strangers and shopkeepers glare at me when I try to get by.

When someone calls from the car, "Haven't you got a mirror, you fucking fat fucker?"

I forget they are there.

But, they are.


Anonymous said...

Dave, Every time you about this I recall my own, similar, experiences. No matter how far I've come, how successful and fulfilled those memories will haunt me. I'm sorry you have them, I'm sorry I have them and anyone else who does. I wish you peace.

Jeannette said...

Dave, we will probably never meet in person, but you have changed my life, for the better. I hope I have become more aware, more sensitive, a nicer person, simply as a result of reading what you write.
I wish I could change your life, in return. All I can do is send you a hug, and tell you that you have made a difference in mine.
Thank you.

Liz Miller said...


clairesmum said...

for me, the critic in my own head is the loudest voice..but hearing those words in the mouths of others gives them more power..and I feel more ashamed than ever of my existence.....
still working on the critic in my head, hoping that when she is much much quieter the words coming from the outside will lose power as well. It's a daily struggle....and worth doing. Thanks for putting it into words so clearly, Dave...and take care.

Anonymous said...

Socially approved target. Exactly. Anyone who doesn't fight the weight stigma doesn't get it. They don't believe me. I'm sorry you experience it. I know it is cold comfort to know you don't bear it alone.

Anonymous said...

People are just ignorant and its disgusting that they would say things like that. I don't know you, but I am sure you are not what people say you are. I am sure you are a nice person, again I don't know you but you have to be nice and patient.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. Reading it left me feeling so impotent, so angry, so fearful....but also a tiny bit stronger, a little more determined to not let such outrages stand. I have a question for you, Dave, and your readers. Do you think these louts/jerks/bigots are as, more, or less inclined to attack fat women? Is it more socially acceptable to assault a man? Would passersby be more likely to defend a woman from this kind of social violence? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Mai Lan

Belinda said...

What struck me when I read the question, "Don't you have a mirror?" was that you are a mirror. That's a hard thing to be, and unfortunately people don't realize what their words say about themselves.