Saturday, May 21, 2016

I Am A Stranger

Image Description: Drawing of a person in a wheelchair holding a sign reading 'out of order' and underneath is the caption '? answering machine'
Dear Public,

I am a stranger, not a curiosity.

Yesterday I had wheeled myself, without assistance, from a table deep in the back of the food court at a mall to the accessible washroom and from there out through the doors and into the parking lot, I was approaching our car. Now, let me be clear, I saw other people around me. I'm not sure you did, your eyes being only for me and all. I saw a young man with a baby, squirming and crying in his arms, trying to balance the child and the bags he was carrying as he made his way to his car. He walked right by you. I saw a woman, who must have had a shopping explosion, carrying bags and bags and bags of stuff, try to answer her phone as she too made her way to her car. She walked right by you too. You said nothing to them. Nothing. Not a word. But me, you head straight for me like a geek seeking missile. You stop, your eyes which had not left me since you spotted me, trying to smile at me, and in a voice used for a child who has gotten an A on his report card, you said, "And did you push yourself all the way from the mall all by yourself?" I said, which is my response now to strangers who push themselves in on my world, "I'm a stranger, why are you talking to me?" The question threw her off, "Because I care," she answered. I said, "No you don't, you are treating me like a fair ground curiosity, please leave me alone."

Here's something weird, she thought I was rude.

I am a stranger, not a curiosity.

Two days ago, arriving for a meeting, someone passing by stops me and says, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but ..." this is never a good start for a conversation. I said, "I'll answer that now, yes, I do." He didn't stop, he just treated my interjection as a meaningless interruption of  his train of thought. "No, but I'd really like to know why you don't wear shoes." I looked at him and gave him my, "I'm a stranger, why are you talking to me?" I didn't see him rushing around to women teetering on high heel shoes asking them why they wear them, or over to the older guy wearing socks and sandals (I don't care what you say, I think that's a fine look) and asking him why he's wearing those. Why is he selecting me? Well the answer is clear isn't it. "I'm just curious," he said. I said, "I think it's rude to ask strangers personal questions."

Here's something weird, he thought I was rude.

Disabled people do not exist to be education machines for the general public. We aren't like ATMs scattered about where you can push a button and then ask a wildly inappropriate and personal questions. We are people who are unknown to you. So look away and keep your questions to yourself. I don't care if you really want to know. This question answering maching is out of order for questions that are out of order.

I'm not telling you my weight.

I'm not telling you my diagnosis.

I'm not telling you the drugs I take.

I'm not telling you my life expectancy.

I'm not telling you if my penis still works.

I'm not telling you how I let it get so bad.

I'm not telling you ... shit.

I'm a stranger. I'm not a curiosity. I am out doing stuff I want to do. Let me get about it. Don't interrupt my day with questions that you would never ask anyone else.

I'm not speaking for all disabled people, some may feel differently about questions like this ... but for me, if I'm out doing something, involved in my world and in my relationships, let me be.

Apply your curiosity to something more worthy of your attention like, maybe, why you stare at and interrogate disabled people.


Frank_V said...

At just 0.05% of the world's total population, dwarfs like me are about as rare as seven foot tall purple aliens. If I encountered one, I would stare, and perhaps ask a few stunned, clueless question at first.

In the past, I chose to be polite towards strangers who gawk and and ask me stupid questions. But from now on, I will try to approach these rude encounters with more chutzpah, and toughness, just like you sir Dave. (And thanks for your perspective!)

Unknown said...

That "I'm a stranger, why are you intruding on me?" is definitely my new go to response. No response short of revealing all is ever going to be seen by them as not rude but it saves our brains some energy to have a stock response ready.

Unknown said...

A good strategy for dealing with the rudeness and disrespect that you encounter so often. It's sad, to have to identify yourself as 'stranger' when you are a human being, and not strange at all. I know what you mean, it's the way to say "i don't know who you are, I don't want to talk to you and your intrusion is not welcome."
One of the strategies I learned in a woman's self defense class was to loudly yell "I don't know who you are! I dont' know you!" if accosted by a man/men who were trying to harass me, push me into a vehicle, etc...the rationale that just yelling would be interpreted as a lovers it works as verbal self defense too.

As someone who does occasionally talk to strangers, knowing you through the blog has helped me be very careful of what i say, and to be light and tentative, in the event that interaction is unwelcome. Clairesmum

Shan said...

I really, really like this. I'm a big fan of memorizing an "outgoing message" to be delivered in a given situation without having to think. I think yours is perfect.

CapriUni said...

I have friends who answer:

"Sure, I can tell you that... But it'll cost you $20."

Rachel said...

Well, Frank, here's a seven foot tall purple alien. Or...another dwarf, at least. :) I've learned a lot from Dave about having a much healthier view of myself. Though other people are usually the bigger problem, per this post.

Unknown said...

Another dad's response when he grew tired of questions from his kids was
"If I told you, then you'd know too!" And start talking about something else..usually another chore to be done!!
The idea of having an 'outgoing message' or two well rehearsed is a good strategy, I guess. Take care. Clairesmum

wheeliecrone said...

What a perfect answer.

Now I know what I will say the next time I am the object of prurient curiosity from a random stranger.

"I am a stranger. Why are you talking to me?"

Thank you.