I can’t believe that in the 21st century I feel compelled to write this letter.
Yet I do. It continues to shock me that I am not allowed to live my life without people thinking they have the right to question me about something as intimate – and as shrouded in misery – as an accident that left me disabled decades ago.
I am never free from brazen invasions of privacy, off hand and cruel comments, and plain stupidity.
Many years ago, I was chased and harassed by a couple of fundamentalist Christians who told me that my “crooked body was a result of my crooked soul.”
Another time a woman demanded that I let her “call an ambulance” because, to her, my body “looked awful” and I clearly “needed help.” (For the record, I needed nothing of the sort. I was just going about my business. Albeit, in a body that moves differently from “normal” bodies.)
I wish I could declare that such vile behaviour was thoroughly in the past but, sadly, it is not. Since moving to Langley 10 months ago, I have had to endure questions about the cost of my shoe modifications, demands to know “what happened to me,” and casual assurance from strangers that they have a limp “just like” mine.
The latest distressing encounter occurred as I was procuring a shopping trolley in Safeway. A middle-aged man carelessly scanned my body and announced to me “Oh, I guess you’ll be needing a hip replacement.” A terse “something like that” comment from me discouraged further conversation. But I was left feeling furious and violated because no, a “hip replacement” – nor any operation for that matter – will not “fix me.”
This is a life sentence and one that insensitive people will never allow me to forget.
And here is the thing: I don’t want to be constantly reminded of my disability by strangers. I must live with the reality day in and day out – the pain, the limited mobility, the difficulty of finding and maintaining employment, etc.
For those who insist on commenting on my body, know this – by doing so you are forcing me to confront what has been the nadir of my existence. I want, like everyone else, to be allowed to move through public spaces without being harassed or hit with a barrage of callous questions and comments. My disability is not something I enjoy talking about, and as a deeply private person, I resent the ease and familiarity with which many people broach this subject.
So, the next time you feel inclined to comment on someone else’s body, stop and think. I find questions about my leg every bit as embarrassing, distasteful and inappropriate as you might find queries about your sexual habits.
As a society, we exercise basic courtesy when considering conversational openers with people we don’t know. Some subjects, like the sexual, tend to be strictly off limits. Let’s extend this reticence to the variety of bodies we encounter, respecting the feelings of those inhabiting them.
No one, in this day and age, should demand that others share their medical history, if they have shown no inclination to do so. If you note an impairment, it could be of long standing – and the person living with it would probably like nothing more than to be treated with the respectful distance we afford most strangers.
Mari Black, Langley