I hate reasoning with drunk people about my Ichthyosis. No amount of explaining that I was born like this, or am not sunburnt, or am ordinary not inspirational will sink in to their alcohol affected minds. Sadly, one of the things I remember most is when I walked to a cafe in Melbourne on a Friday night in 2012 and a group of guys were sitting at an outdoor pub table with their dog. They were drunk and rowdy. The dog growled at me as I walked by. They cheered that dog on for growling at me, “that ugly bitch”. Charmers.
I’ve given up going to some events because I know there will be alcohol and drug affected people there. I stopped going to the Big Day Out years ago because of the reactions to my skin – the comments and questions just got too tiring to really enjoy the music. Even people at smaller festivals can be trying – especially if it’s a sunny day.
There’s a huge drinking culture here in New Orleans. In bars, restaurants, music venues and on the street. The alcohol level feels different too – much stronger than what I’m used to. I’m sure standard drinks are just a blind measurement.
While I’m always in awe of my surroundings when I travel, I tend not to notice the stares and comments from passers by. And honestly, I’ve not had too many rude people here in America. But I have definitely noticed the way reactions to my skin have changed while in New Orleans.
Drunks stare blatantly. They snigger or burst out laughing. They are more brazen with their questions, they have a right to know. They react more in a group – loudly and intrusively. The point and turn their heads and get in my face.
Yesterday while on the food tour, three men, shirtless and intoxicated, circled me as I crossed the street, hollering “where did you get your tan? Can I have a tan like that?”. It was unnerving. I didn’t want to engage so I ignored them and kept walking. Some of the tour group asked if I was ok – and I truly, I was ok. It was merely an interruption in a good outing.
But these sorts of reactions do stick with me because I sometimes feel like my personal space and even safety is compromised. I never know how much someone has had to drink, or whether they’re affected by drugs too, and how they might react if I respond rudely. And so I prefer not to respond at all.
Drunk people can also be extremely friendly – but it’s polarising. There’s either polite curiousness or inspirational worship, heroifying me for doing every day things.
I like a drink (or three) too. I had a wonderful time with some new friends I’d made on the food tour – we checked out the live music at the French Quarter Festival and then had a drink at the Carousel Bar (it’s a moving bar underneath a carousel canopy, and drinkers sit in real carnival seats!).
And then at night I met some Aussies at another bar. We talked, they bought me drinks, we watched jazz and danced. And after four wines and a cocktail, I knew I’d had enough. The alcohol affects me differently here. It’s strong, intoxicating. And I was overwhelmed by more people staring. So I knew I had to call it a night.
The drunk’s reaction to my Ichthyosis can be likened to the way women are objectified on the street or in a bar – wolf whistles, loud comments and crass remarks. It’s intrusive, rude and scary. And can really hinder a good time. It’s often harder to witness these reactions sober.
They say people are at their most honest when they are under the influence of alcohol. The experiences I have detailed here make me wish that wasn’t true. Last night was the first time I’d had more than one drink in a public place while in America. Limiting my drinks is a safety thing for me – both physical and emotional. Sometimes I leave abruptly, looking as though my carriage might turn into a pumpkin. It’s usually because I’ve had enough of the drunks’ reaction to my Ichthyosis.
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