The thing about looking different is that people tell you what they really think. Not all of what they say is malicious – it’s a case of unthinking behaviour, personal discomfort/projection about someone else looking different or no filter between brain and mouth.
These are three conversations I’ve had recently.
Lady at bus stop, pulling disgusted face: “Ughhh have you been burnt.”
Me: “No. I haven’t been, I was born like this. There’s no need to pull that face at me.”
Lady: “I’m sorry. But you’re very attractive though. Very attractive even though you look like you’ve been burnt.”
A couple of months later:
Man on tram, laughing: “you’ve been covered in blood!”
Me: “No, born like this. Not a Halloween costume.”
Man: “sorry, I bet everyone thinks it is.”
(I do believe this idea might stem from scary face at Halloween.)
And then, in the same week:
Lady in African restaurant, waving her arms around her face: “what’s the significance of this, your face?”
Me: “what do you mean?”
Her: “is it traditional African?”
Me: “it’s traditional genetics.”
Her: “I’ve seen pictures of people in Africa who wear makeup like that.”
Me, laughing: “I’m sure you have. That’s one of the strangest questions I’ve been asked. And it’s rude to just come up and ask a stranger about their appearance.”
Her: “Sorry. I don’t think it’s rude. I was kind of hoping it was traditional makeup. I love it.”
Adam: head in hands, bewildered.
(I have South African heritage. Never worn traditional dress.
I was dumbfounded. Like I’d black up to go to an African restaurant (even though I’m part South African, I don’t appear that way, nor accentuate racial features). So strange.)
I’m not even making this shit up! These microaaggressions happen to me a lot. I acknowledge they’re not discriminatory or upsetting (for me). Others might take these encounters to heart. But they’re tiring. And fortunately, laughable (and blog fodder).
I just don’t understand how people think it’s polite behavior to say stuff like this. And then the conversation gets really awkward because they’ve interrupted me to discuss my face and how they feel about it. And if I call them out on their rude behaviour, they might perceive all people who look different or with a disability as unapproachable. So ultimately I (perceivably) end up being the rude person because of assertion.
Outsiders (and even insiders – those with my condition) see these encounters as an opportunity educate the ignorant. And while I agree with educating, I maintain that we don’t have to be *on* all the time. But then it’s assumed that because a number of people welcome that, we ALL do. That we are all ok with questions and comments and education 24/7 if it helps the greater good.
I also believe that people who make such comments – particularly about an appearance being akin to a Halloween costume or feeling sad for someone for looking “unfortunate” might be projecting their own insecurities of what it might be like to look different.
I’m not sure of the response that people expect me to give to make them feel comfortable. It seems that being honest about born like this isn’t enough to evoke empathy. It seems that me calling out their rudeness isn’t enough for them to realise they are, in fact, being rude.
Are boundaries blurred because of curiosity – and when people are curious, they’re not rude, right? Does social media make people feel they have the right to offer an opinion on everything, even in person? Or is it just a case of not engaging the brain before the mouth?
I’ve discussed the issues of intrusive behaviour and unsolicited comments and questions so much on this blog – and I still have no answers (and still get people telling me I should expect this, and that it’s my job to educate all the time). Sometimes I find myself in the most bizarre conversations – defending my appearance and setting someone straight about whats polite behaviour. All I can do is laugh.