This is my face up close. It’s red, shiny and a bit lopsided because of a dodgy lymph node that flares up because of my inflammation. It’s usually very smiley. Sometimes my hair is out of control, and sometimes there’s a few bits of wayward skin hanging off my face and hair. This is who I am.
Earlier this year my face scared the post office worker. Today it scared the cleaner. So much so, she ran away without completing the job.
It’s exhausting having a face that can scare people. Even more exhausting worrying I’m seeming like a victim as I recall events like these.
I work from home now. Every second Monday a cleaner comes. I usually leave the house to go to the library when they come, but today I needed to stay home until I finished something.
I greeted the cleaner, saying hello. She jumped, visibly shocked at my face. I let that one go.
A few minutes later I went out again to tell her to let me know when she needs to vacuum the room I’m in, and I’ll move for her. I spoke before I was in the room. As she turned around to look at me, she jumped again.
I told her “please don’t be scared of my face”, and said this is just how I look. I returned to the other room.
20 minutes later, I finished the task at hand, and realised I couldn’t hear or smell any cleaning being done. I looked through the house. It’s not very big. She wasn’t here.
She just left. Didn’t lock the door. Didn’t let me know. She left because she was scared of how I looked.
After a couple of calls and texts, I eventually spoke to the cleaning agency manager – angry and upset. The manager told me the cleaner did not know how to react to my face so she left. She was scared of my face and so she left.
The manager tried to placate me, saying this is a misunderstanding. She said this wasn’t cruel or unprofessional, nor is this discriminatory.
I told her that I’m quite familiar with people’s reactions towards me, and I don’t need a service provider reacting like this in my own home. She apologised and she will come to clean my unit herself.
About 15 minutes after the phone call, the cleaning agency manager came and she was extremely apologetic. And empathetic. She did say it’s understandable because the cleaner had not encountered someone like me before, and that it’s not often I’m home. I said it is not justifiable, and as someone on the receiving end of curiosity and fear, it’s exhausting to deal with stuff like this.
I had specifically chosen this cleaning agency because they gave me a chance to be up front about my skin, and I didn’t have to explain it to each cleaner.. I am also really nervous about my skin, so I didn’t want to freak a cleaner out about the skin on the floor.
I asked the cleaning agency manager if I can deliver training to her staff, so they might understand the firsthand impact of such ignorance and unprofessionalism. I said that although the cleaning agent has already spoken to this cleaner, it might help if the cleaners learn the impact of this behaviour from a person who’s been on the receiving end of it.
As I got in the car to go to library, the cleaner was outside my block of units. She was there to give back my keys, which the cleaning agency manager now had. But why was the cleaner still there? I asked if she was ok, you know, just hanging around. No apology. She just looked away.
There might have been more to the story, as a friend asked on my Facebook today. But cultural background and working visas should not have played into whether someone is too scared to do their job they’re getting paid for. Would it be acceptable for a waitress not to serve me because they were scared? Or a doctor not to treat me, because of this cultural perceptions of people with facial differences? No.
This is what I envisage will happen. The cleaner will get a talking to. She will giggle to her friends about seeing me. She won’t be rostered on to work with someone “different” again. And her small-mindedness and reluctance to see anyone who looks different as human will continue.
Some people who don’t get it will say “it’s understandable that people are scared” or “of course they’ll be startled if they haven’t seen someone like you before…” But they will never say “this must be tiring.” There’s an expectation to be polite, to educate, to take it because my face is unexpected. But I’m angry. And upset.
These are the microaggressions I face – about my face – on a regular basis. It is not up to me to make someone else comfortable about the way I look.
Here’s a simple guide for encountering someone who looks different:
- Say hello. Smile at us.
- Apologise if you showed you are visibly startled.
- If we provide you an explanation like “I was born like this”, accept it and get on with what you’re doing.
- Ask polite questions, only if you feel it will add to your day. Preface them with “I hope you don’t mind me asking..”
- Don’t just leave a job we’ve hired you for because you’re scared of our faces.