I was going to write a piece on staring and being stared at. I really was. I promise I’ll get back to the topic but right now I have to vent about something else…
Let me explain. Staring and being stared at is something that I’m increasingly uncomfortable with of late, and so I wanted to try and convey what that’s like to go through on a regular basis. It’s one of the more insidious forms of othering that one can experience. And it is different from simply being glanced at as one would anyone else. But that’s all for another entry because once again my blood pressure has been kicked up a notch or three.
Before I get completely engrossed in writing, I always like to have a brief google of what’s already been written recently on a topic, particularly opinion pieces. I suppose this comes from my central insecurity of whether what I’m feeling about my disability is legal and acceptable, but it sometimes helps to get the creative and angry sparks flying too! And glory be, in this instance it took me one article to down tools and decide to write something else. I happened across this piece by Jessica Cox and as I was reading, something flicked a switch in my head and made me crazy when the following words came up:
“Remember, while you are not in control of the staring, you are in control of how the staring affects you. You can choose to let it bother you or you can choose to brush it off.”
Excuse me? To paraphrase Emma Gonzalez, I call BS. If people are really in control of how things affect them, then we essentially put them at fault for all of their negative emotions and responses. If I came up to anyone, called them ugly, fat and a waste of space – how much of a choice do they have whether they brush it off or let it bother? It is true you can control your responses in terms of actions, words, and it will certainly have an impact on your future responses in similar scenarios. But can you really choose how it affects you on an emotional level? I think this is a lovely example of why so many people like me wrestle with sad, angry or unhappy feelings – about disability or indeed almost anything else. We are expected to behave, to fit in, to be good. This is all very well most of the time, and I’m not advocating to throw all of this away completely, but I wonder if we’ve gone too far. I’m fed up of behaving, of being good. I notice the stares more now than I have in years and I realise that although I’m behaving, it’s getting to the point where my internal pressure and rage means that eventually I’m going to snap and ask someone if they’ve never seen someone walk with a stick before.
And honestly, I’m darkly looking forward to the point where I lose it with someone.
No Jessica, I can’t choose to let it bother me. And I don’t choose either way, but I am bothered. In fact, I don’t know how one simply brushes off the experience of being made to feel othered and abnormal. And the passive response to these experiences, not just of being stared at but also of all the other shit we have to deal with, like the questions about our sex lives, our toileting, or the inbuilt assumptions from many that we don’t work or have social scenes – too much passivity in dealing with those things – is a major reason why they keep getting asked. I understand that sometimes you have to pick your battles, that to respond in a truthful way to every little thing that got under my skin would not only be emotionally draining, but also would leave not enough hours in the day to get anything done. But too many people go from picking their battles, to picking no battles at all.
In choosing not to let things bother us, by not responding in a way that is genuine, it means we have to take on and keep the negative feelings for ourselves. That will wear down your self-esteem over time, or you’ll get what’s happened to me, and drive yourself to distraction about whether a genuine but negative response is within the rules of the life game.
And I’ve had enough of that. I’ve realised that I’m taking baby-steps towards making a new choice. I choose to be me. I choose to go where my responses take me. I choose the authenticity when answering the question “How are you?”, of giving an honest answer. I choose to say that I genuinely feel conflicted around disability – and damn the consequences of that. I choose to live less of a lie than I have before.
Because in the past I’ve chosen to not let things bother me. And I find myself still bothered anyway.