(please note that time with my Kin brings out my down home accent that I choose NOT to change for this post. I hope you see the reasons) PS for those who asked, My Grandma is still in hospital, but on the mend ~
Sometimes a thing can “work fer ye, or agisnt ye”. I find this to be especially true to my efforts in this post. Inspired by my time this summer in the BlueRidge, life here is often so simple, that it sets the mind a wondering. Here we fall into a rhythm of waking and resting with the sun, spend hours on the porch rather than a TV, and cell phones and other “new fangled devices” rarely get a good signal. A “trip to town” is either a place to get mail, tourist merchants, with a local eatery, or if you want to get real swanky, the nearest Wal-Mart.
It was there my train of thought began as I quietly noticed the local fashions. A tall lady with bright pink patent leather cow boy boots paired with Daisy Dukes and the biggest straw hat I’ve seen in a long while. (If you know my world THAT’S saying something) A lanky teen that was going for “goth”, but lost me in the blonde “big hair”, tied up with a skull ribbon. Then there was the “PJ” family: I don’t mean the current fashion of “pj pants as ok for public” sort of thing, I am talking 4 kids aged 3-10 in their PAJAMAS, as their array of “bed head” furthered the point. They turned the corner to their equally robed (and I mean “with a robe”) Mom, who called out to “Pa”. The dad, however, was in neat suit and tie to rival the best dress Mormon knocking on your door too early on a Saturday morning.
Right there, I realized, much to my chagrin, that *I* was staring. The same sort of behavior that I have heard often vilified on “disability” type forums and chastised myself to otherwise, well mannered adults. (I rarely fault children under 10, but I’ll get to that.) My eyes went immediately forward as I caught one of kids staring back at me. However, as time passed I thought about the idea of “attention”: the kind we draw to ourselves voluntarily and the kind we don’t.
The same folks who “dressed however they want” because (they say) “I don’t care what people think!”, can be the first to give a terse word if an on looker does so too long or with an expression the dress-ee doesn’t like. However, for the person whose outer appearance falls outside the norm NOT by choice, the overt gaze with or without accompanied facial judgment is a very different thing. It is true that some folks just “don’t got no home training”, to use a “mountain-ism”, and are being somewhere between thoughtless to an ass. It’s why good parenting says “don’t stare” without any disqualifiers. There will be things that fall out of our “normal” and will invoke a long second look, as the brain’s way of confirming “did I just see what I THINK I see”. Whether we LIKE it or not, whether it SHOULD be that way or not, there are honest folks who really are NOT around folks with disabilities and beyond doing a “reality check” their kafundled brains can make them do or say some really stupid things. So maybe the real issue is intent.
Young children are fountains of curiosity and, well plain talk. When mine were small and confronted with a “new” thing, I would encourage them to ask POLITELY whatever questions they had. When a child sees my chair, if the parent isn’t busy dragging them away, I say hi to them to let them know “yes, I get around different, but I’m really just a person.” Grandma always said the best way to understand folks is to start by making them comfortable. I take the lead most of time, as a way to defuse the awkward by normalizing the participants.
I personally do this with laughter. I meet their stumbling for whatever “word” they can use without offending me. I say plainly, “It’s easy, you’re bi-peds, we’re gimps: You annoy the sh*t out of us. Let’s move along.” By doing this, I have “just said it”. I’ve pointed to the elephant in the room and named it “Gimpy McGimperston”, with a hat and sparkles for the trunk. Let’s move on.
It’s one of the ideas I cultivate as a dancer, both in a physically integrated dance troupe and out on a dance floor in a club with my friends. I am in a wheel chair AND I am a dancer. If we want to be “seen” as normal, then it only makes sense to just go out in the world and BE normal. If folks stare, let’em. Ignore them, mock them, or stare back. Either they don’t know no manners, or they are just being inspired. (YUCK!) Folks never seen a person in a wheel chair use a cane to get something off a high shelf, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Never seen one grab the escalator at the “no elevator” mall, hang on to your hat! Didn't consider we go to parks, the arcade, ride in taxis, go to the club, well then start paying attention. Better yet, come to one of our performances (shameless plug) and open your mind to what a dancer can be and DO. I encourage all of my GimpGirl (and Boy) friends to do your part and live your life out in the world, HOWEVER you want to !
Bi-peds CAN be taught, and once we aren't such a novelty maybe they’ll stop staring, or recording me on the escalator with their cell phones.