When I am not Becoming Invisible, I exist under a microscope. each motion of my cane, gesture of a hand, or choice in wardrobe is noted by somebody somewhere. While I may be disappeared because people do not understand, I am studied by those trying to understand.
My Disability Partner In Crime directed me to this poem that articulates what it is like to be under constant observation
Following Eyes, even friendly ones, watch what I do and how I do it. It satisfies a curiosity about the way I accomplish daily tasks making me an involuntary educational opportunity. Since I cannot observe people doing it, the act becomes something slightly voyeuristic.
To find out if I need help, Following Eyes monitor me. It’s a constant vigilance born of good intent, but still means I am studied. Implicit in that is an inherent doubt about my ability to do something and ask for help when needed. Ironically, I ask for aid less when I’m being scrutinized for “mistakes.”
Have you ever noticed that when a disabled person says something makes them uncomfortable, they are often told why someone’s intentions should nullify their feelings? I get this from the best of friends who understand disability in all ways possible for a TAB. I hate being continually studied , but because the intent is to learn or help, I am suppose to miraculously be fine with it. Guess what? I’m not fine with it.
I use the phrase “flying under the radar” to describe a state of being where /Following Eyes do not track me everywhere. Unlike becoming invisible, I am simply a person going about her life as much a member of the ubiquitous “public” as the next person. I crave being able to simply be myself perceived on my own terms.
Part of the problem is that I am often the first blind person an individual has ever seen. Curiosity is natural as is a desire to help. Neither gives the Following Eyes any less weight or invalidates the invasion of my personal space. What gives us this sense of privacy is a collective tendency people have of not watching every move another human makes.) With Following Eyes, I achieve personal space only if I ignore what I know is happening.
Can you guess who doesn’t have Following Eyes? Close friends who have stopped being constantly conscious of my blindness. Assuming I can do something, knowing I’ll ask if I need help, and not being fixated on how I accomplish a task, they look at something more interesting. It becomes a vicious circle where the solution encourages the problem for the familiarity that turns me into something unremarkable is only achieved by exposure to me with observation if not an essential component at least a highly likely side effect.
I cannot impress upon you enough how uncomfortable it is to be watched. Constantly. It’s probably akin to someone you don’t know undressing you with their eyes ALL THE TIME. Imagine what that’s like and get back to me about intent – they’re not touching you or even suggesting they do — nullifying discomfort.