Eye of the Beholder

Telling people about my eye removal unearthed a microcosm that spanned the variety of ways people perceive disability. My usual announcement went something like this: “I’m having my eye removed. Sounds way more dramatic than the reality. It’s no big deal especially since it doesn’t really work.”

Reactions fell into three basic and to me predictable categories. The broadest group was composed of people who tell me I’m amazing for accomplishing basic tasks, see blindness, etc., as a burden, and tend to cast me as heroine in the drama of my life. Even though I tended to tell such people in a manner designed to prevent strong responses, some managed to do so with such gems as repeated cursing. For them, my eye removal represented a Major Tragedy.

Then there were the collection of people who know me and have come to view my blindness as something that makes me different. While they do not believe my life to be tragic, they still often see me as inspiring. Their reaction tended to be less intense; along the lines of “Wow. That sucks. I’m really sorry.” In other words, Copious Concern.

Finally there are close friends who tend to accept blindness as a fact of my life needing to be taken into consideration but not pitied. They said things like, “I know you don’t use it, but that is going to kind of suck.” I mentally dubbed this group Sensibly Sighted.

Because these were friends, I allowed the announcement to turn into a dialogue. “It’s just an eye and takes about the same time to remove as an appendix. Seriously, it’s no big deal.” The conversation typically ended when I proclaimed, “It just seems like a major thing to you because you use your eyes.”

In my mind, surgery engendered more upset than the organ’s loss. The short procedure time, outpatient status, and my own lack of attachment to the body part made me pretty much blasé. I mostly kept thinking, “Get this thing out of my head already.” Others’ reactions were dismissed as just sighted people showing their own attachment to a body part upon which they relied. A small voice in my mind sometimes added “too much.”

Now, as my recovery crawls along in the dust of snails, I have come to realize that the human body’s response is more in keeping with the Sensibly Sighted and possibly even warranted Copious Concern. Seemingly, removal of a body part, working or not, upsets your system. Who knew?

When I expressed this surprise to a friend, he said, “Jen, I mentioned it might be a big deal.” My response was some sort of muttered reference to his bias because of sight. Luckily my friend was gracious.

To me, this physiological response constitutes betrayal on the part of my body. I have no attachment to the orb, but my physical self refuses to get with the program. Apparently blood and tissue haven’t absorbed my beliefs about disability through their cell membranes.

Sometimes I need to behold my own life not through the eyes of disability, but with a more fundamental understanding that loss is loss and theory cannot repair cut muscles and swollen tissue. Seems pretty simple in hindsight.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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