Becoming Invisible

Sometimes I feel invisible as if I could walk through a room of people naked and nobody would notice. On my part, it’s neither intentional nor is its timing under my control. I have also not dawned Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. Suddenly, without even a puff of smoke, I’m gone.

Because I cannot see people’s eyes, I cannot say whether they skim past me, look through me, or simply never turn in my direction. Reading the minds of those around me to truly know what thoughts they entertain is also beyond my abilities. I can say with some authority that people behave as though I am not there. And while I might be small, I’m not microscopic.

The other night I went to a concert with two women I know well. A good friend of one of them met up with us. When we met, he shook my hand and was told my name which my friends used throughout the evening. He giggled with the other total stranger in my female trio. As he had with the other women, he hugged me goodbye. At one point, he made a comment — “They’re talking about people we don’t even know.” — that might have been directed at me. I attempted to engage him in small talk twice. While he politely answered my questions, there was absolutely no effort made to further the conversation.

It took me a while to realize it, but for him I didn’t really exist except perhaps in relation to the other women. Had he not shaken my hand or hugged me goodbye, he would have been judged rude by my companions. Ditto with my direct remarks to him. His one comment possibly directed at me served the purpose of reinserting himself into the conversation. Otherwise, I was not present.

Here’s the thing that seems so contradictory: he is a genuinely nice person. My friend has known him for over ten years and she doesn’t spend time and energy on mean people. Even I could tell he was a good person simply by the way he handled himself and the way he spoke. Yet somehow I vanished. Into thin air. For most of the night.

Melissa Etheridge has a line in “Nowhere to Go” that summarizes my theory on all this. “And they don’t understand what they don’t see/And they look through you and they look past me.” In other words, this otherwise nice man couldn’t wrap his mind around my existence, so he disappeared me and because I was disappeared, he would never understand me.

Maybe I was showing too many scars. I had on a spaghetti-strap dress, so you could see several, one pretty huge. Maybe I finally met the one person put off by me wearing dark glasses. (A habit I will gladly stop as soon as I know my lack of a right eye won’t gross anyone out.) Maybe he didn’t think we had anything in common. Maybe he’d never met a blind person. Maybe I had bad breath or smelled.

Honestly, I don’t even need to know the why of it. My interest lies in how this particular tendency contributes to those things that make me most frustrated, namely social isolation, trouble making friends, and lack of dates. With my actions, I can force people to notice me. Plaguing this man all night with questions would have done the job, but that is so not my style. I refuse to become obnoxious in order to compensate for another’s lacks.

Yet I still involuntarily disappear into thin air. If I could only do it at will, I’d have a far more interesting life with a large bank account.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Becoming Invisible

  1. It really is just a lack of understanding. People as a whole tend to put out of their minds that which makes them uncomfortable by putting them out of their element. I even find myself uncomfortable talking to people about a health issue that we share, because everyone is different. Some people are like me, and are not at all perturbed by curious questions, looks, or conversations.. but I have encountered times where people were made extremely angry or sad by such topics. It is, I like to think, an intent to do no harm. Like how you’re not supposed to help some baby animals, because your scent will put their mother off. You feel concern, or empathy, but you don’t know how to appropriately express it, or what to do. Don’t be disheartened… sometimes I wish I could be invisible. Grass is always greener, eh?

  2. Don’t get me wrong, Feisty Kitten, I value the invisibility on occasion. Unfortunately, it’s a case of extremes where I’m either REALLY visible as if covered in neon pink or I’m so invisible I get stepped on. Literally.

    I’ve heard from people that they weren’t sure what to do around a disabled person, so they did nothing. Is that about not wanting to “harm” the disabled person or about not wanting to “fail”? I’ve never been sure.

  3. I guess. People panic. Everyone is so worried about upsetting other people that if they don’t know what to do, they do nothing. I suppose I can understand that somewhat. That is not to say, however, that everyone is well intentioned. Looking “normal” I’ve had to listen to some of the nasty things people can say. Imagine their surprise when this very not normal woman chides them for their shameful behavior. I suppose lacking tact can come in handy sometimes, I do take a sort of devilish joy in shaming such people.

    As for me, I find I’m not sure what to do sometimes, too. I’m not disabled the same way other people are, and I’m of such a curious nature (curious kitten, haha) that I often find myself staring or asking questions, because… well I just like to understand things. I have found that some people are extremely offended by this, and others are more than happy to enlighten me. So I can see why some people might be gun shy.

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