Public Property

Pregnant women often speak about total strangers asking to touch their bellies.  The social mores that keep people from requesting contact with the body of someone they do not know suddenly vanish in the face of that rounded mound of baby.  Even worse, a significant number of people don’t even request permission before giving a rub.  I cannot come up with another situation, except maybe when it comes to “directing” a blind person, in which respect for bodily personal boundaries is ignored.  Even when an individual in a crowd simply brushes up against a stranger accidentally, they apologize.

This behavioral anomally around pregnant women has been framed in terms of the woman’s belly becoming public property – as if everyone has the right to touch it the way they would a soft blanket on display at a department store.  Attempting to explain a specific behavioral tendency that currently has me annoyed, I reached for an example my therapist might understand and came up with that of pregnant women’s bellies.  Aspects of my life are being treated as public property.

Approaching a bus stop where I was to wait for a friend, I was asked by a man if he could pet my dog.  I said no explaining that while wearing the harness, she was working.  Apparently, he didn’t like my answer because a tirade ensued.


He started with the point that one little pet wasn’t going to be a problem.  I disagreed.  He then said I was being cruel and was I afraid my dog would hurt him?  I tried giving the complicated explanation about distractions and my safety.  He said if my dog was that badly behaved, she wasn’t trained well.  Was I just not training my dog properly?


I admit snapping at that point and saying something about having a dog previously that was highly distractible leading to me getting my nose broken.  That did not penetrate his skull.


About then, my friend’s “Just walk away.  He’s nuts>” penetrated and I tried leaving.  Really, I tried.


I had to turn back when he told me I should “Just stay home.”  Excuse me?  I don’t think so.


Let’s just say it went south from there and he was really insulting.


My point?  This man treated me, my dog and my life as though he had a right to comment upon them.  Everything about me had suddenly become public property.  I was the politician whose life is open to public scrutiny.  I was the actor living in the public eye.  I was just lacking any of the compensatory perks either of those roles supposedly bestows.


The worst part?  People stood there watching and did nothing.  Nobody said, “Hey, man, it’s her dog.  Leave her alone.”  In their silence, they were condoning his behavior.


To paraphrase a mother-to-be’s comment, “It’s my dog.  Keep your hands off!”  And, I would add, your opinions to yourself.



A Hostile Letter to the Non-Disabled

Dear Temporarily Able Bodied person,


I have recently gotten in touch with my anger toward you. It isn’t enough that you feel sorry for me. And it isn’t enough that you assume my incompetence. It’s also not enough that you expect me to be gracious and grateful and polite no matter what you say or do. It’s even not enough that you consider my fate worse than death. I could live with all that if necessary. Unfortunately, you seem to insist upon engaging in beliefs and perpetuating a society that literally keeps me from what I want. You, in the form of this society, even taught me that it is what I should want.

This world you’ve created teaches little girls to want families and encourages grown ups to find their life partner. At the same time, you school everyone in the fact that I’m helpless, dependent and pitiable. I should want home and hearth. I should just be fine without ever actually getting it.

When it comes to accommodations like accessible formats, audible crosswalks, and Braille on elevators, I can at least comprehend the obstacle created by having to take that extra step, to make the effort. You need to think that someone blind might want to read the menu, cross a street, or go to the eighth floor of a building and do something about it. The additional thought and exertion necessary is, well, work.

What effort or energy does it take to stop feeling sorry for me? To cease expecting my politeness in the face of insult? To desist in assuming I’m not competent? There’s no effort. It’s not a Herculean task. It’s a simple act of not….

Instead, these negative beliefs become the armor you use to protect yourself from the distress of my existence making it easier to feel pity rather than trying to understand, to offer supposed compliments in place of questioning the underlying insulting assumptions and to dismiss me as a substitute for perceiving my value. It’s more comfortable when you don’t actually perceive me as a person. My personhood comes entirely too close to you having to consider what your life would be like if you became me. Mustn’t contemplate that possibility.

So, to make your life all comfy, safe, and easy, you keep me from what I want. You make me an undesirable mate and nothing I say or do can in fact remove that stigma from myself. I have Hester Prin’s scarlet letter tattooed on my forehead only nothing I did put it there and nothing I do can remove it.

My anger at you knows no bounds. I’d scream, but I’d become hoarse long before I had even begun to express my fury. Becoming a hermit would work except for the fact that modern society makes us all interdependent – a fact you conveniently forget. I only wish I could morph my personality into one that would welcome your pity, low expectations, and devaluation with gratitude because at least then it wouldn’t add to my misery. Instead, I get to be full of rage in a way beyond my ability to express and beyond my ability to change.

Ironically, frustratingly and ridiculously, the fixing of it is left to you who could care less that your unthinking assumptions deny not only me but an entire class of people something you proclaim necessary for happiness. I didn’t choose disability to be a part of my life, but I did do everything in my power to make my life work. What, exactly, have you done except get in my way?