Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Types of People

Imagine for a moment that you have a facial disability. A scar, a deformity, a birth mark? Maybe it was caused by an accident, maybe its a birth defect, but either way its a visible difference that everyone sees the minute they meet you. It can't be covered with makeup or wearing a hat, and really, you don't want it to be. You might be different than other people, or at least look different, but that's just fine with you.

You find, however, that there are three distinct ways people react when meeting you.

The first group we will call The Happily Indifferent. The T.H.I. meet you and notice your difference and then in a space of around 5 seconds think "oh a facial difference. Cool." and move on. They are neither emotionally vested in your face nor personally affected by it. Some might make a passing comment about it but to them, its not important or relevant. You might look different but are still normal and they treat you as such. You find this group easy to deal with and they don't affect your self esteem in any negative way. You don't share personal information with them about your disability, but that's ok because they really aren't interested in it anyways. You find that most children and 98% of men fit into this category.

The second group we will call The Supportive Set. T. S.S.'ers understand that life is more challenging with your disability. Often they are personally connected in some way and have taken the time to educate themselves about what life is like with a facial deformity. Mostly this group is comprised of your closest friends and family, but sometimes strangers fit in to it. They might approach you at the grocery store and gently say something like, "I have spent time at Facial Diffrence Hospital too, some days are hard, aren't they?" or "I am genuinely interested in understanding Facial Differences, would you mind sharing some generalities". T.S.S.ers know not to pry for your personal information. The reason why your face is deformed. How this has affected your life. They know, when you trust them, you will share those reasons. They respect you. They respect your privacy. They instinctively know your boundaries. These people are your "safe" people. The ones you trust. The ones you cry with and share with. These are the people that make life worth living.

The third group we will call The Nosy Wenches. T.N.W.'ers and their questions make you want to throw acid in their faces and stab their eyes out with little tiny sharpened pencils. You don't. But boy do you have fun imagining it some days. T.N.W.'ers see you not as a person but as a deformity. They pry. They prod. They offer unsolicited advice because their sister's cousin's son has a club foot and they obviously know ALOT about your facial issues. They ask intimate and personal questions in public places. They feel entitled to know the why's, the how's and the happenings of your history because you do not fit their idea of normal, and as such aren't entitled to any privacy. They think you should be willing to discuss your personal life no matter where you are or what you are doing because you are differerent, and they are curious. They do not respect you, or your personhood. When you try to protect yourself and your privacy by not answering their questions, they are offended. Hurt that you DARE not understand that they "just want to know". You become the benchmark by which they judge all future interactions with people with your disability. So some days you grit your teeth, smiley nicely and answer their questions. Other days you do not have the strength. You find that almost 100% of the T.N.W.s are women. "Nice" women who use politeness to hide their biting comments and morbid curiousity.

Now imagine for a moment that its not YOU with that disability, but rather your child. You smile and breathe a sigh of relief every time your child interacts with The Happily Indifferent. You cling to The Supportive Set and surround your family with safe people. Now imagine being the mother when you have to constantly protect your child from The Nosy Wenches. How you are judged if you don't protect your child from their rude questions, but also judged if you DO protect your child from having their privacy violated just because they are "different". You face questions like "Wow what did you do to cause that?" or "Does that mean they can't talk" or "You are such an angel to keep a child who looks like THAT around". Your child hears themselves discussed by strangers as if they are unable to understand, despite the fact they are close by.

Now obviously, the vast majority of my readers would understand that questions about a physical disability of a personal nature are rude. Inappropriate and completely unnecessary. A good mother protects her children from the nosy wenches. A good mother surrounds her children with supportive people.

Now imagine for a moment being a transracial adoptive family. Obviously, being a minority is not a "birth defect" or a "deformity" and I by NO MEANS am implying that, but what I am doing is hoping that people begin to think and understand. Being visibly different in ANY way does not automatically mean all rights to privacy are sacrificed to fulfill curiousities. If your child was missing an eye, I would hope you wouldn't feel it necessary to tell me it was caused by your prenatal drinking binge because I am standing behind you in line at the grocery store and am curious. I would hope that OTHERS wouldn't think it necessary for you to answer that question if I asked it of you (ESPECIALLY in front of your child) just because I wanted to know.

If you dont get that basic privacy rights are still held by the minorities of our society - By the different, By the visible - you have some learning to do.


One Busy Momma said...

Great post!


Vanessa said...

OH those little noseies drive me crazy!!

Jo said...

ahhh, yes, you have defined those groups well. As a parent with a child who has a VERY OBVIOUS disability, I can say that people DO INDEED ask. Always a lovely feeling!

Jenny said...

Amen, Jen. I think this deserves some linkage love later today during toddler naptime!

Wendy said...

Great post. (I came here via Jenny.)

And might I add, never having to be aware of these groups or deal with them--that is called (white) privilege.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Jen. You have successfully, albeit not purposefully made me feel like an ass, well deservedly, I might add. To Jen's readers, I apologize for my comment earlier and hope you can understand that as a newbie to adoption, blogging, dealing with disabilities and quite obviously not someone who has had to deal with the wenches (or have I and just never realized it yet? yes, I'm sure the latter, now that I think about it!) and have even (still am, but no longer!) been as Jen once was, free with information. At first, probably because it was new and exciting and you were proud of your children, but eventually, because you felt obligated, pressured to, as Jen said, to be polite. My lesson has been learned, not that Jen was trying to give me one, just helping me see her point. And I do, very clearly now. I get it and I'm glad and I'm sorry, Jen, publicly; I'm glad you love me, regardless and inspite of myself :) ps. thanks for letting me ramble on your blog, this one last time.

Unknown said...

Thanks Max, I wont lie and say this post didn't spawn from my all night fuming :) over how someone couldn't understand WHY personal questions in front of the kids aren't inappropriate. But thanks for still reading. And yes, post away at the blog. No problems. Love you too.

All others ... thanks for reading and Jenny thanks for the linking love.