I wanted to write about something that happens to me on a semi regular basis. I’m trying to work out the cause and figure out a better way of dealing with it. I assume it happens to other disabled people as well. That is a complete stranger coming up to you and making bizarre, sometimes offensive, statements about your life.
I should be clear this is not the same as a kid approaching me and asking what the crutches are for and am I in pain. I’m totally fine with that, it’s a natural curiosity and I’m always polite about it because I could be the first disabled person they’ve met.
How does it come about? When I’m on my own is when this is most likely to happen. If I’m at a bus stop or waiting for somebody. The earliest exchange I remember was when I was a kid with my mother in the local shops. A woman with a pram walked past and turned to my mother and said “Did you have a good time beating him up?”. My mothers response was swift and loud “Excuse me!” “Oh shit!..Oh God. I’m so sorry I don’t know why I said that.” This was back in the 80’s but it stuck with me.
The other day a woman approached me at a bus stop. “Do you live around here?” “Yes.” “What happened to you?” “I was born with it.” “Should get a mobility scooter so you don’t get tired.”. “I’m fine. I have strong arms.” “You live around here?” “Yes.” “In a home?” “Yes.” “Disabled home…where is it?” “No regular home.” “Ahh with your parents.” “No.” She is very puzzled but persists “With family?” “My brother and I share a house.” “Ahhh so he looks after you.” That was a statement not a question. Than the bus turned up.
I genuinely find this a lot more offensive than faith healings. Faith healings people still ask if it’s ok and they don’t talk down to me.
Currently I’m very polite about it but the longer the conversation goes the closer I get to breaking point. I still think it would blow these people’s mind that I had made a few films.
Here’s another exchange from a week ago
“Excuse me I was just wondering what happened to your legs?”
“Nothing, I was born with it.”
“Ohhh I’m so sorry, I do feel sorry for you.”
“I’m fine. It’s ok.”
“You don’t feel like hop along Cassidy”
I don’t really get the reference although I’ve heard it before.
“God bless you.”
She shuffles off.
The three examples I’ve given are all women, the last 2 older women. Men are guilty of doing this as well. The difference is that they’ll offer pretty blunt advice and then throw in that they admire me for just getting on with things. Which is also weird.
Three times I’ve been asked if I would like somebody to set me up with a wife. Not a girlfriend, not a blind date, a wife.
The first two times the offer came from bus drivers. They sort of knew me as we’ve had brief conversations when I worked the night shift. One driver pulled into a stop waiting till he had caught up on his schedule.
“I worry about you bro, I don’t want you to be lonely eh.”
“You ever think about a wife. There are women in my country who would do anything to leave, even marry you.”
Ok now you’re thinking why did not stab him in the neck. Mostly because I need him to drive the bus. Also I was very tired so I let it slide.
The second time was a similar setup but this driver was flying home and offered to find me a wife while he was at home. I also had a neighbour ask me to marry her sister “She’s 21 and will be no trouble.” and a home help woman who told me “You should get a girlfriend to look after your house.”
So why does this happen? Home help woman aside (It was her first and last day she was sexist and ableist and we were pretty glad to never see her again.) I think this is what happens.
People see me around the neighborhood, regularly. They start to build a kind of back story in their head or they feel some sort of connection, maybe they think I’ve seen them around. Then when they see me just standing there they take the opportunity to approach and I guess fill in the blanks.
Strangers will always approach me and for the most part these interactions are fine. Can I help you? Totally fine. Can I find you a wife? Not so much.