Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the eye of the beheld

Anyone with a disabilty or physical difference can tell you what it's like. You frequently have the urge to scream at people, "I am not an object! Stop staring at me!"

You can feel the weight of those eyes like a hand heavily pressed in the center of your chest, breaking your heart.

After a lifetime of this, I've decided that it's not my job to teach the world manners. So I stare back. I stand still, waiting patiently for them to meet my eyes. And when they do, they find me looking back at them with a flat, unflinching gaze. I only smile when, turning away ashamed, they feel as uncomfortable as they have made me.

Do you want to know what all of those staring eyes look like?
Meet photographer Kevin Connolly.


Squeaky Wheel said...

He's only two years younger than me.

And your methods of dealing with people staring at your missing limbs is similar to how I deal with people (guys AND girls, believe it or not) staring at my chest when I talk to them. It's not the same, and I'm not trying to compare the situations, but I'm just noting how amazing it is how it seems that people just don't realize what they're doing when they stare like that.

BobG said...

I agree with your methods; I cannot understand why people have to stand and gawp at someone just because something about them is different. Ok, you can see that there is something different about them, now MOVE ON, staring at them isn't going to do anything other than make you look like a mental defective or a rude child.
Just my opinion.

srone said...

It is my opinion that it is rooted in their own fears, except in the Squeaky's case possibly. I have been a diabetic since I was 10. At first I tried to pretend to be normal, but threats of my own death and 39 years have changed that. Now I just tell them, as I change my set, reservoir or check my blood glucose in a restaurant, that my life is more important than their petty fears and that I will not go into a nasty restroom to do anything except possibly use the restroom for what it was build for. Most of the time nobody notices as I can be fairly discreet.

Mike W. said...

I understand the staring at breasts. Even when we try hard not to it's like "Bam! There they are" Still, it's disrespectful to do that when you're standing right in front of someone talking to them.

When I was younger I tended to think people were staring or noticing my limp. As I've gotten older i've realized that most actually don't notice, and if they do who cares?

When I did have something obvious; a cast, boot, braces, wheelchair I always tended to just ignore the staring. I suppose I figured I'd rather just act like nothing at all was wrong with me and ignore the rude people.

It's the rude comments/questions and the people constantly feeling sorry for you that always bothered me.

I guess it's probably different for you Breda, because you have to deal with it daily.

Carteach0 said...

Thanks for the link.... sobering pictures, and they really convey the message.

Myself.... I think I understand the staring thing, and try to get past it within myself. It's just one of many social flaws most people have built in. How we each deal with them is part of what makes us what we are.

I prefer, and enjoy, seeing the people behind the difference.
In the long run, physical issues can fade to almost meaningless, compared to so many other more important things.

Anonymous said...

I kinda tend to stare blankly at things that cause my mind to go off on a tangent sorry if I annoyed anyone.

Geoff said...

Heh. You could try to think of the bright side. As long as they're staring like landed carp, they aren't going to notice you contemplating where you're going to punch the first round through their mangy hide.

Great response by the way.

Larry said...

Without meaning to be offensive, and not really knowing what your disability is:

I don't really see what you expect to accomplish. People stare at differences because they are absorbing details. It's natural, not something that the great patriarchy of rednecks has created as an artificial stratification of society into elites and the underclass of the disabled. It can only be trained out of people with great difficulty and repetition, and that's not something that is going to happen on a wide scale, ever.

I'm sure I could come up with just as many random pictures of people looking at me with wierd expressions as this guy has.

It sucks that people have to struggle with disabilities, and I am sure there are times of very understandable self pity, annoyance with both the lack of understanding of strangers, as well as over-solicitousness, underestimation of your abilities, impatience with your difficulties both on your part and others'...

But it sounds like you're angry with people for something that is not really their problem.

Jamie said...

I stare not out of pity but out of curiousity and envy. Oh yes, I said envy. People with disabilites are able to get the courage up to go out and face those who are staring for different reasons. They are strong. Many times I have a serious urge to hug those I see. I imagine I would freak them out a great deal. There was a time we were in a restaurant and this 20 something guy comes in, in a wheelchair. Now you can tell the guy has all sorts of problems BUT his wheel chair is effin PIMP. He has lights on the wheels, parts of it have kickass stickers and tattoos. He has to have a battery underneath the seat for his oxygen machine so he also hooked up to play his ipod as well as some other electronic gadgets. He had tattoos on his arms and legs. AND he had the BEST sense of humor of anyone I've ever met. People were constantly walking by saying dude, bitchin' chair. Asking him how he rigged the lights and where he got his badass tattoos at. I think he was smart. If people are going to stare, give em a reason. They don't ask about his disability. They ask about the abilities that he still possesses. People want to know if HE can help them rig things like his wheel chair with lights, only cars, bikes, etc. Never once while sitting across from him did I hear someone ask what was wrong with him. (he didn't appear broken to me) It was absolutely one of the coolest experiences of my life and one of the most enlightening. So, get a bitchin' prostetic and rock it out. I don't live far from you, we could get some washable paint and paint your current one, then when you get sick of the way it looks, give it a light wash and viola, new leg all over again. ;) So if I stare, it's with envy, not pity. There was also a guy at the zoo years ago (chicago, and it was on a BUSY day) He had no legs from the waist down. He used a skateboard to get around the park. He was with his wife and kids and again, I wanted to hug him. I was thinking what a GREAT dad to take his kids out knowing it could be uncomfortable for him. And again, he had a wonderful sense of humor about it, this some dumbass tripped over him. And the amputee could've seriously kicked that guys ass without his legs. His arms were huge.

Tam said...

What a fascinating site! Thank you, Breda.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

What if the only reason I'm staring at you is because you're a hottie?

I imaging the stare is similar, and I'd look just as sheepish if I got caught doing it.

At MOST my thought process would go:

"Look! A Hottie. Cool, she has an artificial leg... Wait. I bet SHE doesn't think having an artificial leg is cool. I bet SHE thinks it's annoying. Ah, well. But Look! She is some kind of hottie... Wow."

But that's a pretty lucid train of thought for me. Rare.

You can subtsitute 'hottie' for it's synonyms if the term offends, naturally.

Jay G said...

I would imagine that they're not staring at her face when they're staring, Bolt. I'd gather they're staring at the prosthetic.

'Course, that doesn't mean I didn't have the same initial reaction. :)

Dunno what to tell you, Breda. I don't know what it's like, so I won't pretend to know the feeling. However (you just knew this was coming, right?), I can empathize - being a large, shaved-head biker lookin' dude means I get my fair share of stares (and no, I wasn't trying to rhyme, it just sorta happened).

I really don't give a flying rat's patoot what people think. I think that's key. If'n you want, stare back. Growl. Cross your eyes. Speak Klingon.

Or ignore 'em... Works for me.

Breda said...

Wow - I'm really surprised at a lot of these responses. Thank you.

First, Squeaky, it doesn't matter what people are starting at, it's the objectification that sucks.

BobG- you are exactly right.

Secondly, Larry. It's more than absorbing details, as you say. Let me give you an example. Let's say that there is a man, in line in front of me at the grocery store, maybe about your size, staring at me. You stand 6 feet or more, right? I am 5 feet tall, short even for a women. My disability is on my lower leg. So someone your size would have to literally incline their head to stare. And then lift their head up again to meet my eyes. It is conscious and intentional, and sometimes lasts much longer than the sorts of glances that you might get.

And no, I'm not angry - not any more. But that doesn't mean that my feelings still don't get hurt from time to time. From ignoring it, staring back, yelling - everyone has a defense mechanism that allows them to remind themselves and the rest of the world, "hey! I'm human!" and this is mine.

And, um - I don't know where you got the redneck thing. I like rednecks, mostly. =)

Breda said...

Jamie - yeah, you might not want to just go around hugging people...but it's perfectly okay to say hello. =)

NJT - I'll take "hottie" any day! Thank you.

JayG - you'd be just the one to borrow a Klingon dictionary from, I bet ;)

Breda said...

srone - you most definitely should not use a filthy restroom for something like that. What are people thinking even to suggest it?

mike w- I agree, people pitying you for no reason at all flat sucks.

Christina LMT said...

Thanks for the link to the website, Breda. Fascinating pictures.
I can only (poorly, probably) imagine what it feels like when someone stares, but I know it always pisses me off when I see other people doing it! It even makes me mad when drivers slow down to gawk at an accident, keep going people! I look straight ahead, because frankly, I feel it's somewhat voyeuristic to want to see someone else's suffering.
Last night, when I was about to enter my school building, a gal ahead of me came to a complete stop, right in front of the door, and turned her head and gawped at a lady exiting the other door.
The lady leaving the building was obviously visually impaired, to what degree I don't know, and had a guide dog. I should have just plowed right into the lookie-loo. Pissed me off, especially after reading your post and going to Kevin Connolly's website.
I wonder, could the lady feel the stare...?

Earl said...

I haven't figured out if I stare, since I am much more sure that I don't look at people much. I seldom really look at their eyes and that is what I should be doing since they telegraph their intent, I do know I was more comfortable in Europe where missing a limb, eye, or whatever was accepted in public than the US where we box and protectively crate up those that are a bit different. Don't know that we would ever meet, but for a long time the only thing that has made an impression on me is your mind - you aren't on top of everything but I do enjoy seeing what you have to say about what is out there. I would want to see if I made you laugh if it got to your eyes.

Mike W. said...

I agree with Earl. It took me a while of reading your LJ & Blog before I even realized you had a prosthesis. What I saw was a woman who owned guns and was a great writer.

Lorimor said...

Second'ing Earl and Mike.

And the hottie thing too.

Breda said...

Earl - Yes. I have no doubt that it would.

Lin M. said...

I imagine people of both sexes and all ages are staring because you're uniquely and stunningly beautiful.

I've only been in a situation where I looked "different" and it only lasted about a few weeks. I managed, while putting up a tree blind, to get a stick in my eyeball, and we're not talking little splinter here. Had to have emergency surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Eye was saved. . the way it went in was amazing. Nothing critical to vision was permanetly damaged and with a good surgeon you can't tell from looking at it.

But I had to wear an eye patch. For quite a long while as the healing was slow. Eye patch. Female Fed with an eye patch. I got tired of the stares, and the questions and finally just showed up one day with a fake parrot on my shoulder and responded to all inquires as to what happened with "arghhhh". They left me alone after that.

Thanks for sharing that link. Amazing young man.

Brent Greer said...

Thanks so much for sharing this site Breda. It really makes me think.

I'll add that if its not gawking, its making other assumptions based on physical characteristics. My business partner has a very raspy, very hoarse voice, and some people have trouble hearing him. Often though, people who don't know him well will think they're being funny, and ask, "what's wrong with your voice . . . late night last night?" Then laught a little.

He'll wait a moment, then reply, truthfully, "No, I had throat cancer 10 years ago." and just stare back.

Not the same as objectification, but just as insulting. Thanks for bringing this subject up!

Larry said...

Yes Ma'am, I am about 6 ft, and fairly large. And I didn't mean to say that there aren't any ignorant/superstitious jerks out there who would either unconsciously or consciously do and say things that would justify you being uncomfortable.

Just that the average person IS going to stare a little or double-take when seeing something unusual. The lady who runs my local shooting range has a prosthetic in place of her hand, and it is very interesting to watch her shoot. She helped me give some tips to my sister on gripping that were far better than I had previously been able to explain, even though she couldn't demonstrate it. Amazing competence, actually, and regardles of how egalitarian we might try to act, it is always surprising to see someone overcome a disability like that.

It is certainly rude for people to do a slow roll of elevator eyes, no matter the reason, whether because someone notices a prosthetic or just because you're cute. (Judging by your pic here, I'd probly check you out thoroughly too, just I would hope not in a rude way.) :)

Not that you need my approval, but good on you for having made your peace with it and not being angry- it wouldn't help much and you're almost certainly a happier person for it.

And the redneck thing, it's just a convenient tag to throw out shorthand for ignorant. I was raised that way myself, and I still get along with my redneck family, so I'm not beng overly mean to them. But there is a certain lack of sophistication among certain subsets of our countrymen.

Not that sophistication makes up for lack of kindess on the other end of the spectrum either, but good manners and ritual forms can make things easier for everyone involved even when you genuinely don't like each other.

Anonymous said...

Not too long after my grandma died, my mom and I were out shopping one sunny summer afternoon. I was standing alone on the sidewalk in front of a shop when I saw two women coming down the street toward me.

Riding in a wheelchair was an older woman who looked exactly -- I mean exactly -- like my grandmother. Same chin, same bones, some eyes and brow line. The woman was wearing a one of those turban-hat thingies that cancer patients sometimes wear after they've lost their hair from treatment. Another woman was pushing the chair (a daughter? middle-aged or a bit older).

I wasn't staring. But I did take a very thorough look at the woman's face as she came toward me, smiling slightly because she reminded me of grandma. I could not figure out if she was somehow related ... did I have a great-aunt no one had told me about? She looked so much like my grandma!

I was trying to make up my mind whether to say something to her or not -- and if I did, what I would say -- when the woman's daughter dropped the wheelchair handles and literally ran toward me. She got right in my face, shaking with rage, and little pieces of spittle flew at me as she snarled, 'WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT!!?!!'

"I don't know," I replied, turning away.

Legman688 said...

Wow, I thought I was the only amputee in this corner of the internet.

You just got added to the daily blog list.

And only 5'... ya single? ;)

Breda said...

Sorry, legman...quite taken. But it's nice to meet you!