I mentioned, in an email exchange with someone who wrote to ask me a question, that I was often stared at when out in public. I brought it up because it was germane to the question and to ensure that my answer was seen in context with both my experience as a professional and my experience as a person. A couple emails later, I received one that I could tell from reading had been a difficult one to write. Sometimes emails and letters are edited into echoes of the original message. That email asked, politely, why I was stared at.
I forget sometimes that some people know me only through journal articles, not through my blog, not through my lectures, and therefore have never seen me. I appreciated the care with which the question was asked and I began to answer their email. Over the years I've often answered this question and others:
why are you teased?
why are you bullied?
why are you treated as lesser?
I've always explained it simply. Since I became disabled my answer has gotten longer but essentially it's ... I'm different. So I was typing that sometimes I'm stared at because of my disability but I suspect most often I'm stared at because of my weight. I found it oddly unemotional to write these things, but I guess after all these years the pain of constant discrimination has drained out of the words that explain it.
I stared at the words.
"...sometimes because I'm disabled but most often because of my weight..."
My eyes scanned at focused at first on two words, "disabled" ... "weight."
These words blurred and the word "because" came into sharp relief.
And I knew.
I'm not stared at because of my disability. I'm not stared at because of my weight.
I'm stared at because rude and cruel people choose to centre me out with their eyes. The fact that not every single person stares at me, in fact many, many, do not ... means that those who do are making a decision, they are purposely choosing to stare at me.
Little children are taught not to stare at people.
Little children are taught that staring is rude.
Little children are taught by adults who know that staring is a rude and disrespectful way to treat other people.
We all know.
And they stare anyway.
I have been making myself responsible for the rude and disrespectful behaviour of others. I have been taking their stares in, and through the alchemy of shame, making their behaviour acceptable.
And I've been wrong.
I am stared at because there are rude and disrespectful people who target difference with their eyes.
That's why I'm stared at.
That's the right answer.