I used to tell people upfront that I had a disability and I used to talk about it a lot. I liked the attention I got because of it and I liked that it made people listen to me. I recently blogged and said that I tell people I have an impairment when I have to ask for help or when they ask me; I usually don’t say anything about it the first time I meet people (unless it comes up in conversation) whereas – when I was younger – it would come up within the first ten minutes of me meeting someone because I liked to talk about it and it kind of ‘set up’ the way people took care of me, responded to me, and excused me. I used to like a lot of attention, sympathy, and pity when I was younger, but I don’t anymore and I try to stay away from it. I try to be known for things other than my impairment, like my mind and my heart and my spirit. The same is true of a woman with whom I used to be friends, but in a different way. She is a strikingly beautiful woman, but she subverts it and hides it in order to be known for her intelligence and her academic achievements. Where other women expend time, energy, and (spend) money trying to be beautiful, she works to hide her conventional attractiveness.
She dyes her hair different colours, has several piercings and tattoos, and often doesn’t shave her underarms. This is part of a carefully constructed presentation to make others look twice at her not because she is beautiful – which she is – but because she goes against conformity and normativity. She is an accomplished academic and a very intelligent woman, and those things matter to her – and ground her life – more than her beauty. She could grow out her hair, take out her piercings, and shave her legs and bikini line and underarms, but I think that doing so would make her feel like the woman she doesn’t want to be. She dislikes being an Everywoman, an ordinary person, and just a pretty face. She is much more than her beauty – and, for that matter, the effort she puts into blurring it – and she knows that. She wants to communicate that to the world, and for them to use her subversive efforts to get to know her for her mind. I don’t want to say that she’s ‘right’ because there is no right and wrong in this story. It’s just that she forces people to get to know the person she is because they are not grabbed by her beauty and want to get to know her purely based on that. This is also true – in another way – of a different friend of mine.
He is not a conventionally attractive man; I will admit that I didn’t find him attractive when I met him, but I worked with him for long enough that he became attractive to me because I got to know him for his warm, kind, wonderful personality. This lack of attractiveness actually worked for him because it forced me to like him as a person first rather than liking him – or wanting to get to know him – because I was attracted to him. In the time we worked together, he became one of my closest friends. After we’d worked together for a couple of years, he actually told me he’d wanted to date me but he knew I had plans to move abroad and he wanted to stay in our hometown. I didn’t tell him that I felt the same about him (in that I grew to love him as we built a strong friendship) because I didn’t want to make things awkward between us. He was also correct in acknowledging and respecting that I wanted to move away and he wanted to stay. He was ready to settle down and build a life where we were. I was at a different stage in my life where I wanted to travel and explore and be free. We still have lots of respect for each other – though we aren’t close like we used to be – and he and I know each other for our personalities and hearts and minds rather than our appearances.
I understand that I am still known for my impairment – or that it’s a defining characteristic by which people identify me – but I also know that I am known for other things. I’ve asked friends how they’d describe me to someone who doesn’t know me. I have heard artistic, thoughtful, sweet, intelligent, sassy, generous, and a good listener. I hope I am known for these things and will be remembered for these things.