Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Visible Gimp

A month ago, the idea of walking around in public with Moxy made me a little nervous. I think we all, to some extent, like to blend in for the most part. And I, with my bald head, balding face, and portable oxygen tank, was becoming less and less blendy. Don't get me wrong—I do like attention. I even thrive on it at times, but I prefer those times to be of my own choosing and initiation. Still, I am who I am, I'm going through what I'm going through, and I'm not going to go too far out of my way to hide the fact that I'm having a summer of cancer treatment. I have my lovely real wig, for example, and I think I've worn it only a half dozen times. I like it, I just have a lot of scarves that I like, too, and most of the time I'm getting ready to leave the house I don't even think about the wig.

Anyway, I was interested to see how the general public would react to Moxy and me. I was expecting to be ignored even more than usual—you know we tend to avoid eye contact with complete strangers (but oh, the surge of power you feel when you do catch someone's eye—it's an interesting experiment, to walk down the street and try to look directly at people)—and I thought I would be all the more invisible with my weird oxygen tank and tubing. But the opposite has happened. Not tons of people, but certainly more people than when my face was unadorned, have looked me in the eye and spoken with me. Not earthshaking topics, certainly never "what happened to you?!?", but a lot of "nice day for boating, wasn't it!" or "have a good afternoon," or even just "hi." More cordiality than one usually gets from strangers here.

It made me start to wonder—what level of handicap or disability do you have to reach to become invisible again? In general, I blend in pretty well. Clearly with Moxy I'm blending in less well. But what would I need to add to blend in—by really, really not blending in—more again? A prosthetic limb? A wheelchair? Another 20 years of age?

When I was in Kenya in college, I had my first eye-opening experience of being a minority. Yes, there are places I could go in Seattle and be a clear minority, but not where I live, and not where I grew up in Maple Valley, either (unless you want to count me not being particularly Christian). Kenya was the first place I'd ever been where being white was weird. And I found myself, when I was walking the streets of Nairobi, embarrassed to see other white people. I looked away from them, ignored them, certainly never made eye-contact, and as I practiced those visually evasive maneuvers, I felt like I was avoiding looking at someone with a major disability or gross deformity. Like, I didn't want to embarrass those people in their unfortunateness by being aware of them.

I still struggle with this attitude a little, even now, 15 years later. I don't want to ignore someone because his or her appearance surprises me or makes me uncomfortable; likewise, I don't want to be overly familiar to overcompensate for my discomfort. The people who've spoken to me and Moxy haven't seemed uncomfortable, but then, we're all actors to some extent anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the many reasons I don't trust actors - they are actors to an unwholesome extent. Don't get me wrong some of my best friends are actors who act like they like me.

A warning, given to me by a non-actor family member - the only reason a stranger would talk to you is if they want to rob you or f*#! you, or both. Another reason not to trust family members, I guess.

"Hey baby, nice portable oxygen tank." Takes on a whole new meaning huh?