Most Profound Pet Peeve

 

 

If I had to choose my fiercest pet peeve, I would select the literary, pervasive, erroneous stereotype that the blind are always desperate to touch another’s face to “see” what he looks like. No, sighted writers who do not do their research! Some of you I absolutely love, but you didn’t get your blind characters right. How many blind people did you query?

In this period of Own Voices, why do sighted authors think they can delineate characters who are blind accurately without research? Those of us who can’t see have multiple opinions and tastes, likes and dislikes. Only if people interact and interview many will they begin to portray someone blind authentically.

And trust me, most of us do not want to feel your face the minute we meet you. In fact, we may be best friends with you for decades and not want to touch your face–ever.

First, feeling the face is an intimate experience. It takes all the ppreliminaries that a kiss would take—conversation, sharing, connecting, relating.

Second, Feeling the face does not tell us what you look like; it tells us what your face feels like. It’s tactile, not visual.

And unless we’ve seen before and have a visual memory, we will not form a picture of you from feeling up your face, no matter how long we engage in the practice.

When I was becoming blind at 26, I wore occluders during many of my classes in the rehab program, so that I’d begin to trust my other senses and not rely on the partial sight I had. So, I experienced stores and all kinds of places tactilely and automatically formed a picture of them. When I removed the occluders, those places never resembled my image—not even close.

So, too, the experience of a face touched. After a teacher at the rehab facility asked me to touch his face, which I uncomfortably did, I caught sight of him, and he looked nothing like I’d imagined.

Yet, too many times, I’ve encountered the charge to “touch my face and see what I look like. I’ve encountered it one-on-one, and I’ve encountered it in groups, where the leader at a seminar draws attention to me, asking me to touch his face… Once, a friend who knew my aversion to this stereotype, whispered, “tell him you’d rather touch his penis to see what he looks like!”

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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