I spoke this morning on the 96FM Opinion Line programme with PJ Coogan about the problems I face in my daily life as someone who looks different. The chat followed another speaker, Jessica Ni Mhaoláin, who wrote a blog about the dos and don’t’s of albinism. Her blog is well worth checking out.
I’m glad to say Jessica and I are friends. We connected on Facebook and Twitter after she spotted one of my blogs because she realised that while we had different problems, we also had to deal with many of the same issues. She’s good fun, intelligent, great to talk to. So people who try to define her by her albinism are missing out on knowing a really beautiful person.
So, here’s my take on the dos and don’t’s of facial disfigurement.
1. Smile. A simple icebreaker that tells me you are non-threatening and friendly.
2. Say hello. If you see me in the street don’t be afraid to give me a friendly ‘hi’. People do it often now because they either recognise me from radio interviews, have read my blog or know me from Twitter. I’m always willing to stop and talk.
3. Show respect. Treat me as you would a friend or colleague and now some kind of weirdo because you haven’t met someone like me before.
1. Don’t touch my chin! It’s a skin graft taken from my chest and stitched on. Someone at a fancy dress party once touched it while at the same time telling me my makeup was brilliant. Imagine his shock when he discovered it was real.
2. Staring is not on. I’m not an object but a fellow human being. This is probably the most common problem for anyone. Staring inhibits people from going out. Many people can’t handle its intrusiveness. They feel stigmatised and objectified.
3. Don’t talk about me to others as if I’m not there. It’s insulting and patronising. It’s amazing the number of people who assume that because you look different you must be somehow mentally deficient too. One plastic surgeon started talking about me in the third person to my wife even though I was sitting there in front of him. She had to remind him I was the patient and he should be talking to me.
4. Don’t call me names or pass derogatory remarks about my face. Words wound. They don’t bother me anymore, but many others are not in that comfortable position. The inhumanity of some people to others never ceases to amaze me.
5. Don’t follow me. Yes, this has happened. I have had people pass me in the street then rush past me again so they can have another stare. Imagine that instead of a pretty confident me it’s a woman or child enduring this. Not smart, people.
This is just a flavour of some of the things that annoy/ed me, and how you can react when you next meet me or someone with a facial difference.
In a sentence my message is very simple and obvious – think before you react.