There comes a point in life when you are happy in your own skin. It’s been a long and painful journey, with quite a few bumps on the road, but I can walk down the street, go into pubs or restaurants, or walk around town, and not feel everyone is staring at me or going to comment about my face.
I was reminded of some pretty low points in life when someone said on a Facebook group I’m a member of that they just lost it one day when a child asked what happened to their face. I felt great sympathy because there were moments when I felt like responding with fire too.
However, I held my tongue then and countless other times. I always lacked confidence in myself, and stepping out into the world was always an ordeal, especially when I was younger and felt more vulnerable. The last thing I wanted was someone, always a stranger, to ask me what happened to my face.
That question was one I dreaded to hear. It suggested I wasn’t normal – and believe me, I didn’t feel normal at the best of times, but thanks for reminding me. Why do people feel they should ask that question? Sure they’re curious, but I’m a human being not an object. Asking me when they don’t even know me is such a violation of my right to privacy and my dignity.
However, we’re back to when I was a teenager and I was fair game for adults and kids to approach me – a kid with a facial disfigurement who thought the whole world viewed him as a freak.
Then the questions would be thrown at me: “What happened to your face?” Or, “Were you in an accident?” The one that really annoyed me was, “Were you born like that?”
I had to stand there and listen to these intrusive questions at a time in my life when I was trying – and failing – to figure out how I was going to cope with surviving each day with this face.
I dreaded these questions, trying to keep my cool, and my sanity, as I tried to come up with a formula to respond, and hope my answer would satisfy their curiosity and they’d leave me alone.
That didn’t always work. Some would keep following and bombard me with more questions. I thought about telling them to f… off, but I held my tongue. Easy Tom, I thought. Don’t offend anyone even if they’re offending you.
You have no idea how difficult it was to restrain myself every time this happened, but after a while I decided it would be best to be upfront and tell people I was burned as a baby and that usually worked. It didn’t stop others from asking but at least I knew what to say. If they asked further I would open up a little and that would satisfy them.
As I grew older the questions came less from adults and more from children and that was fine. By then I had nothing but contempt for those adults. I didn’t show it, of course, but I felt like screaming at them to mind their own business. I was a model in coolness, but inside I was thinking ‘get to know me first buster and then ask’.
Today no stranger ever asks me about my face and that’s the way I like it. Have attitudes changed? To a point. I know others living with facial disfigurement who have had more painful experiences. Let’s hope for a better tomorrow.