Philippa Willitts // 17 August 2010
1. Making an unwelcome manifestation with disruptive or adverse effect.
2. (of a person) Disturbing another by one’s uninvited or unwelcome presence.
Intrusive comments from strangers about my breasts began pretty much as soon as they grew. Intrusive ‘are you anorexic?’ questions happened when I was slim (and yes, some of that time, I was. Did you really want that answer?). Intrusive comments about my weight are different now, but still intrusive and rude.
But lately, the subject of the vast majority of intrusive questions I get asked are related to being disabled.
Practically every time I go out, someone asks me, “So, what’ve you done then?” and nods to the crutch. This happens disproportionately in the bus queue, oddly. But can happen anywhere – last week by the guy serving me in Subway, and he didn’t even stop there.
I am never quite sure how to answer. In my head I come up with clever and funny stories to answer this question, involving shark attacks and being trampled by donkeys, but in reality these rarely come out of my mouth. I sometimes say, “I had an operation on my leg” which, while true, isn’t entirely relevant. For what it’s worth, regarding that actual question, I haven’t done anything.
I could tell the truth of course, but it’s a long, complicated and in depth story, and people wouldn’t actually want to hear the whole thing. Not that I’d do this, because it’s none of their business. If you are a complete stranger, you are not entitled to my medical history.
Some, like the Subway guy, go further. “What was the operation for?” “What does it feel like?”
Then there’s the unsolicited advice that so frequently follows: “My mate had something like that and when he stopped eating *insert random food group here* it got better”; “Have you tried *insert unproven alternative treatment here*?”; “You want to be careful using that stick, you don’t want to get reliant on it”.
Look, I have a consultant on the case, and she knows a lot about this stuff. You don’t. Just drop it.
Think about it this way, if you were waiting in your GP’s surgery waiting room, and someone asked you what you were seeing the doctor for, you’d feel that that was an inappropriate and overly intrusive question. It’s the same – perhaps worse – at a bus stop, or a sandwich shop, or in the park.
Just like telling me I have big boobs (as if I didn’t know) is inappropriate, and telling me to eat less is inappropriate, and telling a slim woman to eat more is inappropriate, so asking a complete stranger about their impairment is also inappropriate.
Sometimes young kids ask me questions, and I don’t mind that as much. They mainly want to know if it hurts. Then they get on with whatever they were doing before. Actual friends asking me questions is fine, and actual friends offering me advice based on something they’ve read can be helpful, because they know what I’ve already tried and what I’m likely to want to try.
But the man at the sandwich shop and the woman at the bus stop and every other stranger who feels entitled to know, it’s not fine. My body is mine, in all its weirdnesses and failings and successes. Some of its details are visible to you, but it’s still not ok to just tell me what you think because you can see that I have breasts, a big tummy, a limp, scars or a mobility aid.