25 January 2016

What if I asked you whether you can have sex?

woman's bottom and legs on a bed, she's wearing short denim shorts and bunny slippers. Text: What if I asked you whether you can have sex? carlyfindlay.blogspot.com
Many think it's always necessary for disabled people or people with facial differences to take every opportunity to educate. Curiosity doesn't need to be satisfied.

People forget their manners when talking to me and others with disabilities and facial difference. They unleash their thoughts and prejudices before engaging their brains.

"Excuse me, can I ask you something?"

That's the most predictable question I'm ever asked.

It's often followed by the variations of these questions:

Have you been sunburnt?

What did you do to yourself?

Are you ok?

Are you wearing traditional African makeup?

Is that a Halloween costume?

Did you have micro dermabrasion?

Is there a cure for that?

That's eczema, isn't it?

Is it fatal?

Can you have children?

Have you been on Embarrassing Bodies?

Will you pass your condition to your children?

Do you resent your parents for giving you a genetic condition?

Can you have sex?

Have you been licking lollies? Is that why your face is so red?

Don't you wish you could change your appearance? (I would)

I've been asked all these questions and more. These questions were mostly asked by strangers. Often accompanied by the universal 'I'm not sure what to say about your face' wave - except they've said it anyway.

I often want to unleash similar questions back to them. (Of course I'd never ask.)

How much do you earn?

Did your poo float or sink?

How many times did you have sex this week?

Did you have a vaginal birth?

What's your favourite porn site?

How much do you weigh?

Are you really happy with your face?

Which child is your least favourite?

Do you masturbate?

Do you stand to wipe?

Would your consider plastic surgery?

I'd like to watch them squirm. I'd like them to think about their actions so hard they apologise and then pass on the message to their friends: never ask a stranger about their appearance. Unless it's to compliment them. Like an etiquette know-how pay it forward arrangement.

Here's the thing. When you look different, your appearance is public property for other people's comments. Kind of like being featured in the hot or not section of a tabloid magazine. Only in real life. In the street. On a tram. In an African restaurant. In the queue for a band. At the supermarket. In the public toilet. Unrelenting.

And the questions come from all types. People who look like they should know better. People who probably don't. People who just need to know.

But they don't need to know. They're not entitled to an explanation if we haven't got the formalities of saying hello out the way.

A version of this was performed at Quippings in December 2015.

(Image description: woman's bottom and legs on a bed, she's wearing short denim shorts and bunny slippers. Text: "What if I asked you whether you can have sex? carlyfindlay.blogspot.com")


  1. Dear Carly

    Why do people feel the need to speak? I am sure some people think they are just making conversation and not wanting that awkward silence, but sometimes the silence for me isn't awkward and is preferable to the ridiculously invasive questions. I will share a little experience (one of many) I had when my twins were tiny babies. I will preface this with I was never, ever, not once asked any questions like this about my son who was 3.5 when our twins were born.

    I was waiting at Gloria Jeans for my order to come up and I had all 3 in a big pram, it was pretty hard to miss us, my son was in a fishing chair at the front she pushed past him to stick her head into my pram to look at the girls (did I mention I didn't know this person!) Then the questions started are they identical (we still get this 10yrs later and they are and we can't tell them apart), so did you have a natural birth (I wanted to say well no a robot gave birth for me I recommend it totally!) but I didn't I meekly said no c-sect for medical reasons (like I felt I needed to justify it - when in fact it really was none of her business!), are you feeding them - meaning breastfeeding again none of her business and yes of course I was feeding them but no I wasn't breastfeeding this one I ignored because I really hated this question. The last one was a doozy so were they IVF? I was having a really tough day with all three and I looked at this woman and said no we had S E X - with that she stuttered and bumbled and said that wasn't what I was asking, I then launched into well what were you asking did you taxes pay for my IVF, I can't understand why you think this this is your business. She honestly couldn't get her order quick enough and get out of there I hd made her feel so uncomfortable. A tiny part of me felt bad that I made her feel uncomfortable but then I thought bugger it she was rude and intrusive asking what she did so bad luck. I hope her feeling a little uncomfortable made her think twice about random strangers questions that are really none of her business at all.

    As I said not nearly as regularly and intrusive as you get asked. I wish people would think how it would feel if they were on the receiving end of the questions they are asking. Of course it is totally different if you are sharing the information but I am imagining these are questions you get on the train or tram to work or waiting in the line somewhere. I found with my twins it was the randoms that were the worst of all.

    have a lovely day
    Cathy xoxo

  2. I have never even been asked close to as rude a questions as you have. The closest I got was once when Justin and I were seated in a restaurant eating a meal, and the waitress stated "ohhh! Are you two like together?"
    I was not sure if she was asking because of the age difference. Yes I am 15 years older. Or because of the nationality difference? I am a hotch potch and Justin in Chinese. Or cause she thought he was hot and I was not.
    So all I can say is sorry to you on behalf of ignorant people everywhere.

  3. People should keep their nosiness to themselves! Especially with something as personal as a disability or difference! This is no where near as bad as what you go through but I suffered from people's rudeness too when i got married at 19. I actually had someone say to me 'well you're a f-ing idiot then aren't you!' Lovely. And i would get strangers (hairdresses, beauticians, shop assistants) make comments to like 'oh wow, your young, why would you do that'. I ended up in tears the month before me wedding cos i was copping so much grief about it. It didn't end after the wedding either because I would then get, wow your married, how old are you?! People just don't realise that although their comment may be harmless when you hear it all the time it can become awful!

  4. I am just wondering what the reason is behind posting the image description? I have seen this a few places and am not sure about the purpose?

    1. Hey Anon,

      You might have noticed I've been describing some of the pictures on this page and also on my blog. I hope the text descriptions are useful.
      I've been doing this because I am aware I have a diverse audience - some of whom may not be able to see pictures. Alt-text is used to describe the picture, and is read by screen readers
      Web accessibility has the power to broaden your audience - the easier it is to read your content the more people will read it.
      Here are some ways to make your social media and blogs more accessible: http://carlyfindlay.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/9-ways-to-make-your-blog-more.html

  5. It is unrelenting. The stares are also just as bad if not worse than the comments. They can last a long while if we are standing in queue or watching a performance or walking around in a store.
    It is exhausting. I totally agree that we do not have to satisfy their curiosity every minute of every day but funny thing is, if they are polite and respectful I actually don't mind explaining.
    When will people learn???!!!

  6. I wonder if a part of the boldness people feel partly stems from the "teaching" children not to stare, but instead to go ask a person about their appearance.

    Why does there have to be a "but instead?" Why not just don't stare and let the person be?

    1. 've read a lot of blogs on The Mighty etc where parents encourage other kids to ask questions of their child's disability. Which is great in theory - to increase awareness and acceptance etc. but in the end, it's the child who grows up to be an adult who is faced with these questions all the time.

  7. I low your questions and would stop line to be with you if you unloaded a bunch of them on some idiot.

    I feel so fortunate to not have to worry having a visible difference and about people being so insensitive and impertinent. I don't think my reactions would be well received.

  8. This sucks. It sucks that you are asked these things. It sucks that parents of kids with differences have to deal with this. It's annoying. My mom was accused of abusing us. But, I'd rather strangers ask than wonder. When they wonder, they stare, give side glances, or whisper... and make me feel uncomfortable for initiating conversation and calling them out. When they ask, even a rude question, I can educate and advocate. I smile --when I can muster it-- and say "Whoah. That's very forward. Actually I was born with a genetic skin disorder called Icthyosis." Usually they become embarrassed, their face turns as red as mine ;) and we can all move on, and maybe they've learned something. When it comes down to it, I know my skin is going to attract attention and I would rather have a rude remark than a stare.

  9. I was once in a shopping centre when an older man stopped me. He was looking for shopmobility (where you can borrow a scooter, wheelchair or powerchair to use while shopping) and when he saw my powerchair he figured I'd probably borrowed it from shopmobility so would be able to tell him where it was. Fair enough.

    I explained that it was my own powerchair and he responded "Oh OK. Seeing as you're by yourself, how will you manage in you need the loo?" I'd been quite happy to answer his question until that point when I took off without looking back.

    I'd like to say that's my only rude question but I'd be lying.

  10. I wish some people would just learn to mind their own business. It would make life so much simpler! My particular pet peeve is people who give unsolicited advice and then act as if they are doing you a favour!


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