I have dealt with disability, in various capacities, for my entire life — this started when I was born three months prematurely and was affected by cerebral palsy (left hemiplegia, if anyone really wants to know) as a result.
I know what you might be thinking: You cannot possibly have CP, Annaham! CP is always severe. It’s always noticeable to people other than the person who has the condition. CP always sticks out, blah blah blah, insert other sundry stereotypes about CP here (because there seem to be a lot of them).
And you’d be partially right, sort of like how my left leg is partially paralyzed. Oh, people notice my limp. Sometimes, they even point it out to me or concernedly ask about it, as if I am too stupid to notice that one of my legs is too short and that my left foot constantly makes a valiant effort to make up that difference:
“Are you okay? You’re limping.”
“You have a limp.”
“What’s wrong with your foot?”
“Why do you have a limp?”
Now, since I have no obligation to a.) respond, b.) educate these potentially well-meaning folks about my condition, or c.) give a shit, I have developed a coping strategy that works best for me, and it is to ignore these people and/or pretend like they might be talking to someone else. Surprisingly, it usually works, particularly when I do not care about seeming rude.
I don’t know what it is about certain bodies and the fact that some people feel entitled to treat said bodies as if they are public property. This body-as-public-property trope is commonly wielded at people with bodies that, through no fault of theirs, don’t fit the expected “norm” and who may be marginalized because of it: women, non-white people, fat people, trans and genderqueer people, people with disabilities, and others. And woe betide you if you fit more than one — or even several — of these non-normative categories, because then people might feel really entitled to comment on your body or its workings (or non-workings), if these things are at all apparent. In my fairly limited experience, it seems as though certain bodies and their parts constitute some sort of threat to an established order (in my case, this would be the abled order in which “normal” legs or feet do not have limps) that needs to be constantly pointed out and then monitored for the person’s “own good,” whether they are fat, disabled, unexpectedly gendered or not-gendered, or otherwise.
It seems vaguely panopticon-ish, and more than a tad creepily paternal: Hey, she has a limp, but she must not know it! We need to tell her for her own good, so that she knows and can maybe work on correcting it. No matter what the person’s intentions are (because these intentions may be sort of twisted “good samaritan” intentions), that’s the subtextual message that I get when somebody decides to inform me about my limp. Regardless of intentions, this sort of monitoring mostly ends up looking creepy and awkward for all involved. Some “good samaritan” may want to focus on my limp and how out-of-place or weird it looks, but just because I am out in public — limp and all — does not make the way that I move around (when I am not in too much pain to move, that is) any random stranger’s business.
11 thoughts on “Yes, I have a limp, and no, it’s not really any of your business”
In May I walked the last 100km of the Spanish el camino. I was quite taken aback by the diverse array of comments people made to me when they noticed I walked differently to them, and I was particularly noticeable because I was also using a rollator.
While it was confronting and I would rather not have had it occur, I decided to consider it as somewhat akin to being a ‘celebrity’ (not that I would ever wish celebrity-ville on anyone) – ala at times things that are generally private for others were so very public for me because I looked different but, it was also my choice how I engaged with the situation and whether to come away from it more distanced from these strangers or more connected with those around me.
I have been in situations at home where my weird walking or ‘drunken’ look is the elephant in the room that noone mentions. I much preferred this upfront and frank curiosity people expressed about my circumstances. By engaging with them and finding out what drove their questioning I was able to learn rather than assume the basis of why they were asking questions. Many people had circumstances, good, bad, sad, empathetic, humorous or all of the above that I could never have guessed at that lay behind their questioning if I had not spoken with them.
If they were staring, and I smiled and greeted them it tended to be a reminder to them of what the ‘normal’ courteous ways are of interacting with others and people quickly followed suit. If I was rude, scowled and abrupt then I found all it achieved was to make me feel more isolated and perpetuate the arbitrary divide of an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.
Once I looked past my own prejudices and assumptions about these people, it was a nurturing and invigorating experience and I met many people, participated in lots of enjoyable and fun things that would not otherwise have happened and that subsequently had nothing to do with my gait but that both by looking past my own walking and involving them showed them that they could too.
all the best
And the thing is, when you get inappropriately nosy in return, they take offence. (I’ve tried it for fun.)
I’ve started telling people really random stories – attacked by a swan, bronco-riding, that kind of thing – until they give up asking. This has lead to other disabled people getting huffy about how I’m making them look rude, but frankly, no-one’s paying me to represent disabled people as a group.
The “You’re [insert really obvious thing]!” always baffles me. Happened when I dyed my hair blue – what, they think someone dyed me in my sleep? Happened when I started using a cane full-time – apparently, I didn’t notice myself getting out my debit card, polling my friends to help me pick between a couple of good ones, and waiting for the delivery guy to arrive. Or, you know, the fact I was carting around just shy of three feet of wood in my left hand. You’d think a person might notice that.
My nearly-five-year-old son Orion has right-sided hemiplegia as a result of an accident when he was just three months old. He wears an orthotic glove which goes all the way up to his armpit, to help with his fine and gross motor skills in his right arm. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me “What’s he done to his arm?” I’ve never met another person with hemiplegia before, and nobody seems to know what it is, which makes explaining very difficult – not that I or he should have to explain, of course.
As an able-bodied person, I’ve always tried to be as aware as possible about my privilege and behave in ways to combat ableism. I have heard stories like this from others and try to have as much empathy and understanding of the way some people view and treat those with different abilities as possible for someone that hasn’t experienced it first hand.
Last week I sprained my ankle. Over the last ten days, I’ve been keeping it wrapped and have been walking with somewhat of a limp because it hurts and I don’t have a full range of motion. Walking is mostly okay, and I’ve been doing it because I can’t get to work otherwise. Because of my ankle being wrapped, I’ve had all sorts of people ask “what did you do?” “what happened?” “what’s wrong with your foot?!” and the like. I can understand certain people asking out of concern, but others seem to just be asking because it’s weird. I can understand that, whatever, but I’ve had people go on to *minimize* my injury and experience. “Oh well you seem to be getting around okay, you didn’t hurt yourself too bad” or “it’s obviously not that bad if all you’re wearing is an ace bandage” or “you seem fine.” Yes, I seem fine because I’ve had my injuries minimized in the past and have felt like I was called a faker. Yes I seem fine because the more I show my pain, the more people like you ask me stupid questions. Yes, I walk around “okay” because that motion isn’t what bothers me the most. I am in pain, my foot is severely bruised, still swollen and very much injured, thank you.
Not that my experience compares to the ableism differently abled folks experience all the time, nor do I think it makes me a more credible ally or deserving of a cookie or anything for having faced it in a temporary way. Your post resonated with me in both my experiences over the last week and a half, which I’ve processed a lot, and my general experiences with having my body viewed as public property for other reasons.
I agree to this post. In my case, everyone feels entitled to ask about my blindness. “Were you born blind?” seems to be a perfect conversation starter according to them. I tend to answer, because when I’m rude or tell them off, people tend to be offended – and not just the people I’m rude to, but pretty much everyone who can hear.
As for the mildness of your disability, I have minor balance problems and a weak left side that besides me only physical therapists and doctors notice – probably because everyone else attributes them to blindness. People don’t get intrusive about those because they don’t notice or assume it’s due to blindness.
Yeesh, no kidding. I have a slight-to-moderate limp in my right leg (I had a club foot when I was born and the corrective surgery left my right leg weaker and not as flexible as my left), and the sheer number of people who feel entitled to ask me about it is just mind-boggling. I usually stare at them rudely and then say “I have a birth defect” and that usually shuts them up.
Oddly, I haven’t gotten any comments about my cane, despite being young-conventionally-attractive-white-no-obvious-reason-to-need-one. I’m sure this is at least partially because I’ve nearly always been with my partner while out – people probably are more comfortable accosting someone who’s alone 😛
I do get lots of weird looks though. Lots of them. The why the hell are you using that look. The staring at the cane as I go by.
(Well, my parents have gotten all nosy about it, but that’s to be expected because that’s how they are. DID YOU HURT YOUR LEG WHY ARE YOU USING THAT DOES ONE OF YOUR KNEES HURT CAN I BORROW YOUR CANE I HAVE A CANE IT WAS MY CLIENT’S IT’S WOOD AND PRETTY. No mom, you can’t use my cane, and if you already have one why the hell do you want mine in the first place? Wtf. (She just had her ninth bunion surgery.))
Sorry, that might be slightly off topic? But the visible marker is a new thing for me, I’ve only had my cane for a month.
I want to copy this post to everyone who has ever asked me about my limp. It comes and goes most of the time, and people who didn’t know me during my crutches-and-wheelchair-and-cane period (roughly ages 14 through 20) are totally thrown off guard when I’m having an off day and am limping more obviously. I’m also fairly self conscious about it, so someone noticing it makes me very, very anxious. It didn’t help when my dissertation advisor remarked upon it ten minutes before I had a job interview, f’instance.
Only once have I had someone notice and have it be an okay thing. I was walking down the hallway with someone I’d just come from an activist meeting with. I was limping a little, and he was walking quickly. He turned to say something, noticed I was going slowly and limping, and stopped, apologized, and matched his gait to mine so we could keep walking to the elevator together. That was it! If everyone acted like that, it would be a just fine thing.
Thanks for this. It really resonates with me.
It really pokes a sore spot when someone does this to me. I’ve always had a limp, because for complicated reasons I won’t go into here, my legs have always been different lengths. But for large portions of my life, I actually forgot I had a visible disability. It was inconsequential to me. So when people noticed my limp, and started to quiz me about it, it brought me up short. It reminded me that my self-image wasn’t necessarily what other people saw.
The other sore spot was about the years of physiotherapy I did to try and minimise my limp. People noticing and commenting on my limp was like a slap in the face; an implication that I hadn’t worked hard enough.
I’ve had this ever since I blew a knee at 18 or so. Like Dogged, I’m so used to my gait I forget I limp a bit for months on end, as it’s pain free most of the time, and then someone mentions it. Usually it’s as annoying as described here, but I was mildly amused when an elderly ex-military bloke said to me “I see you have a Leg”. I also noticed that he left it at that – coming from a milieu where presumably every second person has a Leg (or an Arm or something) and it’s not automatically assumed that every body is perfect.
My H has a more severe limp due to Perthy’s disease and again I/we forget for months on end that it exists, until we’re reminded that others see it.
I have chronic pain issues (all of my joints, for a third of my life (since 14) without a diagnosis) and sometimes, when my knees or ankles are really bad, I limp severely. Sometimes, when my right ankle is giving out, I wrap it enough to hold me up through the pain because my left leg cannot support my full weight (I don’t know why my left leg is weaker, but it has been as long as I can remember). What really got me was when a girl who knew about the chronic pain (can’t use stairs-it comes up) asked me about my limp. What do you think it’s from? Maybe the same pain that makes it so I had to use the elevator last time we went to the second floor? I suspect that my limp made my pain seem more real to her and that she believed I had been faking it out of laziness (I am fat, I have hashimoto’s and I can’t exercise much because it makes the pain worse and my energy is low).
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