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Strangers Acting Strangely


Walking into the church, I felt gorgeous. My green dress perfectly complimented my red hair as the fabric skimmed off of my shoulders and tightly hugged my waist flowing in a cascade down to my knees. The gold sandals I wore had rhinestones that hit the light with such intensity, you would swear they were diamonds. I hoped I was stunning as I walked into one of the back pews, greeted my neighbors, and sat down.

When we all rose for the first song, I noticed that I was having a good day on my feet, able to stand upright and straight (my mother had recently commented that she thought I had grown over the summer despite being 25 years old and far past growth spurts) I opened my mouth to sing noticing the reflection of the sunlight through the stain glass window. Suddenly and inexplicably I felt something cold at my back—I was nearly bowled over. “What the — ?” I started to wonder. Whipping around I noticed a little old lady who had her fingers down the back of my dress.

“Everything’s fine dear. It was just that your bra strap was showing and I decided to fix it.”

On what planet is it ever considered a reasonable action to stick your fingers down the back of someone else’s dress in order to make them appear more modest by covering their exposed bra strap?

I recognize of course that I have a rather different outlook on the showing of brassier straps than my elders. In my opinion, every woman wears one, so what’s the big deal if it shows every once and a while. I really do appreciate and admire this reverence with which older women treat this topic—that’s not my issue here. My issue is the invasion of privacy and the fact that this little old lady took it upon herself to become especially intimate with me without even asking my permission.

I don’t know what it is about me that says to perfect strangers that I have no boundaries of intimacy. As I’ve stated before, I’ve learned to very carefully seek out potential invaders of privacy. The man on the street who believes that I suddenly need a kiss, the women who take it upon themselves to fix my bra straps, the people who suddenly decided that they know exactly where I’m going and seek to push my wheelchair without ever saying a word to me. Living in London, I’ve come to realize that different cultures have different distances that they perceive as intimate. In the western world, when two people are in a elevator, chances are that they will stand on opposites sides. In more eastern countries, this distance option becomes much closer. What is invasive to one person is invasive to another, but I’m pretty sure that sticking your hand down the back of some perfectly strange young woman is considered inappropriate in a majority of cultures.

I believe that my lack of a right to privacy has something to do with my disability. Perfectly good natured people seem to take the stance that if someone in the village has a disability it is the responsibility of the entire community to bound together and help them, which on the one hand is perfectly true. But at the same time, the communal help is supposedly to offer the disabled person as normal a life as possible, and a normal life usually means keeping boundaries to some sane level. It does not mean letting everyone in to manipulate your life, your possessions, and your clothes to however they see fit. Help is only a blessing when it’s actually helpful. When it isn’t helpful, it quickly turns into a nuisance.

Yes, I know people mean well. And I probably should be more thankful than I am. As my mother would say, ‘its better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.’ Well, so are a lot of things but that doesn’t make them OK. And for that matter, she knows I’d kill her if she ever tried to fiddle with my bra strap in public. I’m a twenty five year old woman. We live in a culture where a certain amount of privacy is required by each other in order to remain respectful. Maybe this woman would’ve acted the same way if I was able bodied, but I doubt it.

Either way, I knew my bra strap was showing when I bought the dress and I had consciously decided that wasn’t an issue. Which is to say, I suppose, I had chosen to take the consequences for my actions of exposing an eighth of an inch of a bra in public. I just never expected the consequence to be so invasive.

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