In January 2003 BENT published Sighted People, by Robert Feinstein, a piece that began with these words:

Sighted don't want blind! They don't want to bother with blind, or have us around. We are not hired willingly. We are not admitted into public places with guide dogs because of goodwill or even charity on the part of the sighted. We are a thorn in their flesh, an irritation that they cannot rid themselves of because new, strong legislation gives us minimal protections.

Bob's strong words evoked strong reactions. The following exchange documents a surprising and ultimately positive resolution to what might have been continued misunderstanding, proving once more that BENT's promise to "provoke, delight, amaze, and offend you" can have unexpected results.

.

"Sighted People" was a tough article to read but so well written. As a sighted woman who has had blind friends, colleagues and lovers over the last 10-15 years, I hope I am not guilty of this behavior. However, some points struck chords of recognition!

Sometimes, I think a lot of the avoidance behavior you describe comes from not knowing what to do. Because I have had some experience with being around blind people, I do know to identify myself, not hand over anything (food or packages or money as examples) to a blind person without an accurate description of what it is, and to ask first what the person wants (such as in guiding or going through a buffet line). In stores I refuse to make eye contact when a salesperson tries to use me as a go-between; I even walk away if they persist, so they have to respond directly to the blind customer. I have no sympathy for clueless salespeople because it is obvious my friend is not the first blind customer ever to come shop at Macy's or Walmart or Radio Shack, so why didn't they pick it up the first time?!

What I have noticed is that sighted people often pay very close attention to what I do (especially cab drivers, restaurant staff, office workers, even some of my obnoxious relatives!) and then mimic it in their interactions. That tells me that many people want to interact in a more natural way but have no clue how. Some of it, I think, is gender based—sorry, but most guys just will not ask how to do something (it's not just about directions). I find women are much more likely to ask around to figure out how to approach a new situation. Anyway, I really learned a lot from your article. Thank you for having the courage to be so direct in your views.

~Barbara
CA

I guess from the perspective of a sighted person, "Sighted People" makes me think I'm possibly doomed either way. If I speak to a blind person, I'm probably too dumb to say the right thing, but if I don't speak that's wrong also.

If I don't hire a blind person, I'm wrong, but if I do I'd be too dumb to assign the proper job responsibility. If I offered you a pen or pencil, perhaps it was because I forgot you were a blind person and slipped into thinking you were just a person, and had to readjust (of course, honestly, that one could have been because I really was an idiot.) Maybe where you sit is where you stay because I just don't have a clue as to what to do... the right way. Why not tell me how to help you mingle, so I'll be a better host or hostess.

Maybe I forgot to tell you what's on your plate, because I think you'll think I'm a jerk if I do. Why not ask in a friendly way, "Say, what is this awful smelling food on my plate," to remind the average apparently sighted idiot (which apparently we all are) that you don't see it.

Yes, I'm sighted. NO, I generally don't know what the hell to do, so why not tell me? Why gripe behind the idiot's back? Just speak up. Anyone who wouldn't let in a guide dog really is an idiot. Tell him so.

This article does not make me want to reach out, but instead run for cover because now I know that any effort that I try really will come out awkward, ill-timed, and unappreciated, even though I'm trying. I realize that this may come across as insensitive and maybe it is, but I think in reality, sighted people, like blind people, just want nice people around. Blind or not. But, if every act is judged negatively without any benefit of the doubt, it sounds more like blind people don't want sighted people around.

But, if you do want us around, what could be the harm in just telling us what to do. But speak slowly, because we're clearly idiots, or at the very least the biggest jerks on the planet.

~Vicki
MS

Dear Vicki,

I read your e-mail several times and I think you made some very valid points. My article was something I wrote originally with a blind woman friend and it was never intended for an audience other than blind people. Its tone reflects how a group will talk when they think nobody else is listening.

When the editor of BENT asked to publish aversion of the article, I said Yes, but now I'm somewhat sorry that it was published, because I don't think it does anything positive. Blind people understand it and identify with it and like it, but when sighted people read it it brings out negative feelings and anger, as your response reveals,

Again, I am sorry that my writing has brought about such discomfort and negative reactions, but I certainly can understand why. I'm actually a pussycat most of the time!

~Bob Feinstein

Dear Bob,

Upon hindsight, I probably could have written the previous e-mail a little differently. I guess I just felt kind of helpless, and doomed regardless. But, perhaps guilty also. Maybe the truth hurts just a bit too much. There are disadvantages to being the fly on the wall. And, I wouldn't say that the article was a bad one. After all, it forced quite a bit of reflection on my part of past behaviors. That's never a good feeling. But, that's not exactly your problem. That's mine.

Consider the e-mail as part of a confession that would go something like this—if I was forced:

Bob, I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. If I seem awkward and out of place, it's simply because I am. It's frightening to sit next to you, because most sighted people have always had some secret fear of the dark. It happens when we're kids“when the light's are turned off, all the really awful things happen. Socks turn into snakes, the shirt on the chair becomes a monster, even the idea of death wouldn't be so bad if it didn't seem so ... dark. 0

Now, Bob, don't blame every sighted person for my personal weaknesses and insecurities. In reality, we have no idea of what you do or don't see. But, it's just possible that my insecurities mean that I might sit you in a corner and try to forget you're there (I have NEVER done this).

When I first read your article, I didn't think that I would do that. I'm a nice person, too. I've seldom met a person I didn't like and that didn't like me. But, it's just possible that your article did have me somewhat pegged. I'm not going back to read it again, though. I'm just going to try to do better the next time. If I have one. I once sat next to a blind girl and was too scared to say hello. In fact, I convinced myself that since she didn't acknowledge my presence either, she probably never knew I was there.

Now, Bob, I definitely would've spoken to anyone else. Yep, upon hindsight, I have been a pretty good idiot. I think your article was written with me in mind.

Keep writing.
~Vicki


Don't wait.
Let us know what you think of this BENT feature.

.

 

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2003