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Women on the Move: Jill Khoury on the White Cane

about to flip the transformation switch

Toggle switchThe following article is being re-posted with permission from Jill Khoury. If you recall, I wrote a post on Jill back in June of this year (you can view it HERE). To give you an idea of what it’s like to be visually impaired I’ve provided a YouTube video on the day in the life of vision impairment. It’s important to note that due to the vast range of blindness, vision impairment differs from person to person.

Today’s piece spoke volumes to me and I’m sure others who have, or are, experiencing vision loss can identify with some of Jill’s sentiments. The decision to intentionally no longer “pass,” like using the white cane, is deeply personal, life-changing, and to some extent cathartic. Jill, thank you for allowing me to share this with my readers and please know that I’m sending positive vibes your way – you are not alone.  

Family, friends, colleagues, secret foes: I have a life announcement. No, I’m not pregnant and my manuscript did not get picked up. I have a new white cane, and I’m going to start using it full-time.

As many of you know, I have struggled with the concept of passing. Most of my life I did; then for a few years I didn’t, then my mom suicided and I put the cane away indefinitely. I was under the impression that it made me more comfortable to blend in. Maybe for awhile there, it did. But it takes a *tremendous* amount of energy to pretend I’m a sighted person. I’m starting to feel tired. Like, in my spirit.

When I last tried the cane in the city where I currently live, I became filled with anger. I lived in a neighborhood with a lot of alcohol and drugs, hence perhaps lower inhibitions, and I constantly being beset by hassling and offensive comments from men.

The neighborhood I live in now is more obsessed with being proper, so I’m hoping less harassment.

A woman I know, B, who barely knows I exist, is teaching me patience by example. I secretly appreciate her as a role-model for dealing with what I call “the in-betweeners.”

On the street, all over the city, over top of the harassment I got in my neighborhood, I was getting constant offers of help with basic tasks. I did not give a shit if people meant well. It filled me with anger to be condescended to. I was so bottled up with anger that I was almost out of control. In my experience, most people don’t understand what it is to be blind; some people don’t even understand that there are many different types of blindness which make (nearly?) every blind person capable of different things. The constant “helping” made me just … I was just… every muscle in my body was tense with anger.

However. I have met this woman B. Who knows a lot about being condescended to and much worse than that. She is patient but assertive. She has lived a long time and been through much. She seems comfortable with who she is and not having to fit in anyone’s box.

I have watched her interact with these people who “mean well,” and I want to try being like that. Patient but assertive. December draws ever closer. Maybe this is what year 40 will be for me. The year of learning a new way to respond to situations that will be healthier for me in so many aspects. Not to mention, my chances of getting hit by a bus are greatly reduced.

This transition will be so hard. I still have my dad’s voice in my head that I will pretty much be victimized because I am blind –the implication being that I am essentially weaker than the norms.

I have tried this experiment before and failed, so failure is the precedent.

Using the cane, having the signifier, will make me wear my vulnerability on the outside, when I have been preoccupied with quietly trying to stuff it away. Don’t look behind the curtain!

The truth is, using the cane will make me so much less vulnerable. Literally. To cars. On stairs. In crowds. And I will not have to chase fractured images of this world that moves so fast, way too fast for me, like a child batting at a butterfly, because I am so obsessed with passing. Maybe I won’t have to play the “face-name game at readings,” when people forget that I can’t see and presume I know who they are.

So if you are reading this, please send me supportive energy. This is a big, huge, enormous deal for me. It will cause me to move differently, interact differently, and interpret my own social identity differently. To make the successful switch, I will basically have to transcend my current self and become a new self. No big deal. Yeah, I need you. I need your positive vibes. For serious.

[On a more practical note, if you live in the area, let’s make a plan to go for a walk! It doesn’t matter where. This kind of white cane is different than the kinds I’ve used before, and so there will be some relearning of skills and re-acquiring of grace. I may look more awkward –walking with people has never been my strong suit –but I will feel less alone if you are with me.]

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~Desmond Tutu

3 thoughts on “Women on the Move: Jill Khoury on the White Cane

  1. […] I wrote about Jill Khoury twice last year: once in June and a follow-up article in September. In my June post (HERE) I introduced Jill as a talented poet, artist, and activist. The follow-up post was about her decision to once again use the white cane, to read click HERE. […]

  2. This really hit home for me when I read it. I was born blind and I still struggle with this. I long to blend in and fit in and I can’t seem to quite get over the fact that when I am out with a white cane I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. I know a lot of it is in my head, but the world does still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance and tolerance. I battle anger and other bad and negative emotions too. You are not alone. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Hi Kerry, thank you for your comment. Yes, when I saw this yesterday I felt the same way. I so wish we could all get over the stigma associated with the white cane. Some days I’m okay and others I feel so vulnerable and different although I don’t think different is a bad thing as long as we can take hold of our confidence and this is the challenge.

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