“But you don’t look blind” Many of us blind/VI ladies hear this quite often, especially if we are stylish and walk confidently with our white canes or guide dogs. But here’s the thing, if someone told you they had cancer to say “you don’t look like you have cancer” would be considered rude. The same holds true for blindness and many other disabilities. Fact is there are many fashionable and attractive women who happen to be blind. The thing that sets us apart is we refuse to let our lack of eyesight prevent us from living life on our terms.
I think it’s important for all of us to remember things aren’t always as they might appear.
“Everybody, including people with disabilities, makes assumptions. Problems arise when we are not open to learning our assumption was wrong.”
I am posed standing in this photo (a collage of three images) with my white cane. My outfit is a black tee, black leggings, black crisscross heels, gray long hooded vest.
Another tri-collage where I’m standing with my white cane against my counter in the living room. This time I’m wearing all white (jeans, cami, open shirt) with beige block-heeled lace-up sandals. A silver cuff bracelet, statement necklace, and earrings complete the look.
Back when I was a youngster through my high school years, there were many days I wished I could just disappear. I was a prime target for bullying in school because I was so quiet, shy, and afraid, and after school homelife wasn’t much better.
Thankfully time, distance, and many therapy sessions later have muted most of my childhood memories. There are however triggers from time to time that take me back to a specific situation.
If you’ve been following me for a while you know the primary focus of this blog revolves around style as it relates to blindness. However as I’ve said many times we are so much more than how we appear which is why I weave stories of my life into my outfit posts. Today’s memory partially revolves around the brightly colored fleece sweatshirts in the attached photos (more on this in a minute).
For years I thought I was different because I grew up in a dysfunctional environment however I’ve come to understand my main issue was unworthiness. In adulthood my codependency evolved into a strong desire to strive for perfection and to always be in control.
While my need for control had its own set of issues, when it came to someone I cared about being threatened my lioness instincts kicked-in. One of my bullies found this out firsthand when he decided he was going to pick on my little brother, to this day I still have the scar to prove it, I chased the creep down, unloaded on him and didn’t realize until afterwards that I skinned my knee.
Through protecting my younger brother my inner crazy was unleashed. So it only made sense when one of my other bullies thought she could still push me around, I channeled the crazy and from that day on the bullying ceased.
If I thought discovering I had a lioness instinct was huge imagine my surprise when, in my last year of high school, I finally found a way to become accepted. Prior to 11th grade if I wasn’t in school or studying, I was sleeping. Sleep was my way of escape so it really wasn’t a revelation that being introduced to alcohol would bring out a Steph I didn’t know existed.
For the first time in my life I was outgoing and fun to be around. Finally, I could become the person I always wanted to be because alcohol relaxed my inner turmoil. I now had a social life and was one of the kool kids.
When I began having children it was time to get serious and I remained true to my childhood vow that life would be different for them. I was unafraid to show them affection and would hug, kiss, and tell them at every opportunity that I loved them. I needed them to know they were valued, wanted, and more importantly loved. I would have fought to the death for them however while I loved them like crazy, I was strict because of that whole codependency/perfectionism thing.
Looking back now I can see how I’ve become so intense and how losing my eyesight would push me over the edge. In order to move onward after a life-altering situation like sight loss at some point you have to succumb to the circumstances.
So what does all of this have to do with fitting in? The answer in three words: The. White. Cane. When I first began using my white cane I felt like it was a beacon. I stood out and at times felt uncomfortable but I had to keep pushing through because as I saw it I had two choices: give up or give in. I chose to give in because giving in meant that I was going to accept my situation and learn to work within the parameters set before me.
In today’s photos I decided since I stand out with the white cane I might as well go all the way and wear bright, attention-getting tops along with my little granny boots and coated jeans. These fleece sweatshirts are two of three (third on is displayed in Mix and Re-Mix) that I got for $6.00 each at Kohl’s. Following and in Alt-text are descriptions on the photos.
Outfit #1 – fluorescent coral fleece sweatshirt, black-coated jeans, black lace & faux leather lace-up booties with a kitten heel and a multi-colored fringed scarf (in shades of burgundy, brown & white) tied like a loose neck-tie. Accessories are lacy diamond-shaped dangling earrings, silver bracelet and rings.
Outfit #2 – This outfit is exactly the same as outfit #1 except I’m wearing a bright peach colored fleece sweatshirt.
Outfit #3 – This outfit consists of the same jeans & booties but I’m wearing a gray & white striped tee and a black boyfriend blazer cuffed (cuffs are black & white plaid). Accessories are a long pendant fringe necklace, silver and gray beaded stretch bracelet and the same earrings as in outfits 1 & 2.
The 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