During my lifetime, I have been asked the same Question what seems like millions of times. For anyone who doesn’t already know, I was born one-handed. The Question is, “what happened to your arm?” It’s a perfectly innocent question, except I don’t really get why it matters so much. Plus, having it asked over and over and over, has had an effect.
Imagine if, while growing up, every time you met someone new, they asked you what happened to your ____________ (fill in the blank)…nose, ear, hair, etc. Imagine how that might shape your self image. And what made it even harder to answer The Question was the fact that there was no gory story to tell. This is me. This is how I was made. Nothing “happened” to my arm.
I was raised in a rural town in the Midwest in the 60s. Lots of people who lived there had never left town and hadn’t been exposed to people who are born different from the norm. Many people simply had no frame of reference for me. So, I got asked The Question a lot. When I was 18, and preparing to leave my small town environment to attend college. It occurred to me that I got asked The Question less frequently because most everyone in the county had met me by then, but I was going to soon be meeting at least a thousand new people at college and would certainly be asked The Question many times over. Ughh! It almost made me not want to go.
So, I decided that if I must go through it again, then I would have some fun with it. I spent the next year, answering everyone, regardless of the situation, with the same reply…”I used to wrestle alligators.” I had a lot of fun that year, but I was unprepared for how many people responded with BELIEF! So, ad hoc, I developed a follow up line…”Yes, my record is 19 and one.” Most people figured it out at that point.
I still get asked The Question once in a while, but it’s far, far less. I think the reason is that our society is more connected to the outside world and diversity is more of a given. Most people today accept that many people are born different and there are endless ways that can happen. I also think that The Americans With Disabilities Act and people speaking up and out about disabilities has had a big impact. Maybe the Violence Against Women Act and sites like Learninghope.org, which encourage people to speak up and out about childhood sexual abuse, will make people stop asking the victims to figure out what they might have done to cause the abuse. That’s The Question we all need to put an end to.