Overheard in line at the V.A. pharmacy the other day (for real, not metaphor):
Man’s voice: She looks too healthy and young to be here.
Woman’s voice (sounding snide): She’s probably just picking up for someone else.
I thought: They’re so close, and so loud. They can’t be talking about me…?
[::sees no one but the two people making the remarks::]
And I realized that it really does suck to be talked about literally behind your back within close earshot, regardless of what the people are saying. I would have preferred that they address me directly, if they were so curious. I wouldn’t find that to be rude in the slightest.
When I turned to look at them, they were staring at me. I stared back. The woman’s eyes were cold. In fact, she was glaring. Like I didn’t have the right to be there.
Then the man said, to my face this time, that I looked too healthy to be picking up meds for myself at the V.A. pharmacy.
To which I replied, actually, yes, I’m picking up for myself. (I held up my veteran’s I.D. card, which I had in my hand. It’s required to pick up meds.)
Yes, I’m a card-carrying vet. You don’t believe me? Look. Holding up my I.D. as if I was a cop pulling someone over.
The man said, Whoa! You don’t say!!
A brief conversation about my combat service in the 1990-1991 Gulf War ensued before the pharmacist called my name.
NOTE: I was not offended. I was annoyed that I felt like I had to justify my presence there.
No one should feel that they have to validate their illness to strangers in line at the pharmacy.
No one should have to owe anyone an explanation to correct a record made because of an appearance-based judgment.
No one is safe from scrutiny.
It happens that “too healthy and young” are not hurtful words. I know that. But it was still a judgment based on appearance, and it was dismissive. It carried the insinuation that I was trespassing on sacred ground that belonged to others. Context is important. If you’re in line because you were ambushed during a ground war, it sucks to be dismissed because of how you look.
More often than not, though, people hear outright mean things when they overhear someone talking about them. People say hurtful things about others without caring. I’ve witnessed this kind of assholery; it’s awful.
The thing is, we’re constantly making judgments about others based on appearance. If that’s unavoidable because “it’s human nature”? At least don’t be an asshole.
When I had active Sjogren’s Syndrome, people actually did say to me, “But you don’t look sick!”
When someone found out that I have Hashimoto’s – autoimmune hypothyroidism – they actually said, “OH but you don’t LOOK like you have underactive thyroid disease.” (This has happened more than once.)
You’ve heard it all before. Invisible illness, blah, blah, blah.
Appearance: young/healthy = CAN’T BE A VET
Appearance: healthy = MUST BE HEALTHY
Appearance: heavier than average = MUST BE A LAZY OVER-EATER WITH NO SELF-CONTROL
Appearance: thinner than average = MUST HAVE AN EATING DISORDER OR A METH ADDICTION
Appearance: not white = MUST BE (insert stereotype associated with the applicable ethnicity)
Appearance: a cop = MUST BE A RACIST, BLOOD-THIRSTY PSYCHOPATH
Appearance: tattoos/piercings/other body modifications = MUST BE A DEGENERATE
Appearance: clean-cut = MUST BE AN UPSTANDING CITIZEN
Et cetera, ad nauseum. And we’re often wrong. We can get in trouble because of it. Remember Ted Bundy?
Most of us hear “Don’t judge a book by its cover” from the time we’re old enough to write a sentence. We know better, and yet we still do it! We are fallible human beings, all of us, by nature. In my opinion, since we’re born with the propensity to f*ck things up, we can at least try to be kind, decent, and respectful human beings.
(I’m sorry to come back to you with another ranty post. I prefer being positive here, but sometimes, there are things I need to say.)
Thank you for reading, as always!