I feel invaded a lot. I assume most of us do.
As a consumer in a capitalist society, my financial information is at constant risk of invasion. (I’ve had my CC info stolen twice in the last 3 months?! Really?? I’ll say it: these new RFID chips are WAY more trouble than they’re worth).
As a woman, literally leaving my apartment puts me at risk of invasion. And I don’t even mean fear of physical violence, I mean the constant, unending trickle of verbal abuse that I and pretty much every woman I know suffers on a regular basis. I mentioned to a friend the other day that it’s at the point where it’s a good day if I don’t get street harassed. That it’s so common that it’s become noteworthy when it doesn’t happen. (The reply I got was “yeah. but…it’s New York.” AND?!?)
And people, don’t even get me started on how violated I feel when I man tells me to “smile.” The degree of inherent ownership you have to feel over any and all women’s bodies to be comfortable enough that you feel it’s appropriate to dictate how that women should present herself to the world (“look happy, you have such a pretty face, you owe it to us to display your gratitude for my appreciation of said face so smile, bitch“) is mindblowing to me. Absolutely mindblowing. That the perpetrator of this act of violation is so deluded that they probably think they are doing the world a service by doing it makes me sick—literally, sick—with rage.)
And yesterday, I was reminded of a new kind of violation that I, and all of us with any kind of chronic illness, face. Riding the subway, I took out my meter to test my blood sugar. Normally, when I do this, absolutely no one notices, or cares. Today, the man next to me stared. Openly.
Fine, guy, I thought, stare. I could care less. I proceeded to test. The result: 174, not my best work, but I had been fairly low a few hours before at a bar/theatre performance and my most accessible option was pita bread, which was not ideal and probably caused the rebound. All things considered, 174 wasn’t terrible—when lows are bad and I don’t have pre-portioned carbs available I, as so many of us do, tend to over-treat. Frankly I was pleased to be under 200, and considered it a win.
I had totally forgotten about the creep next to me until he leaned in, smirking, and declared: “Ah, ate too many sweets, I see?”
My mouth sort of dropped open, and, amazingly, I found myself mentally composing a reply that amounted to an excuse. As in, I was about to lie to this guy on the subway; I was going to start going on about how my insulin pump cannula had kinked (not true), or I had an air bubble (not true), so you see, it wasn’t my fault at all, it had nothing to do with how much I had eaten, I was a victim here, it was all the fault of technology!
Fortunately, some rational part of my brain kicked in before I said that. That rational part began, then, to be blinded by rage. Really?? I was about to apologize to some stranger for their ignorance? What business was it of this asshole to make that kind of statement? Who cares what I had eaten, and how dare he attempt to shame me for something he had no idea about? What, did you read a 1970s pamphlet about diabetes, like, once in your life and now you’re an expert? This clown had no clue what he was talking about and I opened my mouth a second time, prepared to give him a piece of my mind.
Fortunately, a third, less rage-filled part of my brain kicked in here. Perhaps starting a fight on the subway with a stranger who was staring at me like he expected his Gold Star in Diabetes Expertise to be awarded at any minute wasn’t the best option, either. Frankly, he just needed to be educated about what the hell he had just butted his nose into, but that thought exhausted me before I began. Really? Am I really going to take the time to give this tool a lecture on type 1 diabetes and the complicated mechanism of both it and type 2 diabetes, as well as the innumerable factors that can and do cause both high and low blood sugar? I’m not a Certified Diabetes Educator, nor do I aspire to be one on the N train at 8:30 on a Saturday night. Frankly, I just wanted to go home and eat dinner.
So instead I looked down, mumbled “Uh, something like that,” and we sat in awkward silence until he disembarked.
One day later, I’m dissatisfied with my response. I don’t know what I could/should have said, what my responsibility is to any future diabetic that guy interacts with. There’s a part of me, in all of these situations – street harassment, last night, whatever, that has learned to feel a kind of inner guilt raising any degree of a stink. OK, so it wasn’t super appropriate for him to say that, but whatever. I can take it. All things considered, it was a “harmless statement”, right? Why overreact?
Except, it wasn’t. Hundreds of thousands of “harmless statements”, on any number of subjects, piled up over time in a society that doesn’t question or examine them, leads to a really twisted culture. One that reviles overweight people, that fat shames, that blames diabetics for their disease and thus provides them with inadequate medical care. One that teaches people to hate their bodies. One that makes it OK for someone to roll their eyes and immediately dismiss anything that I say after I declare myself a feminist. One that teaches women to feel guilty when men harass them; one where women are victims or horrific assault. One that uses words like “gay” or “retarded” as offensive slang. One whose apathy, on this and any number of subjects, is reprehensible. Absolutely, utterly reprehensible.
And while I’m on the subject, I’ll say this: those jokes you make, where you describe some overindulgent piece of food as “instant diabetes” or “diabetes-inducing” or “a big ol’ plate of diabetes!”? Those are offensive, and you should stop saying them. I’m so sick of seeing a joke like that (usually as a caption to an instagram photo of something delicious-looking), feeling annoyed and offended, then feeling guilty for feeling annoyed and offended, and talking myself out of saying anything to the joke-teller because I don’t want to look like I’m a wet blanked who can’t take a joke. I can take a joke, but jokes about severe illness, at the expense of those of us suffering from said illness, are not OK. They are stupid, and incorrect (no, your cupcake is not going to “cause” diabetes in anyone, and why exactly do you think it’s funny to say that it will? Just eat your food, man) And they again contribute, in their own tiny way, to a world where some tool on the subway can see my blood sugar is 174 and feel like it’s acceptable (and correct??!) to tell me that it was because I “ate too many sweets.”
Also: who says “sweets”? Is this a goddamn 18th Century novel?