I’m going to write about something that I did wrongly years ago. I’m sure that it will sound like a minor thing, but I have never forgotten it, and every time I think of it, I’m ashamed of what I did.
I can confidently say that I would not do it today.
I was in my early 20s, and flying into the airport in Oakland. The airline had open seating. I was late, and running to the gate with my luggage and gear bag.
I boarded the plane and saw an empty seat right in the front, where I like to sit, next to a young man who had to be a teenager or about my age…
…who had a malformed face.
Something was very wrong with his nose. It was very enlarged, red, and bulbous, and the skin was red and bumpy. He also had a cleft palate.
Otherwise, and I remember him clearly, he was well built and well dressed. White guy in jeans and a button-down striped shirt, brown hair.
We made eye contact. He saw me looking at the seat. It was one of two seats left on the airplane.
I recoiled–mentally, but not visibly, I hope. But, my choice said it all: I ran to the back of the airplane and took the last seat. By the toilet.
I have never forgiven myself for that. This poor guy has been rejected by girls, and probably by society at large, his whole life, and he sees a pretty girl get on the airplane, and she would rather take the last seat by the smelly crapper than sit by him?
He was the only one who sat alone on that flight. I imagine he’s sat alone his whole life. I cannot imagine why he hadn’t had a Recon-Plastics surgeon even partially fix his face. Then again, maybe they had, and it used to be worse. Or maybe he came from some awful country in Europe like Maldova. Not that our health care system, especially before Obamacare, was stellar.
I would not do the same thing today. I do believe it is instinctual to recoil from deformity, because our brains are hard-wired to be pattern-seekers, and when we see something that is not typical, it shocks us.
Mature, humane people know how to process it and treat the other person with common respect. Also, how to not be a “savior” and presume they can’t do things by themselves, especially making a big show of it in public. Infantalizing them.
One thing sex work has taught me is how to empathize with people. I’ve had clients in wheelchairs, clients on crutches, amputees, deaf clients, clients on SSI who saved up to see me. Clients in wheelchairs. Clients who were mentally disabled.
Much worse: clients who were psychopaths.
I cannot forget how I rejected that man in the airplane. I know readers will think this blog post is trivial, but, to me, it’s not.