I was born totally blind, and accordingly, have enjoyed 25 years of people’s baffling, strange and sometimes downright ridiculous questions.
Let’s skip over the “Who takes care of you?” and “Where’s your helper?” questions, shall we? Life’s too short for y’all to endure one of my epic rants. Onward!
1. “How do you dress yourself?”
This question, I suppose, is rooted in the sighted person’s belief that looking at things is the only efficient way to get things done. I can understand this intellectually, but I always wonder why dressing oneself is the issue sighted people seem to fixate upon. Cutting steak without looking like a cavewoman, crossing a street without becoming roadkill and negotiating a crowded room without smashing into unsuspecting randoms, though certainly doable as a blind person, are much more anxiety-provoking for me than choosing the right clothes.
The answer: If you’re a classy blind person who has their life together, you put Braille labels on your clothes with colors/descriptions/suggested outfit combinations, learn all the rules about color coordinating and/or arrange your closet in some meticulous order that you’ve magically memorized. Or, if you’re me, you just grab whichever T-shirt and jeans you get a hold of first. Or you can FaceTime your mom. Obviously.
2. “Can you see in the rain like Daredevil?”
No. Seriously, people, it’s a freaking fictional story.
3. “Do you want to touch my face?”
Are you coming on to me? Every time I get this question, I can’t help but feel like it’s an accidental (and bad) pick-up line. The blind face-touching trope has become such a fixture in Hollywood that even when it’s actually totally appropriate to touch someone’s face — like an adorable baby or, you know, an adorable lover — blind people are often too ashamed to do so.
Fun fact: For someone like me, who was born totally blind and, thus, has never seen anything, touching someone’s face doesn’t actually yield a mental snapshot at all. However, for people with low vision or who were once sighted, I’m told touching someone’s face can sometimes give the visually impaired person a clearer idea of what the face looks like.
4. “Do you do that thing where you rub the paper?”
I was asked this by an eager, well-meaning paratransit driver last year, and it made my entire day. Yes, I do read — and love — Braille. But sadly, not all blind people read Braille — a long, depressing story, which involves a combination of a severe shortage of well-trained Braille teachers and increased access to audiobooks and screen reading technology — so this is actually a valid question and can lead to interesting conversations.
Fun fact: To be read quickly and smoothly, Braille actually requires a light, deft touch. Literally “rubbing” the paper, therefore, wouldn’t do much good.
5. “When you roller blade, do you tie a rope around your waist and tie the other end around a friend’s waist so you can follow them?”
One of my beloved friends from UC Santa Cruz asked me this when I told him how much I love blading. Hilarious, but no. I just link arms/hold hands with someone sighted, use my cane or skate solo and empty-handed, if the terrain’s flat and not crowded.
6. “How do you have sex?”
When I’m done being embarrassed by strangers asking me this question — seriously, it’s so awkward — I explain that intimacy is about our other four senses as much as, if not more than, sight. Granted, without eye contact and visual cues like nods and facial expressions, intimacy with a blind person may require a bit more verbal communication than is typical. Still, I’m reasonably confident in assuming that the disparities end there.
Fun fact: Partners get megapoints if they agree to keep the lights off in intimate moments. Sometimes I like to be on even footing in that way, especially while still getting to know someone.
7. “So I bet you have super amazing hearing since you’re missing a sense, right?”
There are all sorts of studies about blind people’s senses and the active and inactive sections of our brain. Don’t ask me about this; I was a freaking literature major, so I don’t know jack about this stuff.
What I think, though, is that blind people often pay more attention to our other four senses because a) we kind of have to, out of necessity and b) visual distractions are omitted for us.
8. “How do you find your mouth with your fork?”
I just… do.
I honestly don’t even have a good answer for this question, but I’ve been asked it many times. Do sighted people watch their forks for every bite? I really don’t even understand this question.
Fun fact: Google “dining in the dark” and see if it’ll be in your area. It’s the best! Also look for Groupons, unless you have lots of bank.
9. “Do you feel like you relate to people differently because of your blindness?”
This is my absolute favorite strange question. So few people ask it, which is tragic, so I always light up when the topic comes up. Yes, I do think I relate to people a bit differently, and — not gonna lie — it kind of fascinates even me.
I can tell so much about a person just from the way they talk to me, touch me and engage with me. Their tone of voice and turn of phrase can often give me a sense of whether they’re distracted, nervous, preoccupied or genuinely tuned in. The way someone touches or hugs me can feel distinctly warm, connected, patronizing or hollow. How someone walks with me often gives me clues about whether or not they’re awkward, anxious or completely at ease.
I also gauge that, sometimes, random sighted people are more readily comfortable around me, and that’s almost certainly due to my blindness. Maybe it makes them feel better to know that I’m not going to laugh at the pimple on their nose or the ratty sweatshirt they threw on that morning. I’m a fairly captive, non-threatening audience, too, and people probably think I’ll be a good listener (I do always try to be).
I’ve had friends tell me they appreciate there’s no social pressure to make eye contact with me. And even though my ability to pick up on someone’s emotional stress signals might seem a little freaky at first, loved ones have commented that my intuitive check-ins and the resulting conversations can be refreshing.
Keep the quirky questions coming, my silly sighted acquaintances. Maybe we’ll be able to swing a round two!
Author’s note: I absolutely do not mind when people ask me questions; in fact, I applaud them for it. Often, this is a nice first step toward getting to know me and understanding how I do things. I don’t at all mean to discourage questions, or to make fun of anyone’s lack of understanding. However, it’s always appreciated if you get to know me as a person before requesting a crash course in Blindness 101. If you hang out with me, you’ll inevitably be able to answer a lot of your questions on your own.