Access by Various artists


I'm not laughing

by Chelle Hope

I’m sick of being patronised and infantilised.  Often things are said in a jokey way and because it’s all in good fun, I feel like it would be humourless or mean of me to react negatively.  I doubt people even realise what they are doing or saying and I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings with my reaction. Much of the time people are trying to be nice and so I feel I have to go along with their wee 'joke'.

When these interactions occur, I am left feeling angry, hurt and frustrated.  Ultimately, I feel powerless to do anything about it.

When people I don’t know comment on the chocolate I bought, or the bottle of wine or, God forbid, a packet of cigarettes, saying something like, “Ooh, you don’t have chocolate in that basket, do you?” or, “That’s not wine, is it?” said in a tone reserved only for naughty children, I smile and get out of there with as much dignity as I can escape with.

For the record, I don't drink or smoke anymore.  I had to give up both for health reasons and I still yearn for the days when I was young enough to get away with such 'bad behaviour'.  I don't miss the attention I got for purchasing such grown up items, though.  It is humiliating and embarrassing to be treated like a naughty school kid for doing stuff that so many other adults get to do without question.

Sure, it’s a joke.  Perhaps I should have more of a sense of humour about it.  Well, most of the time I do.  Sometimes though, I just don’t feel like being complicit in my own humiliation.  Sometimes all I want is not to be noticed.

That’s not possible though.  My wheelchair seems to be an open invitation to treat me like a child, or worse, a moron.  I would like, really, just to be treated like everybody else.  Would an able-bodied person ever be treated in the same way?  I suspect not.  Certainly nobody I’ve spoken to about this gets subjected to the same routine and, without exception, people expressed surprise that this was a regular occurrence for me.

As soon as the story broke that PM John Key had been playing a game of ‘tug the ponytail on the waitress’ at his local café a while ago, I understood completely what it felt like to be the woman at the centre of it all.  This was no game, this was a joke at someone else's expense.  It was just a bit of fun, that’s true, but not for everyone concerned.

When I was a child, adults used to ruffle my hair in a good natured way, as adults have been doing to children forever.  As a child you don’t really think about it.  You smile and carry on.  Well, I’m nearly 35 and it’s still happening.  I still get people ruffling and messing up my hair in the same way that they did when I was five.  Yeah, I’ve definitely lost my sense of humour when it comes to being treated like a child.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good joke and I adore comedy.  I wouldn't say I'm that easy to offend, either.  Unless someone is using humour to bully or incite hatred of an individual or group, I'll almost always be on the side of comedy.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples out there of comedians who do laugh at, bully and incite hatred of groups and individuals.  Intelligence, nuance and layers of understanding are nowhere to be found in this brand of what might loosely be termed humour.  Irony is dead to these people, and so is their comedy.

I laugh all the time at myself and the jokes I make about my disability have been brutal enough to make grown men cringe in horror.  Those who know me well are in on the joke and we laugh together.  We share a history and the people who I’m lucky enough to know and love understand what it is to live with disability.

If I'm not laughing at some apparently clever jibe, or quip, or witty comment you've made, or I don’t look pleased that you’ve invaded my personal space, you're not sharing a joke, you are making a joke at my expense.  You are laughing at me and the joke is wearing thin.

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