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I’m Left Handed. 11, July 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Thoughts.
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We signed a lease on a new flat today and it was my job to hand over the deposit as I’m the one with the cheque book. As I was writing out the cheque I encountered one of many items on the list of irritations faced by a left handed person. Cheque books weren’t designed with me in mind. It wasn’t so bad writing out the portion for our new landlord but writing on the tab for my personal records? Nightmare. I end up wasting half a line because the spine of the book won’t allow me to get my hand in any further. I sometimes encounter the same problem with notebooks. Even the notebooks with the spiral spine have a tiny gap between the edge of the page and where my sentences begin – and not just for the start of a new paragraph.

It got me thinking. I’ve spent my whole life adapting to a world that sometimes acts like I don’t exist. Of course I exist and of course the world knows about left handed people but my hand-orientation is sometimes an after thought. Those exam desks at university with the table that was attached so you lifted it up to get into the seat? I hated those things. What is a comfortable position for a right handed person is horrible when you’re left handed. It means I was leaning across the desk with my body so I could actually take notes. I couldn’t sit right back in the chair and get comfortable. Occasionally my lecture theatres would have a token desk orientated the other way or the pure magic that was a desk with an arm that could be moved to your hand-orientation of choice but guess what? Often a right handed person sat in them! I don’t know if they even realised most of the time.

I don’t get very many opportunities to be an Other. I’m heterosexual, white, middle class and educated. Cry more, right? I definitely wouldn’t say the sort of discrimination I encounter as a left handed person is anywhere near the same level as that encountered by a person of colour or someone who identifies as gay. I suppose being a woman my sexuality and interests get Other-ed sometimes but there’s no denying I’m in a privileged position. At least there are left handed tools. It’s a pain because they’re not always available in the shops so you have to order but my left handed status will never get me thrown out of anywhere or yelled at in the street. If it ever does, I’ve yet to experience that.

However, I do still get annoyed sometimes. I lost count at a fairly early age of the amount of times someone suddenly said to me “are you left handed?!” or variations of when I was writing or generally doing something with my left hand. No, I’m just pretending…

This might seem like a trivial gripe but I have honestly never felt the need to exclaim “I didn’t know you were right handed!” to anyone. It just doesn’t matter to me. So it adds to my feeling that right hand is assumed default to the point where it is deemed amazingly noteworthy when someone is left handed, even though anyone over the age of about five knows that there’s such a thing as being left handed.

That’s genuine curiosity though, which is fine in small doses. There’s some horrible stuff too. Seeing as I at least pretend to be a medievalist I always forget that fear of something different, no matter how daft, didn’t get left behind along with a belief that evil spirits could influence people. My grandma apparently noticed me picking up objects with my left hand as a baby and desperately tried to correct me by placing the object in my right hand. My mum says that it caused a few arguments. As far as my mum was concerned, it didn’t matter. Her mum had other ideas. Not really surprising considering my grandma was from an era where it was still common to tie a left handed child’s hand behind their back at school.

I was too young to remember my grandma’s treatment but I can remember the dinner ladies at my primary school. Correcting a left handed child is hurtful. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I am a left handed person who eats with my knife in my left hand, fork in right. A couple of dinner ladies would always switch them around as I ate and chastise me for it. Obviously they failed to correct me permanently as I still eat that way around. Still, they made me feel like a freak by making a point, in front of other kids, that I wasn’t eating properly. This was the early 90s, I don’t think there was any place for that sort of thinking even then. I’d wait for the dinner lady to walk off out of sight and switch back. It’s probably my earliest example of personal defiance.

I try to explain to strongly right handed people how this feels by telling them to imagine a world where left handed people are 90% of the population and they’re still right handed. Imagine everything being set up for the other hand-orientation to the point where using as conventional tin opener is an epic struggle, often ending with the tin still unopened but with several dents in it. Imagine trying to write on a notepad but having to angle your hand and the page a specific way so you don’t smudge. Imagine your primary school teacher coming along and telling you off for not having the page “straight” on the desk. Yes, that one happened to me too. Imagine being told off by another teacher for your “sloppy” cutting out but the reason it’s sloppy is because the scissors were made for the other hand-orientation. Now I’m older I’ve become a pro at using right handed scissors in my left hand or I’ll give in and use them in my right but the cutting isn’t quite as neat. As a child I couldn’t understand why something as simple as scissors wouldn’t work for me but I tried anyway. So I ended up with jagged edges when I cut things out. This teacher was right handed and chose instead to see my work as sloppy rather than me being at a disadvantage.

There are some people who say “well, most people are right handed, so deal with it” but if you think about it, that’s almost slippery slope thinking. You know who else uses that kind of logic? Homophobes. I have heard such people say “most people are straight, I shouldn’t have to look at that” when two men are obviously in love and holding hands in public. Again, the comparison is trite because nobody will prevent me from getting married to the one I love for being left handed (for example) – but the same basic logic is there. Everyone else is X so Y should just stop complaining.

I don’t know where I was going with this exactly. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot because it affects me. Sounds quite self centred but most of us are to some degree. I think if there’s one request I could give to he world it wouldn’t be for more left handed scissors or can openers. It would be this: please stop saying “wow, you’re left handed!” as though it is something that has just snuck up on me and you’re the one to point it out – I’m 26 years old. Believe me, I’ve noticed.

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