15 September, 2012

Answering Googled Questions

“answer to rude people who want to know what your service dog does for you”

My good friend s.e. smith supplied this answer for me, when I wrestled over the same question: “I don’t discuss my medical record with strangers.”

If you’re feeling polite, you can smile while you say it and tack a “Sorry, but” on the beginning. If this is the fifth person to ask you today and you are all out of patience, practice a flat, matter of fact tone. I don’t explain further, I don’t do a song and dance. I just say “I don’t discuss my medical record with strangers.” and leave it at that. There is pretty much no need to explain further, really, because as soon as I say it the person realizes that they’ve been rude.

The next thing that usually happens is that the person begins apologizing profusely and trying to tell me how they didn’t mean to be offensive. I had a woman follow me down the hallway at school once, telling me all about how she has a friend with a service dog and blah blah blah. I tend to try to deflect the rampaging apologies, because I’m generally not feeling up to reassuring someone that no, really, I don’t think they’re a bad person (just a thoughtless one). If I’m feeling energetic and it’s someone I have to spend time with, I may try to change the subject to something non-dog-related entirely. The weather works well. I can almost always come up with something to say about the weather.

But really, you don’t have to tell people what your service dog does. You don’t. Supercrips aside, those people who have limitless energy for educating other people about disabilities and service dogs (and will often try to get you to do the same, or feel guilty for wanting privacy and setting boundaries), you do not have to discuss your medical issues with every random curious stranger. You are allowed to decide what the world knows about you beyond what is immediately visible, and to defend that boundary against people who think their curiosity is more important than your privacy.

It can be really hard to refuse to answer questions, admittedly, because a lot of us (especially women) have been raised to be nice. Disappointing strangers, or possibly offending them by implying that they’re prying into private matters that are none of their damn business (which is exactly what they’re doing) is not “nice”, and it’s hard for us to overcome the training. Which is why I suggest practicing until that is how you respond automatically.

And don’t let the Supercrips tell you that you have an obligation to educate everyone in the whole damn world. You don’t. If you don’t have the time and energy for it, that’s fine. You’re not a bad person just because you want to get out, grab some milk and bread, and get home and collapse in front of the TV with a cheesy movie. If other people feel a calling to educate people indiscriminately, I think that’s wonderful that they’re called and able to do so, but they can lay off the rest of us who have limited energy and would like to be able to get some groceries without turning it into an After School Special Episode on disability.

So there you go. If you feel uncomfortable asserting boundaries, like maybe you’re not being nice enough, drop me a comment or an e-mail via the contact form and I will write you a personal permission note to have privacy, seriously. Sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else.

PS: This phrase works for every other mobility aid and assistive item, too. Use it liberally when people ask things like “What’s wrong with you?” (AND YES THEY DO ASK THAT QUESTION and I hate it every time) and “When are you going to get rid of that cane/chair/dog?”