My friend Paula is crippled from childhood rheumatic arthritis. When we go out together I drop her off at the door of the restaurant or we take her handicap placard to use if we know there will be a lot of walking like a concert venue. Recently we went on a girl’s weekend and I made sure to get on escalators before her so she could use me as support. I held all the doors for her because it is polite and easier for her. We are at a museum and a security guard asked her to remove her backpack to wear just on one shoulder. They needed people to be aware they had their backpacks on. Paula fussed and became hostile with the guard. I offered to carry the pack since Paula has had numerous shoulder operations and can’t carry the weight on one shoulder. She was still fussing several minutes later so I told her I thought it was a good rule. Having been smacked by someone wearing a foot thick backpack oblivious to their surroundings I appreciate the rule. Since the day before at another museum numerous people had walked directly in front of me so they could read what I was reading I told her that people aren’t self aware. Look at selfie sticks as proof. Thirty minutes later we are in one of the Italian Renaissance salons when a woman who is having an animated conversation turns and hits the million dollar piece of art with her backpack so hard the alarms go off. Paula looked at me and said, “I see their point now.”
Last month I took a flight that could have made me a viral news sensation had someone recorded it. I was on a plane that had two rows of seats by the wings and three seats down the center. I am on the left wing on the aisle. My row mate shows up several minutes later. He struggles with getting his bag in the overhead. He then tells me I will have to switch seats with him. He is too large to sit by the window. He doesn’t ask but tells me while glaring at me. I decide to throw him a bone and take my sweet time unbuckling, collecting my belongings from under the seat and seat pocket before moving. He sits and jerks on the armrest I have my arm resting on.
“What are you doing?” I demand refusing to move my arm.
“I can’t fit in the seat comfortably with the armrest down.” He says tugging on it again!
“I just had an injection in my shoulder and need to keep my arm supported. I need the armrest.” I am in fact wearing a sling.
“I need the room.” He calls for a flight attendant and asks for a seat belt extender and for her to tell me I have to lift the armrest. We argue back and forth for several minutes. Everyone around us is looking at the situation happening here. She says she will return in a moment to see if there are any other seats free. She returns and there is a free seat available! It is in the center row and the middle seat. She and he look at me and I shrug.
“I am not moving. I paid extra so I didn’t have to sit in the middle. Let him move.” My shoulder is fucking kill me already and now I have to sit squeezed between two people?! I explain I have status with this airline and had wanted one of their premium seats but they were full. Those seats are larger and maybe he should have tried to get one too.
A few things happen that let me know I have struck a nerve. He makes a strong noise of disgust. The flight attendant’s mouth falls open and some unknown woman behind me says, “Tell em girlfriend.”
The flight attendant scampered away. While she is gone he says I am shaming him for being fat. I try to interrupt stating what happened to my rights to have the seat I paid for and enjoy the whole seat. When he was seated he was at least 4 inches into my seat. A man across the aisle says hatefully that the larger man should have bought two seats. Larger man fires back that is discrimination. My new friend behind me states men always want to hog the seats and women shouldn’t have to make themselves smaller so men can spread out.
Flight attendant comes back and says she has an aisle seat for me upfront. I start collecting my stuff and larger man asks if it is in first class because if it is he wants to be given that seat. She tells him I have status and being moved based on that. I was moved to first class and the airline gave me a credit for the “stress I was put through”. I didn’t even ask for a credit and I did not have enough status for 1st class but I appreciated the gesture. In first class I sat next to a man about the size of the other man. No issues since the seats are larger and he was polite when he asked me to move so he could go to the bathroom.
So what is my point? My friend Paula felt discriminated against about her backpack. The security guard she felt wasn’t taking her limited mobility into consideration. When the alarms went off they literally went off for her too. That rule wasn’t about her but about protecting priceless pieces of art. That is why the museum staff asked her several times if she wanted to check her bag for free. The large man may have felt discriminated against but he made me feel discriminated against as well. He assumed that because I am petite I wouldn’t mind be shoved against the window. The fact I have panic attacks in small places make crowded flights a nightmare for me. My shoulder was throbbing from juggling my purse and carryon for two layovers and 7 hours of flying with two more hours to go. I had offered to let him have the window, the seat he paid for, so I could still use the armrest and he was put out I suggested it. I didn’t want to have to disclose my mental status to everyone seating around me but had they forced me to seat there with a stranger in my personal space next to the window I would have freaked the fuck out. I speak from experience on this. It is why I buy tickets early so I can get seats that work for me.
Sometimes what we see as adversity or discrimination isn’t.