I will be honest and tell you there is a woman who commutes with me in the morning who is very, very large and for whom I have little tolerance. I don’t know if it’s because I am discriminating or if it’s just because SHE IS RUDE. But here’s the situation.
This woman is obese. She walks, slowly, with a cane. I do not know if she has a condition other than obesity forcing her to use the cane and walk so slowly, but I cannot imagine it is easy to get around at her size in any case. She is an indeterminate age, probably somewhere in her forties or fifties, but with her light coloring it is hard to tell. Yesterday I learned she has a German accent. And, not to be obnoxious but the moment I heard her speak I thought she could pass for the mom or grandmother of Uter (the Germanish foreign exchange student on The Simpsons).
We wait for the bus in the mornings together, and when the it comes, she makes every effort to be the first one aboard. Yesterday morning she stopped short of elbowing me out of the way to go first. Now, I would find this to be rude behavior from anyone. But what about the disabled? Don’t I generally get out of the way for a disabled person who needs to board a bus? Yes, I do. Do I generally mind if they board first? No, I don’t.
But maybe her situation is different. She gets on the bus, and it takes her a long time to do so. There is no getting around her, either. She does not have a monthly fast pass which she could just wave at the driver, but instead she pays in coinage, which takes a long time.
[Yesterday, in fact, after she plainly stepped in front of me to get on the bus first, she realized she hadn’t gotten her money out, and so had to dig around in her change purse looking for fare. Apparently, she thought it might be a Spare the Air day here in SF and so wasn’t prepared to pay. It just made the whole situation more frustrating.]
Anyway, after she pays she sits in one of the front seats on the bus, the ones designated for the disabled and the elderly. And if there isn’t one readily available, someone always makes room for her. Always.
Now, I have no problem with her sitting up front. I am glad people move and allow her to sit as comfortably as possible. And also I have no problem with people who don’t have fast passes and who take slightly longer to pay in cash. It happens.
But here’s where I start to get annoyed. If she allowed the rest of us to board first, we would be able to wave our passes to the driver and scooch our way to the back of the bus where we can compete for seats or find a reasonable place to stand while she is taking her time to board. She would still get her seat, since it’s designated for her, and the bus driver isn’t going to pull away from the curb before she has situated herself (I am saying all of this based on experience, not out of thin air). WHEREAS after she has gotten on board first and the rest of us come after, the bus pulls away before any of us have found where we’re going to sit and so we do that bus-lurch, stumble-lunge to get to where we’re going.
Basically, I understand that she is incapacitated and I want to have empathy for her. I want to say, “Oh of COURSE you should board first and foremost and secure your seat as soon as possible and the rest of us should ensure your well-being before our own.” And you know? I think for someone with a broken leg, or in a wheelchair, or with an obvious affliction of something other than obesity, that is how I feel. But with her, I seem to feel differently.
Maybe it’s not because of her weight. Maybe it’s that I want to be nice to people, but not HAVE to be nice to people. If I see someone with a broken leg coming toward the bus, I want to get out of the way and say, “no, please, after you.” But I don’t want the person with the broken leg to look at me and say, “uh, excuse me, but I’m going to have to go first here.” As though I expect someone at a disadvantage to be GRATEFUL for my being a decent human being.
So maybe I’m not a fat-ist, maybe I’m just an asshole. Because the more I think about it, were I to see someone at a disadvantage behave as though he or she was entitled to special treatment, I would get annoyed. Should someone on crutches push past a crowd waiting to board a bus say something like, “EXCUSE me, coming through!” it would piss me off, in a who-does-he-think-he-is kind of way. Whereas someone with an affliction who seemed humble about it would provoke my empathy immediately.
On the other hand, I am certain it’s not just this woman’s sense of entitlement that annoys me. It’s that (and let’s assume for the time being that her only issue is her weight) I don’t think of obesity as an accident or an unfortunate circumstance that happened to someone unwittingly. Even those of us who have inherited fat genes aren’t without some recourse to keep our weight somewhat in check. Right?
So here I am, blaming this person for getting so fat that she has effectively become “disabled.” I think a lot of us think this way, huh?
But um. What if we see someone lugging around an oxygen tank? Do we feel the same way? That’s it’s that person’s fault for (probably) smoking? Or someone with a broken leg? I see someone in a cast and think, “Oh, that poor guy, breaking a bone sucks” and not “he was probably being careless.”
What I'm saying is, I almost never blame the victim. Unless the "victim" is someone whose affliction is being fat.
So okay. Maybe my issue is as simple as: Hey, if you’re going to take a while to get on the bus and you don’t have your money ready and you have a seat guaranteed, maybe you could let others go first?
But maybe I am a fat-ist, too.