Bess’s Story – ‘a man who I didn’t know bent down so his face was uncomfortably close to mine, leaning over me & invading almost all of my personal space’

I was within visible distance of my city centre apartment, waiting at the crossing of a main road on my commute, with my headphones in. One of the lesser known symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a disease I’ve had for almost a decade that has left me using a powered wheelchair, is sensory overload. When out & about music at a controlled volume often helped reduce the overwhelming sounds of a bustling city, & relaxes me ahead of the working day. As I sat watching the traffic flow past, minding my own business, a man who I didn’t know bent down so his face was uncomfortably close to mine, leaning over me & invading almost all of my personal space. I pulled out my headphones, which should have been indication enough that I didn’t want to make conversation, & was faced with a barrage of insults about how I, as someone with a visible disability, had it easy. He reached into his pocket & my instincts told me to leave as quickly as possible, but where to? There was no way I could dodge the morning traffic, & I didn’t want to give the man any indication of where I lived. He pulled a disabled bus pass from his pocket, waving it around so I couldn’t get a name, & began to shout about how he was disabled too even if I couldn’t see it, not that I had even challenged that in the first place. The lights turned green & I bolted across the road as he continued to yell at me, & then his apparent friends turned up & joined in. Fortunately, the clamour drew the attention of another man clearly on his way to work, & without making it particularly obvious, he placed himself between me & the men. The men continued to jeer at me but kept their distance, & once we had rounded the corner, the friendly commuter checked that I was alright. The shock kept me from realizing exactly what had happened, so I said yes & continued on my way to work. It was only after putting several locked doors between myself & what had happened that I could even process the situation, & by the time work was done I really didn’t want to leave the safety of the medical research centre. I considered putting up my hood & wearing sunglasses, as if somehow that would hide my identity, & maybe taking a different & less accessible route home. However, it being the end of the week I just wanted to get home, & was relieved that nothing happened along the way

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Hannah Mason-Bish View All →

Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex

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