I’ve noticed that in life, if there’s something unusual about a person, other people will want to touch them. They often won’t ask permission, and sometimes even if they do, they do so while in the middle of doing the thing they’re asking permission for. I don’t quite understand why others have this urge to touch strangers around them, but it gets very, very annoying.
Sometimes I’ll be standing in line somewhere like the supermarket, feel something move behind me, and turn around to find my hair in some stranger’s hands. This has happened enough times that it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I’ve had waiters/waitresses sneak up behind me and start petting my braid, women grab my braid while I’m standing in line for the bathroom, and even groups of people surround me and start passing my hair around in their hands like a braided joint.
If I were a neurotypical person, I think this would be incredibly annoying and invasive. As an autistic person, I have to suppress the urge to violently swing around and roundhouse kick my space invader in the face because strangers touching me (especially by surprise) triggers a fight or flight instinctive response. My body tenses, I feel panic in my chest, I have to sometimes slip into meditation breathing to remember that I’m not actually in danger. Then I have to pretend to be nice, because apparently if I don’t want strangers touching me, I shouldn’t choose to be different (yes I have actually been told that before by multiple people). I plaster a smiling mask to my face and answer the repetitious questions everyone has.
Yes, it’s real. No, I don’t want to donate my hair. Because I like it on my head.
I’ve been growing it for eighteen years. No, I am not eighteen years old.
It is four and a half feet long when open. I sometimes trim it, but never cut it.
I wash it in the shower. With shampoo, conditioner, and water. Like everyone else.
I go to the bathroom just like everyone else and it doesn’t get in the way. Why would you ask a stranger how they go to the bathroom?
It does feel a bit like an attack whenever I’m out in public and get subjected to random pawing. I like my personal space. I can barely stomach hugs if I’m not already comfortable with the person I’m hugging. Having people surprise me by touching me drives me crazy in a very bad way. The worst part is how they always seem to ‘mean well’. I tell myself, they’re just curious, it’s fine. My hair is very unusual, and they’ve probably never seen something quite like it in person before. If it’s a kid, I don’t even really mind because kids are usually adorable – and they are actually the ones more likely to ask permission first. But adults should know better.
If you see someone who’s physically different in some way, don’t follow your instinct to immediately put your hands on them. For one, it’s really rude and invasive, but you also have no idea what sort of tolerance they have for that type of thing. They could be autistic, and having a stranger touch them could trigger fight or flight instincts. Don’t be responsible for traumatizing people who dare to leave the house while looking different. The day is already a minefield for us. Don’t be a mine. Being touched by strangers should not be the tax people have to pay if they keep their hair a way that you don’t, whether they have unusual colored hair dyes, curls, are black and have natural hair, or even if it’s just that their hair is longer than average. If you feel you really want to touch someone’s hair, tattoo, nails, or anything else, always ask permission. And if they tell you no, accept their choice without being offended as if you’re owed the right to lay your hands on someone. You’re not.
Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing? How do you handle it?
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Space Invader: (grabs my hair) Oh wow! Your hair is so long!
Some Girl with a Braid: Do I know you?
Space Invader: I just had to come over! Your hair’s so long!
Some Girl with a Braid: Alright. And do you normally sneak up behind strangers and grope their hair? At what point while I was standing here did you get the message that I wanted you to touch me?
Space Invader: So can I touch your hair?
Some Girl with a Braid: Gee, nice of you to ask. NO.