I belong to a once maligned minority of the American population. The left-hander. We are roughly 10 percent of the American population and live in a world that was by and large not built for us to maneuver in adequately. In fact, the American public school system, along with many other aspects of our daily lives prior to the 1970s revival in education, challenged our very right to exist.
I was always fascinated by this need and desire by 90 percent of the population to squelch the left-handed population and to convert us into right-handers. But I had a lingering question even as a fifth-grader — the age I was when I wrote my first paper on being left-handed. Why? Other than conformity and making right-handers feel better about their right-handed world, what was the goal of all that time and effort making lefties feel bad about themselves and incompetent in handwriting, sewing, music and sports?
Before the 1970s, both parents and teachers believed in the unscientifically proven coercion method of teaching handwriting to left-handers. The forcing of compliance to right-handedness happened in school districts around the country and in some places was not as heavy handed. Readers might take a guess as to places that were more draconian on their adherence to conformity.
Relatives (for left-handedness runs in families) and friends of the family would recount tales of having to stay in at recess and to practically stand-up and write upside down in hopes to receive love and praise from their teachers and parents and a less smeared and more legible page.
By day, lefty kids would masquerade as righties, but they knew who they really were and that this conformity was ill fitting. It just wasn’t them.
They’d talk of sneaking away and restringing their guitars and writing in their journals in secret with their god-given handedness.
It’s not easy being a lefty when all of western civilization rises up against you. Left-handedness historically was seen as a sign of the devil. Lucifer fell — not from the right side of God into Hell — but from the left. Judas Iscariot — the betrayer of Jesus whose time comes up this week before Easter sat on what side of Jesus during the Last Supper? Wait for it, wait for it … the left. The bible was used as a weapon for years against left-handers in the United States. It is said to be the hand of filth.
But eventually science won out over superstition and fear and in the last 40 years we’ve nearly gotten over our left-handed phobias and our taciturn observance of the devil being present in school children based upon what hand they hold a pencil in.
I myself went to a somewhat progressive elementary school in Augusta, Georgia (lest you think I’m being a Bible belt hater). In my fourth-grade class, they stuck all the left-handers in the same room to observe them as a majority. It turns out — as other scientific studies have concluded — that there’s a high propensity of artists and scientists among left-handers. Also a higher number of Nobel prize winners, politicians and serial killers among our lefty brethren. Our poor teacher, Ms. Jones. I’m so, so sorry.
Still the concern is there in pockets of the Bible belt and in corners of rural America, that something might not be right with such children and that those of us who encourage children to be who they are and not what we want them to be are suspect.
There are quite a few things about myself that make me a member of minority America. I am Latina, but I’m light skinned and can pass for white if I wanted to or needed to. I’m politically leaning in a direction few I know are in. The music and art I respond to seems to be esoteric and not mainstream. And I’m okay with all of that as it’s my choice to prefer Shostakovich and Mahler and indie punk rock to the country western that plays on our airwaves.
But I can’t help being left-handed and right-brained. That’s just who I am. I even tried to convert once to make things easier when I was taking a Japanese calligraphy class in Matsui-machi, Japan. The brush strokes have to be at a certain angle to be the right kanji. I did wobbly brush strokes for 10 months with my right hand. My work never turned out beautiful and often looked painful. In the last few months, I gave up and came out as a left-hander. I had to stand up to paint my characters and sometimes stand on a chair, but it finally felt natural and accomplished and most importantly — it felt like me and it looked beautiful.
I think of this now as I witness another travesty of the majority over the minority. In Plumas County — with a population of somewhere around 20,000 people, 10 percent of the population is left-handed. Ten percent of the population is also gay or lesbian. That’s 2,000 men, women and, yes, children.
It’s not easy to be a gay man or woman in rural America, where conformity to norms seems to be more important than just about any other aspect of societal expectations. We may wrap ourselves in flags of freedom, but not all of us are allowed the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some of Plumas County’s gay population is out and free, some are not and remain confined to quiet reservation and discomfort.
But it’s the gay children of the county that concern me the most, for their lives are at the mercy of others in ways adults can walk away from, but they cannot by law do so. Some are made to feel like they need help, like they are sick. Like those lefty kids stuck in at recess being slapped on the left-hand for writing their name with it.
Some, due to the prejudices and phobias of their parents, guardians, subcultures and peers are in hiding; others live in fear of being found out. Others get Bible verses thrown at them like swords to wound their hearts and souls.
Suicide and addictions are highest among gay children not because of some genetic predisposition to suicide and addiction, but because of the non-acceptance and pressure by their families, churches, schools and peers to conform. When a gay child commits suicide, their blood permanently stains the hands of their bullies.
Coercion leaves a lifetime of discomfort and mental scars on its victims. You can’t make a kid straight any more than you can make a kid gay. A kid is just who he or she is. Period. Science and evolved culture are saving gay children from the misery of prejudice and hate. One child at a time. But not nearly fast enough.
It is my wish and prayer that in my lifetime in Plumas County, that the county’s gay children will reach the same level of acceptance that we left-handers once strived for and finally received. It is my wish and prayer that all straight parents and guardians of gay children love their children and support them rather than fight and shame their children’s very DNA.
I also invite gay and or left-handed children of the Plumas County to write to me and to know that they will forever have an advocate in me.