On Being Left-Handed

This picture is not backwards.

I went to a comedy show the other day. I am not a fan of comedy shows. It’s partly because they’re rarely actually funny and partly because I’m always afraid that I will get dragged up on stage. I have a debilitating fear of public speaking. I also seem to have an invisible sign on my forehead that says, “this person hates public speaking, drag her up on stage.” I have been dragged, literally kicking and screaming, on stage before. I totally blacked out. I don’t remember a thing. So, yeah, I avoid comedy shows just on the off-chance that there’s interactivity. I told my friend who took me to this particular comedy show that, if there was any sort of audience participation, namely with me, I would have no choice but to shoot him in the face. I was not kidding. Fortunately, nobody at this comedy show dragged me up on stage so my friend continues to live.

The point of this rambling preamble is that one of the comics had a set about being left-handed. He asked the audience if there were any left-handers. I am left-handed, but I did not raise my hand due to the whole interactivity thing. Two other people did. In an audience of roughly fifty people, there were four people who were left-handed, including me and the comic. That’s par for the course. Yet, this comic went into a set of jokes that only three people in the audience really understood. They were funny because they were true, but I fear that the jokes went right over the heads of the rest of the crowd.

This picture is not backwards.
This picture is not backwards.

Right-handed people have no idea what it’s like to live in a backwards world. Everything is designed for righties from door handles and school desks to scissors and can openers. Righties don’t even need to think about using a product since it’s designed just for them. Lefties, on the other hand, have to translate everything backwards. When I use scissors, I have to use them upside-down so that the thumb slot is where my fingers are. When left-handed people use right-handed scissors, it looks as if they designed the product for people with tiny fingers and a gigantic thumb. Try it next time you see some scissors; it’s not exactly easy nor comfortable using them upside-down. I used to have a pair of left-handed scissors, but they disappeared somewhere along the way. Almost everything is designed with right-handers in mind. I am ever so grateful when I stumble on a product that is handedness neutral.

When I was a kid, they thought I was dyslexic because I wrote certain letters backwards. They were in the right order, but some of them came out facing the wrong way. For instance, J’s came out like L’s and vice versa. It turned out that I was not dyslexic at all; I’m just left-handed. The public school system was trying to force me into their backwards, cookie-cutter, homogenizing world and failed. I wrote about my childhood experiences in the post The Left Hand Is Evil! I suppose I should be thankful that I live in an era when being left-handed, while frowned upon, is acceptable. That wasn’t always the case. Just as a basic overview, the wiki article on stigma and repression proves to me that I’m lucky that I live in the modern era. Left-handed, the adjective, in addition to describing a tendency to use the left hand, also means perverse while right means correct.

I can’t really write with my right hand, but I can do most everything else. It’s just that my right hand is slower and less precise. While I’m not totally ambidextrous, I can use a mouse with my right hand just fine, but I prefer using my left hand. Whenever I read computer instructions, I have to do the minor calculation in my head that right-clicking is actually left-clicking. Some people who write instructions take us into account and call it opposite mouse-button clicking, but that’s rare. I get a perverse satisfaction watching a right-handed person trying to use my computer with its left-handed mouse. Watching a righty trying to left-click is hilarious. Most of them are truly incapable of doing the minor translation into opposite-handedness that I have to do on a daily basis. I usually have to remind them every 5 seconds that it’s a left-handed mouse while they grumble and moan about it. It far from payback, but it gives them some sense of what it’s like for me to live in their world. At the very least, I find it entertaining.

It seems to me that left-handers are more adaptable than right-handers. We have no choice in the matter. I can use products with my right hand, but I prefer using my left, whereas most righties can’t do the same. Every lefty has to do countless, automatic calculations every day as to how to use things backwards. We have to adapt to a backwards world or not be able to function in society at all. Righties rarely encounter that problem since everything is designed for them. If you’re right-handed, the next time you pick up a can opener or a pair of scissors, remember how lucky you are that those products are designed for you. Remember that there is a chunk of the population that finds it completely backwards.

This post is part of the On Being Series.