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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Left handed darkness: Bias and the "sinister" among us

by Jamie Lutton

For the last year, I have been following the debate online, in local papers and Yahoo, over gay marriage. I noted an edge of hysteria and paranoia as anonymous people raged against  'unnatural' gay marriage, and gays in general.  I had an epiphany.  The debate about the rights of, and persecution of gay people  is one of the most tragic examples of people objecting to someone who is 'born that way', but there at least one other. 

One of the more curious is prejudice against left-handers. Consider, for a moment,  the meanings we associate with synonyms for left, such as sinister and gauche.
     

Of course, we left-handers (I am one of 'them') have been allowed to marry and serve in the armed forces, but until very recently, we ran a gauntlet beginning in infancy, for the 'right' to use our left, or gauche/sinister. hand.

Mainstream culture, in most times and most countries have been made so uncomfortable by left handedness that most 'lefties' were forced to convert to right handedness so they would be "normal"
     
As you read this, reach out without thinking, and pick up a cup or pen near you, or open a door. Pick up a pen and pencil and write something down.  Without thinking, you usually do this with using one hand...or the other.
             
This is 'handedness', and most people are right handed.  But not all. But notice; it that decision to use one hand, mostly, instead of the other is innate.
           
Not trained, not taught. Innate. We knew this now, and accept this without questioning.
     
But left handed people have been punished for thousands of years.  The majority culture in nearly all places and times, the right handed, in their intolerance and paranoia, could not stand to have some minority among them use their left hand instead of their right.
             
The percentage of people who are born left handed now is about 11%. Until recently, however, about half have been converted into being right handed by adulthood, due to great pressure in school and at home to force children to use their right hand instead of their left.

Converting a child to using the 'correct hand', the right hand, is an agonizing experience for a child, and often lead to dyslexia,  depression, and lifetime of stuttering.
            
There is a nearly universal world cultural obsession to convert the left handed, and to harass those not converted..
       
The left hand can not be held up to take an oath,  to shake hands, to eat or to write.  Using the left hand was  viewed with suspicion, and punished severely.
            
In Western cultures alone, as recently as the 1970's it was habitual to 'break' small children of using their left hand, to convert to their right. It was seen as a good thing to do, without question.   Parents who loved their children, teachers who were supposed to  instruct children 'correctly' would severely punish for trying to write with their left hands.
       
In the book The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World Melissa Roth notes that stigma against lefties runs deep: "Stories are plentiful of ‘caggie handers’ trying to eat or to write, only to have their left hand whipped, scalded, sat upon, shouted at and even balled into a stump with duct tape".
 
In the early 20th century  left handedness was identified as a 'pathology' by 'medical experts'.   Some Eugenics ''experts'' (this is the same group that later bred the madness that was Nazism) said that being left handed was associated with 'criminal genes', and advocated that left handed people be weeded out of the population as 'inferior".
              
The cruel confusion was between 'innate' behavior and 'willed' behavior.
     
Little children were treated as if they 'chose' to be left handed, and needed to be 'corrected' and converted into right-handedness.
        
Left handedness was associated by 'experts' to mental illness, shortened lifespan, and many 'medical disorders', including homosexuality (!!!!) They were thought to live less long as they were considered 'clumsy', more prone to heart attacks and disease.
      
Any of this history sound familiar?
     
These practices seem barbaric to us, in 2013.  Accommodation is made for left handed people nowadays. The bias against lefties has faded away in Western culture. Five of the last eight presidents, including Bush Sr,,  Barak Obama and Bill Clinton are left handed. How sinister!
           
But  a political "right"  so eerily similar, the right to gender identification and sexual preference  is still controversial, and the battles for rages fiercely today. .
               
We are all (or should be) familiar with the torment gay citizens have experienced at the hands of their families, their community and their government. this torment is so severe that many  gay people fled to cities where their was a large population of gays, hiding in plain sight, fleeing from the harassment and even death threats they receive from the general population .
        
Even today, gay (and transgender) persons are regularly beaten, abused, fired, disinherited, even murdered by their families of origin as young people, when they 'come out' or are 'discovered'. .
         
Gay citizens in the USA and elsewhere are standing up and saying "no more'. They testify to lives filled with shame and self hatred, of having to hide who they are. These personal histories, plus intense political action and agitation over several decades are beginning to win gays 'a place at the table'.
             
This struggle is no means over; worldwide the oppression of gay people is still the norm.  in Uganda there is a fierce debate right now about the right of gay people to even live.
 
And in this country, there are whole organizations, mostly God based, that make money converting gay people; that conversion is  seen as necessary for a person to lead a respectable life.
               
When will this cruelty end? For lefties, the struggle is not over. In many countries, being left handed is still severely punished, and the children are still forced into conversion,  to write and use their right hand only.
        
In Russia, mainland China, Asia and Africa most children are still forced to use their right hand, and punished, even beaten when they used their left hand.
     
We have a world wide vicious problem of oppression of young people who are left handed - or, as I contend here, gay.
   
And for both, it begins in early childhood.  It does not matter if you are a Muslim in Iran or Saudi Arabia, live in a small town in the South or in Central or South America,, if you are born left handed or gay, even today, you will be discouraged or physically punished for using the ''wrong'' hand or are attracted to the 'wrong' sex.
        
This punishment, leading to the torment of  children, causing great and permanent mental distress, needs to be addressed.  The obsession of the dominant culture to 'convert'  must be addressed.
     
The dominant culture, in living memory, wanted lefties to ''pass' as right handed, to be accepted in their culture. If they 'insisted' on being left handed, they are  severely harassed, especially when they are young and in their parent's (and school system's) power. .
           
Religious leaders need to say that Left handed people are God's children, perfect as they are, as much of the persecution stems from religious as well as cultural reasons.
   
Political leaders need to do so, as well. Barack Obama needs to speak out for the rights of left handed people, to encourage world leaders to tell their citizens to stop tormenting their children for using the 'wrong' hand.   
         
It is now clear to me that we are just emerging from an age of barbarism, cruelty and paranoia, and that much still needs to be done.
          
Children and young people, who were at all 'different' be they left handed, or gay, need protection from the paranoid dominant culture. They both need to be protected from being forced to convert, or at least pretend to, and stay in the closet.
          
We must address the mores of that culture that seeks to be punish people who are different as wrong or 'sinful', and needed to be controlled and converted.  This cruelty of the dominant culture must be confronted whenever it re-appears.
            
The right to be oneself, and not be forced to change some part of oneself to please the dominant culture must be respected.
       
Left handed people and gay people are natural allies. We lefties must remind ourselves and others about the cruelty of attempted conversion. This is a futile and cruel practice that can lead to depression and despair. Small children should not be repeatedly and endlessly tormented for being who they are, gay or left handed.
      
Left handed people must step up, and know their history. Study the oppression of lefties; it will only take a few minutes using Google, though the testimony is quite extensive and well researched. .
          
As long as any of us, gay or left handed, are tormented for being ourselves, no one is free of harassment and torment.
        
Time to bring the barriers down, and spread reason and justice to all corners of the Earth, so no child is faced with a lifetime of unjust suffering, osterization and misery; from suffering from being forced to convert, or hide our true self from others.

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