While childhood might have been relatively easy for me with relation to my eyes, college was an eye opening (haha – never gets old!) experience. After being in the same school system for 13 years, with a graduating class of only 90 people, everyone knew about me and my family. In college, I didn’t have anyone to pave a path for me. I started college at a time when being from a mixed race family was really coming into vogue. It just shocked me how many people would ask me if I was “mixed.” This happened a little bit on campus, but I experienced this somewhat constantly when I went out to bars. In fact, by my junior year, this became a bit of a game with my friends. If we started talking to men when we were out a bar, we would wait to see how long it would take before one of the men asked me what was my background. It was fascinating how many different ways they would approach this, saying things like “Are you Asian?” “What’s your heritage?” “You must be mixed.” It was a really awkward conversation that some nights was amusing, but most times was just annoying. I remember one man ran through all nationalities that have smaller shaped eyes, finally ending with asking me if I was Alaskan. It was fascinating that people would not accept I was Caucasian. They thought I was lying to them. It was also offensive that people asked me at all what was my “background.” I kind of rolled with it, but I just remember thinking how odd this was. Some of my friends were Asian and they didn’t think this was funny at all. They felt it was really obvious that I was not Asian. Being mistaken as Asian always frustrated me on several levels. First, I thought it was offensive to ask someone point black about their nationality. Second, I would think how stupid could you be?! I thought it was very clear that I was Caucasian. And what did it matter? My reaction of being disgusted at people’s stupidity sometimes got me into trouble and led to some painful conversations where people thought my reaction was directed towards Asians instead of towards their idiocy in asking me such a ridiculous question. I still carry those scars and irritation with me.
In contrast, after I graduated college and started working, I can’t think of a time that someone at work asked me if I were Asian. The workplace is a bit less forgiving than a liberal college town. One time, I started working on a new project at work and a close friend was the director for the project. Months into the project he let me know that another guy on the project asked him if I were Asian and stated that he was really attracted to Asians. Ugh. My friend thankfully quickly went to bat for me and course corrected this man on all accounts.
In my current job it is such a pleasant relief that no one ever comments on my eyes. It is great. I often make jokes about my terrible vision, but I never connect that to my eye size and no one ever asks.
It was fun to read what my sister wrote because I had a similar experience. Sometimes when we are out and about visiting our hometown, people will ask if we are related to our cousin, who also lives in the same town. It is so weird to have complete strangers immediately connect you to your cousin, but I suppose we do have a distinctive look.
Most of the time, I see myself as normal, and forget that I even have BPES. So if I see someone studying me, it takes me a second to catch on that they just aren’t used to seeing eyes like mine.
I remember one day I was at a dollar store in my hometown, and when I was checking out, the cashier looked at me and said, “Oh your sister was just here last week.” And in my head I’m thinking, “Ok that’s not possible, my sister is living in another state over 1,000 miles away!” But I tried to be polite and explained that my sister did not live here, and it must have been my cousin who they saw. At the time, my cousin who also has BPES was living down the street.
It is funny how people jump to conclusions, and also that they not only notice the eyes, but they remember them.