Illustration by Carmen Szeto
Yesterday I went to this awesome Brunch event in the city. It was ‘a brunch to inspire’ and for two hours we got to hear amazing powerhouse women speak about their journeys and stories. Just before the speeches started Brunch was served buffet style and everyone, aside from me, got up to grab a plate. I scrolled through my Instagram feed while the girls at my table stood in line. One by one they started to come back and one by one they noticed that I didn’t have a plate.
The subtle glances start and then one of them asks ‘You’re not eating?’ I reply with a ‘no’, but here’s the thing about food questions they’re an inevitable question spiral. When it comes to food the word ‘no’ never seems to satisfy people. Why is that? Have we not been taught that no means no?
So of course my answer doesn’t appease them in the slightest and they ask why and I tell them I have allergies. The girl next to me asks what I’m allergic to ‘if that’s polite to ask’. I tell her it is and that I’m anaphylactic to dairy and eggs.
Now when I pull out the term ‘anaphylactic’ one of three things happens;
1. The conversation comes to a dead end and I change the topic
2. They ask follow up questions about my allergies
3. They do what this girl did
One and two I can handle, changing the subject, fine with me I don’t like being the centre of attention. Asking questions, cool, I got a life time of knowledge bro (what up She’s The Man reference) but three makes me want to pull up that GIF of Chuck and Blair judging you and shove it in their face.
This girl nods her head like she fully understands me and all of my struggles and goes ‘If it makes you feel better, I’m lactose intolerant. Dairy just doesn’t sit well with me.’ To which the girl across from her says ‘omg me to! But I take the pills, I don’t like to limit myself you know.’ There is so much wrong with the above statements, and yet I sit there quietly nodding and smiling. The reality is they didn’t mean it in a hurtful way, they genuinely thought what they were saying would help relate to me. They didn’t know any better, but rather than stay quiet should I have called them out? Educated them? Explained why their statements hurt me?
I knew what I wanted to say; of fucking course your lactose intolerance doesn’t make me feel better, why would it? Getting an upset stomach and having an allergic reaction are two very different things. Yours is upsetting and annoying for a while, mine will literally put me in the hospital. And I’m sorry you don’t like to ‘limit’ yourself but I don’t have an option not to. There is no cure for being anaphylactic to something and you acquainting my allergy with a ‘limited’ lifestyle is pretty insensitive.
Then again I’d just met these girls, at a brunch to get to know new people. Was it really the time and place to bring this up? Should I bring it up if we hang out again, when we go out for ‘coffee’? Or do I just let it slide all together? I feel like those of us with allergies spend so much of our time silent, trying not to make others feel uncomfortable.
I’ve never been great at talking about my allergies with non-allergic people. I get embarrassed because I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable for them. I’ve often felt like a burden or an inconvenience around non-allergy people. But then I stopped and really thought about it, why should I be embarrassed? If you can’t deal with my allergies that’s not my problem, it’s yours, and I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with this conversation, but I’m the one that could die on the daily from eating breakfast.
So for all my non-allergy people out there here’s a quick etiquette lesson on being a good allergy unicorn alley. An intolerance and an allergy are two very different things that should never be compared. Lying to servers at restaurants and telling them you have an allergy when you’re really just on a diet or don’t like a certain food is never okay. And for the love of god understand that no means no (this goes for consent and anything else in your life to). It doesn’t mean continue to offer us other food or drinks, it doesn’t mean ask us a million questions, it doesn’t mean offer up unsolicited advice or treatments for something you know nothing about, it actually just means no.
We might be unicorns, and there might not be a lot of us, but we still have a voice and from now on I intend to use mine.