Special Is Not A Compliment

Don’t call me special. 

Two years ago I worried that if I wrote about my vegan conversion too often people would stop reading this blog. I made disclaimers such as I promise this will not turn into a vegan blog. I fussed over the stereotype; the one that says the most annoying thing about vegans is that they never shut up about being vegan. I assured my many imaginary readers that after the first 30 days of the experiment passed I would only write about veganism if something remarkable happened.

At the two year mark (this summer) I assumed most remarkable events had come and gone. Every now and then I discover a new product but the big deals have slowed to the point I rarely feel much is blog-worthy. I forgot, however, that every time you enter a new peer group, such as at a new job, there is always a new and unpredictable reaction to being the one person who prefers to skip the Thanksgiving potluck. Perhaps a normal person would have been grateful. After this I no longer qualify as a normal person. I’m a bitch. Make that a Bitch. What’s worse than a regular Bitch? An Angry Bitch. Worse than that? Angry Vegan Bitch.

It’s not about the food. It’s that I made my position clear very early on and folks still conspired behind my back to pressure me and force special accommodations upon me, going so far as to have a stranger call me on the phone (a literal stranger, y’all) and coerce me into accepting food prepared especially for me against my wishes. This stranger compared me to a “Special Needs Child,” told me that I was Special (keep in mind we have never met), and specified she would CRY if I didn’t cooperate. A stranger did this — over the phone — because my coworkers refused to accept my choices. And I did not react with gratitude.

Right now my special need is Respect. No means no.

I was kind and patient and non-combative when I forewarned everyone:

  • I do not feel left out.
  • I do not feel deprived.
  • I require no special accommodation.
  • No, please don’t bring me any special food.
  • I prefer to skip it; I will bring my own lunch.
  • I will stay behind to man the department so everyone else can go and I promise I am completely happy to do so. Really. Truly. Madly. Deeply. I mean it.
  • I do not want a raw veggie tray. Not even vegans want veggie trays.
  • No, I don’t want to risk it when 90% of the people involved work in another building and most folks don’t understand that vegetarian and vegan are not the same thing. Please, just let me skip this. I promise it is fine.

Yes, I really was this specific. I said all of these things and I was nice about it. I swear I was cheerful and amiable and used small words. In retrospect, maybe they didn’t respect my wishes because I was so nice about it. They obviously thought I didn’t really mean it because I was nice about it. Why does being nice make people think you don’t know what’s best for you? If I had been a bitch about it from the beginning would they have assumed they were empowered or entitled to rethink my choices for me? I doubt it.

The morning of the potluck they presented me with a veggie tray and a fruit tray. (Sigh) They grinned at me expectantly, obviously waiting for me to be thrilled. Thrilled I was not. I felt forced. I felt pressured. I felt it appropriate to say something non-committal and politely let it go. So I did, but internally I felt slapped.

Then I was told someone I’ve never met was rumored to have made a vegan dish to add to the buffet of traditional Thanksgiving items. I explained again (patiently, kindly) that it is safer not to risk it when the knowledge level about ingredients is unknown. After two years of no animal products in my system I become ill when animal products are accidentally consumed. The result is similar to food poisoning. Please, no thank you.

Less than five minutes later I got a phone call from the mystery cook. This is when I became aware of the conspiracy. She explained her knowledge level and ingredient choices in sparkling detail, reassuring me she used separate cookware and segregated my food without cross-contamination. It was even packaged separately and labelled with my name. Again, we’ve never met. Someone had to contact her and ask her to do this, then alerted her to call me with counter-coercion when I declined the offer. To sweeten the deal she made the special needs comparison and said she would cry if I didn’t drive over to her office, meet her, and receive my food. At 8:37 a.m.

I thanked her and ended the call without a promise, hung up the phone, and conjured up a black cloud of indignation to hang over my desk for the duration of the frustrating day. Should I have been grateful folks went to these lengths to include me? Perhaps. But I wasn’t. I was offended by the whole thing. Instead of musing Wow, these people really care about me, I fumed Why will no one respect my choices?

I resented the implication that being vegan is the equivalent of having a disability. I resented strangers knowing my business. I resented members of my inner circle sharing my business with strangers. At one point I coached myself that I was overreacting. Then I coached myself I was allowed to feel all of my feelings, not only the socially acceptable ones.

I didn’t go get my special needs food. I didn’t join in the potluck. I dug my heels in and stayed at work like I said I would and took care of business like I said I would. When the group returned from their feast someone delivered my disability dish to me, clearly marked with my name and the word VEGAN. My foodbearer also recounted a conversation in which it was confirmed yet again that this dish was indeed vegan and not vegetarian. It sat uneaten on my desk until the end of the day. In the meantime it attracted gawkers like a freak show at a carnival. People wanted to come by and see the weirdo vegan food.

They peered at it through the transparent plastic barrier and asked questions about it. What is it made of, where did it come from, what kind of ______ is that? They asked if they could smell it. They removed the cover and sniffed it. I offered to let them taste it and got fast firm refusals from horrified faces, of course. And then the litany of run-of-the-mill vegan questions — can you eat this, can you eat that, etc. Well, what can you eat? And then the companion commentary — 50 variations of “I could never do that.” And all the while I cannot stop seething internally that I did not ask for this and in fact, tried to prevent it. In advance. Nicely. And this is what I get for being nice.

I hear the other voices in my head telling me that folks were just trying to do something nice for me. I get that. But there’s a voice in there also trying to be heard above all the Nice Girl admonitions. It’s the voice of the girl tired of having her choices overruled by others for their own fucking benefit. So they could feel good about what they did for me when I asked them not to do it. It’s the voice of the girl desperate to be valid and correct about her own body and her own participation in social functions.

She spoke up in her own best interest and her voice was ignored. Her voice was disregarded. Her desires and preferences were set aside in favor of mob rule. Now she’s supposed to hush her protests because that’s what expected of her when people dress up their tyranny in the costume of good intentions? She wants to scream, No means NO! She wants to use the word tyranny about a potluck. She wants to be allowed to be angry at Southern hospitality. She wants to be unreasonable and be rude and be HEARD, goddammit, because good manners got her ignored and now she’s supposed to be humble, compliant, and fucking grateful?

Kiss my ass. My angry vegan bitch ass. I’m not sorry. I’m not thankful. I am civilly disobedient. I am righteously indignant. In my mind I am flinging this Persuasion Pasta across the hall for the fucking principle of self-governing my own lunch, and in direct protest of those who want to feel like they’ve done a good deed by countermanding my sovereignty. I am FINISHED with Thanksgiving. I hate this bullshit and the lifelong fantasy of a ritual myth turned into a communal covenant of comportment. Fuck this. Forever. I’ve been pushed too far and now I’m done.

I’m giving myself permission to overreact. Permission to choose this as my line in the sand — given. Permission to over-dramatize and lay down a sweeping, disproportionate response — granted. I rebuke this mandatory holiday observance. Henceforth I shall take vacation at American Thanksgiving. I shall take it alone and I shall have my peace on my terms because this is apparently the only way my terms will ever matter. So feast away, motherfuckers. Suck your turkey bones and slurp your gravy and sleep it off and wake up tomorrow feel satisfied with yourselves. You have shit on my freedom for the last time.

— Mercy

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