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Trauma is a difficult thing. Sometimes what seems innocuous can actually be pretty traumatic. Sometimes what does not seem abusive can be traumatic. If you compound repeated insults, judgement and attacks on self worth. I was born left handed. I jokingly say “That’s before they beat it out of me.” For the record I would like to state, I was not physically beaten for this. This is also not a big T trauma, more a humorous ongoing frustration. My life however, was made harder since I associated myself as being “bad.” I preferred my left hand and I was forced to assimilate and attempt to pass as right-handed.

My whole self-worth was wrapped up on hiding my left handedness for some time. I know that sounds crazy but remember this assimilation started as soon as I could pick up a crayon. It started before I even understood that people have a preference on which hand they use for most tasks.

How it Started

Whenever I picked up a crayon, knife or fork with the wrong hand, my hand would be slapped. I would be told “use your good hand” or “no that’s your bad hand.” Yikes. Who knew there were good and bad hands and what kind of confusion can this cause in a child? This concept of “good” and “bad” hands led to some interesting conundrums. When I learnt the expression “put your best foot forward.” Holy heck if I have a “good” and “bad” hand which foot is my “best foot?”

As I got to school my attempts to assimilate led to complex issues. My coordination at sports, music, art was all affected. Whenever I picked up any new activity (tennis, guitar, painting) it would always result in the question. “Are you left or right handed?” This usually occurred only after someone watched me do that activity “the wrong way”. To this question I would always say what I had been told. What I should be to fit in. “I’m right handed.” The inevitable statement would follow “Then you are doing it wrong!”. I must admit trying to play a right handed guitar with a left hand, it did sound woeful.

I struggled in school with directions left and right. Teachers would always say “When someone says right think of write, the hand you write with.” Except often I wrote with my left hand, at least when people were not looking. It wasn’t until my mum bought me a watch and instructed “Women always wear watches on their left hand” that I finally could tell my left from right. I soon developed “watch tan” so I could remember which arm to put the watch on in the morning.

When I started playing netball I was verbally abused by coach and teammates because I was shooting goals left handed. I was told in short terms that if I shoot right handed my accuracy will be much better. That was not the case but I did eventually become as good with both hands. I played as Goal Shooter for a while so could not have been too bad!

This seems fairly innocent, but it did take a dark turn sometimes.

Assimilation Progression

Very quickly it stopped being gentle reminders and labelling “good” and “bad” hands. Adult “encouragement” to use my non-dominant hand became more dark.

  • “You will never be any good at [whatever activity] if you keep using your left hand”
  • “Do I need to tie your left hand behind your back?”
  • “You are deliberately doing it wrong! You are ruining it for everyone.” (Dance Class where I couldn’t figure out left from right when the teacher called from the back of the room.
  • Parents and teachers start giving you these triangular torture devices to put on all your pencils. Aparently to teach you how to hold them “the right way.” These caused terrible callouses on my right hand making it even harder to use that hand.
  • “Left handed people are dreamers and don’t amount to anything.
  • “Left handed people die younger, you don’t want to die do you?”

“Most serial killers are left handed, do you want to grow up and be a serial killer?”

said directly to me by multiple adults

Yeah things are getting a bit more sketchy now aren’t they?

Challenging Beliefs

When I was older I started to learn being “different” did not mean being “bad” and conforming did not make me “good.”

Early in my career I got bored in an architecture meetings and decided I should embrace my true left-handedness. I started taking notes with my left hand. The hand I had been forced not to write with since year two. Do you know what happened? Well first I felt like I was bad. Then I felt a bit rebellious. I kind of liked that feeling. Then I noticed that my handwriting (especially cursive) was actually neater and I got less hand cramps.

Then in one meeting someone said to me “Oh I didn’t know you were left handed”

I broke out in a sweat, felt like a criminal. “Oh no, I’m not, I was just playing around drawing in the margins. Sorry I must have tuned out for a minute”

I felt dirty, judged, shamed I felt “bad”

How my left-handedness continues to plague me.

This year I took up roller-skating. I always wanted to learn as a kid but we couldn’t afford it. Even if we could have my mum would always lecture about how she broke her ankle ice-skating and her mum made her walk on it for a week before believing it was broken, and the doctors had to rebreak it for it to heal properly. Intergenerational trauma people. Spooky how my ruptured eardrum in high school took a week before I got medical attention for it.

I primarily taught myself how to roller-skate because I just couldn’t figure out what the instructors were trying to tell me. Conversation went a bit like this:

Instructor: “Have you done derby, you look like you have no fear”

Me: “No fear of pain. Chronic pain will do that to you, but no I haven’t skated before this year”

Instructor: hmm’s and ahhs and the eventual inevitable “Are you right or left handed.”

Me: Deer in the headlights. “umm well I was born left handed but they kind of beat it out of me” chuckles awkwardly.

Instructor “which is your better leg?”

Me: oh holy cripes, not this again, please let it just be an idiom” “um not sure”

Instructor “which direction do you prefer to skate?”

I demonstrate and of course it is the opposite to everyone else.

Instructor “Oh you are left handed, that changes things”

Me: sighs. “It always has

It always has.