That’s the question I was asked by teachers when I was in elementary school. My class was tasked to paint a wall mural in the hall of a school for the deaf. Some teachers walked by as we painted. They were bothered that I used my left hand to paint and asked me why. My answer was simple: “I’m left handed.” What else to say? 🙂
I’m part of about 10-12% of the world’s population that uses their left hand. We even have our own holiday – International Left Handers Day. We celebrate it every year on August 13.
Are you left-handed? It’s the question we are often asked every time we write or do some task with our left hand.
Just like being deaf, being left-handed has never made me feel self conscious when growing up. However, it was frustrating when I was questioned by some people about using my left hand for some tasks, especially in Soviet Russia.
My family didn’t care what hand I used as long as I could perform tasks. So I learned to write, draw, and play sports with my left hand. I was not aware about bias against left-handed people until after I started school. They retrained me to write with my right hand.
I later found out that left hand writing was one of the things banned in Soviet schools. This practice was canceled in the mid-1980s – during my elementary school years. However, many schools, including mine, kept this practice for some more years. Hence the reactions of the teachers in the beginning of this article to my drawing with my left hand.
Fortunately, the only teacher that didn’t care about my handedness was an art teacher.
He cared more about the quality of my art work than hand preference. He even praised my work and encouraged me. Thanks to him, I kept practicing my art skills and eventually graduated from art school with highest honors. I cannot draw with my right hand and cannot imagine what would happen to my art skills if he forced me to switch hands.
I was also lucky that my coaches and PE teachers did not care which hand I used to play sports and in PE classes.
I used my left hand to play volleyball and basketball. When learning to play ping pong (table tennis), I was holding a racket in my left hand. My table tennis coach happened to be a leftie, too. He told me that being a leftie is an advantage in some sports. He was my first role model who was left-handed.
One time when I played volleyball in high school, I had a pinkie on my right hand fractured. So I had to write temporarily with my left hand while my right hand was healing. Since then I started to use my left hand more for writing. It was nice to switch between hands to take a break for each hand, especially that it was long before the internet and typing on a computer on a regular basis. Sometimes I write with left, sometimes I write with right.
Not only was I forced at the school for the deaf in Soviet Russia to write with my right hand, but also to sign and fingerspell with my right hand.
As I learned American Sign Language at an American college, I found out that it’s okay and even encouraged to use a dominant hand for sign language. So eventually I switched to using my left hand to communicate in sign language. Sometimes, if my left hand is busy, I sign with my right hand. 🙂
If you see someone using sign language, you can tell if they are left handed or not. Not all of them, but most of them. When people learning sign language ask me which hand to use, I advise them to use their dominant hand.
There are tools that I use with my right hand not because of school, but because they were not designed for left handed people.
- I use a knife with my left hand, but scissors with my right hand. The scissors are usually not friendly to left handers. Even though scissors for left handers are available now, I got so used to using scissors with my right hand that I cannot use scissors with my left hand.
- I use a mouse with my right hand, but a touchpad with my left hand. The mouse is also not friendly to left handers. Even though mouses now can be designed for left handers, I got used to using a mouse with my right hand. Also, I stopped using a mouse a long time ago – after I found a touchpad more comfortable for me to use.
- I found it difficult to use right-handed desks in college classrooms. Even though I could write with my right hand, I still found those seats uncomfortable for me. I remember being thrilled when seeing some rare left-handed desks.
- I cannot learn to play the guitar. Many guitars are designed for right-handed people. When my sister was learning to play the guitar, she couldn’t show me how to do it. She is right-handed and I’m left-handed.
There are more things that are not friendly to left handers.
As I got older, I was horrified to learn about how left handers were treated in the past. Bias against left-handed people have been going on for many years.
The word “left” has a lot of negative connotations. For example, the word in Latin “sinister” originally meant “left,” but under influences of some religions it became a synonym for “evil”. Many people would say an angel is on the right shoulder and a devil is on the left shoulder. The word “left” also had other negative meanings like: weak, broken, awkward, crooked, crippled, deficient, unlucky, etc.
Thankfully, the situation is better now for left-handed people. The positive shift started in around 1960-1970s. It was when more psychologists started to prove that it’s a bad idea to force left-handed kids to switch.
Not only attitudes to left-handed people have changed in the modern times, but also more tools became available for left-handed people.
For example, the photo above shows a notebook designed for left-handed people. You open it from left to right and write towards the notebook spine. Or you can write the other way if you use mirror writing or write from right to left in languages like Arabic or Hebrew.
More articles are praising left-handed people. They often mention how many famous people are left-handed. Some examples are: Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Queen Victoria, Prince William, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Neil Armstrong, Napoleon Bonaparte, Barack Obama, Oprah, Bill Gates, Joan of Arc, Mozart, Helen Keller, Babe Ruth, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, and many more.
One of the perks of left handedness is mirror writing and reading. As a kid, I was thrilled to find this ability.
It may be a silly thing, but every time I see someone writing or doing some task with their left hand, I get excited. When growing up, I almost never saw left-handed people, especially in Soviet Russia.
When people ask me why I use my left hand – as in the aforementioned example with those teachers, I get annoyed. I think it’s a stupid question. However, I don’t mind being asked if I’m left handed. Usually when I confirm that I’m left handed, I get mostly positive reactions from people saying how cool it is. If someone happens to be left-handed, too, both they and I get thrilled!