A man asked me about my vitiligo

an acquired depigmentation disorder

vitiligo-1I got vitiligo about 15 years ago, as I first talked about here, then here and here and most recently, here.

It is “an acquired depigmentation disorder, manifests as white macules on the skin and can cause significant psychological stress and stigmatization… [and] affects about 1% of people worldwide.”

What prompted my revisiting the topic was that a gentleman asked me about it a couple of months ago while we were waiting in a bus stop. He said, “Excuse me, but do you have that skin thing?” “Vitiligo.” “Yeah, that’s it.” This happens two or three times a year, conversations with people I did not know. It doesn’t bother me.

He was a black man, roughly my age, discussing his son who is in his thirties. He said that it really messed up his son’s head. And, as one sometimes does with a total stranger, I acknowledged that it did a number on me for a while.

Specifically, I’m still not all that great with looking at photographs of me from five or ten years ago. I was so cautious about staying out of the sun, that whatever melanin I had in my face seemed to have gone away altogether.

I look specifically at group shots which included me, and I cannot identify myself except that, well, that’s where I usually stand. In a black-and-white photo in my church newsletter from probably a half dozen years ago, there’s a guy wearing African garb, talking with his hands in the Rose Room of my church. I recognize the clothes but not the fellow wearing them.

Pretty much as a direct result of that specific photo, I became somewhat more bold in getting sunlight. I still avoid long exposure and use sunscreen. OK, I’m not as good with that in days that are cold and overcast as I should be.

So I related heavily to this man’s son’s trauma. In my experience, while white folks also vitiligo, black folks seem more weirded out. In retrospect, it messed with my psyche far more than I admitted, even to myself, at the time. It was OK for me to look older and grayer and heavier, but this was different. I probably should have seen a shrink.

I have this thrill seeing models in Glamour magazine with vitiligo. In some TV ad, the first image was a young woman with the condition and, implicitly, she was seen as beautiful. In ways you root for people that are on “our team”, this made me happier than I could have imagined.

For ABC Wednesday