I started doodling at the age of 3.
I can vividly remember the euphoria that came with gripping a fresh set of crayons, each color filling the void of blank papers with strokes I thought were genius. The world was at my fingertips, and with school starting the following year, I was ready to write my name.
There’s just one problem: I had been using my left hand.
Coming from a Chinese-Filipino family, this was a big no-no. My recollection from one day in summer when I was forced to use my right hand to write “Carl” was all fuzzy, save for a long, wooden stick that struck my left hand every time I tried to help myself.
Eventually, I spent more time practicing. I have no idea how long it took before I fully adjusted, but today I can tell that this sentence was typed by my right hand. I had been converted.
The bias against left-handed people dates back to thousands of years, cutting across cultures all around the world. For instance, lefties in the Middle Ages were accused of practicing witchcraft, which then bore an infamous reputation.
As TIME wrote in 1969, lefties were called “southpaws, gallock-handers, chickie paws and scrammies.”
“The Devil himself was considered a southpaw, and he and other evil spirits were always conjured up by left-handed gestures,” the magazine noted.
This irrational suspicion has apparently dissipated much more quickly in the West, where businesses are now looking into the untapped market that is the lefty’s needs. In London, a store called Anything Left-Handed sprung in 1968 to sell just as its name says; San Francisco’s Lefty’s opened 10 years later.
Unfortunately, lefties seem to have far more troubles if they live in Asia, where superstitious beliefs somehow survive in households with breakneck internet speeds. In South Korea, for instance, some may hold the belief that left-handedness is associated with impurity — giving or receiving items must be accomplished by the right or both hands. However, while using both hands while handing an object is recommended as a sign of respect, it is generally believed that there is no special meaning into which hand you give or receive objects with nor is there an obligation to use the right or both hands for such purposes.
Yet lefties, rare as they are, can be seen as interesting. In a 2010 post, blogger Heather B. shared via The Kimchi Chronicles how her students in the country marveled at the fact that she wrote with her left hand, asking, “Teacher! Left hand! How?”
She also shared what happens when asked for her signature:
“The real fun comes when I have to write or sign something — a sales slip, for example. The proprietor hands me the pen with right hand, as usual, and I accept with my right hand. He or she will watch in amazement as I switch hands, sign, switch hands again, and hand back the pen. Sometimes there’s even a look of dumbstruck awe, and a ‘와우!’ (Wow!) I kindly smile and take my purchases, leaving them to ponder more about the strange foreign girl than they would have before.”
There is even more interest in celebrities who have been observed using their left hands, such as Kim Soo-hyun and Park Shin-hye. Among K-Pop idols, Block B’s Zico, BTOB’s Changsub, GOT7’s JB, Lovelyz’s Sujeong, Mamamoo’s Hwasa, Monsta X’s I.M, Seventeen’s Mingyu and VIXX’s Hongbin have all signed autographs with their left hands.
While 5.8% in South Korea are left-handed, China has less than 1%. One argument asserts that many Chinese characters require the use of the right hand. In my case, my father, who hails from the mainland, asked me to convert simply because “no Chinese is left-handed.”
A 2013 study by Howard Kushner, professor at the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education at Emory University, noted that this could be due to a combination of reasons.
“In China, we can see how a combination of traditional values and practical considerations seems to have merged to reduce both the actual and reported prevalence of left-handedness. When we add in the population of India, and much of the remaining Islamic world, we can conclude that for two-thirds of the world’s population, being born left-handed exposes one to discrimination and stigma.”
Lefties have indeed been oppressed in India and Indonesia, where eating with the left hand is seen as impolite, according to Live Science.
It is also worth noting that much of the discrimination against left-handed people is influenced by language. The English word “left,” for one, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lyft” meaning “weak.”
In Japan, many words containing the kanji character for left have derogatory meanings, as per a 2000 article titled “Rise Up, Ye Southpaws: Left-Handedness Comes into Vogue.” For instance, the move to downgrade an employee from a higher position is called sasen, the kanji of which literally means “to be moved left.” Hidarimaki, referring to insanity or stupidity, means “winding up in the left direction.”
To avoid negative associations, majority of natural lefties among Japanese senior high school students used to convert, with only 0.7% and 1.7% choosing to use their left hand for writing and eating, respectively.
Then there’s the case of the Philippines, a predominantly-Catholic nation where the left is simply linked to the Devil.
In the past, I was told by my mother that I would go to hell if I used my left hand, because that way, Satan is using me as his “instrument.” Thankfully, the tides eventually changed and she now regrets it.
There’s more to tell of the lefty’s plight. While many are still discriminated, it’s relieving to see how society turns to information and acceptance. At the end of the day, an individual’s choice to use the left hand doesn’t hurt other people.
And perhaps, it can even lead to greatness. See Aristotle, Bill Gates, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicola Tesla and Marie Curie, among others, if you doubt my theory.
Feature Image (left) via YouTube / JustKiddingFilms