I am left-handed. Although, my younger brother was originally left-handed, he was corrected in grade school. He likes to joke that he’s been robbed of his true self as a result. But since he ended up in the U.S. military’s Special Forces, I think that being right-handed served him better.
It turns out that being left-handed makes you clumsier and no one wants a clumsy soldier. Well, maybe you don’t mind clumsiness in the opposing side or in your wartime comedies, but generally speaking, no.
Left-handedness was never something that I thought about as I was growing up. We didn’t talk about it as a family. If someone pointed out that I favored my left hand, I shrugged it off and soon forgot about it. After all, it’s not like I could have done anything differently. It was what it is.
But as I became more aware of myself as a separate entity on this planet, there were a few things I started to notice.
Individual school desks are made for right-handers. I didn’t have an arm rest, instead my elbow free floated.
I compensated my writing grip by wrapping my thumb around my pencil and I pressed so hard on my paper that you could (well, sort of) braille read the other side.
I was never good at using scissors, and apparently I still use them in such a way that folks exclaim “Oh, my God” when they see me cutting paper.
The pinky side of my hand would be covered in blue ink or pencil lead because my hand smudged ink or lead as I wrote across the paper. In fact, one of my teachers yelled at me for my messy handwriting. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there at the front of the class until she got angry enough to make me cry.
Lastly, I realized how hard it was to write in the standard vertical spiral-bound notebooks. Once I got to the right page, I tried to write without my hand touching the spirals. Most of the time, I squished my hand on top of them because it felt impossible to write hooking my arm around like a snake trying to consume its own tail.
Most left-handers end up writing this way. My partner does. Some lefties also end up leaning their letters in a peculiar looking away. I don’t do that. But I have noticed how much my handwriting has changed over the years. To this day, I have different styles. The problem with this is my signature in my passport (and sometimes banking paperwork) is not how I normally sign my name. I fear my inconsistencies one day will get me in trouble.
Depending on what babies and toddlers are trying to do they will use a different hand, but there isn’t consistency across ages or stages. Around 4 years old children will develop a preference for one hand over the other. However, there is evidence that handedness is genetic. Apparently, in the womb, an infant will favor a particular side or thumb.
Handedness could be a tricky thing to define because folks can use different hands for different tasks. Athletes and artists are good examples. Holding a golf club or baseball bat or playing an instrument with one hand, but writing with the other. There are many examples, but generally speaking, hand-dominance is defined by what hand if you use to write, throw, and eat.
There are more men than women who are left-handed. It is debatable whether animals display handedness. Most animals do not favor one paw over the other. However, if you do believe in handedness in animals especially when it comes to primates or rats, right-handedness still dominates. 
When we moved from Hawaii to California, I was the new kid at school and treated like a pariah for some reason. Maybe it was because I was the only Asian kid other than my brother, or maybe I wasn’t considered cool enough – or both. In any case, this 6th grade class liked to play softball and I hadn’t ever played before, so I didn’t know how to hold a bat.
After the shock of “you don’t know how to play softball?” wore off, another classmate, William walked up to the plate and put his arms around me in an effort to show me where to put my hands, how to swing, and stand. Unbeknownst to me, the girls got jealous (smirk) – and he taught me how to bat right-handed.
Remarkably, handedness has existed as far back as 10,000 years ago, and has remained roughly 90% right and 10% left since then, but scientists cannot agree as to why we use a dominate hand. Especially, why left-handers have not died out of existence due to their great medical disadvantages such as higher risk of mental and terminal diseases (multiple sclerosis and even breast cancer is higher in left-handed women).
There has been one fascinating theory that left-handedness is advantageous in one arena only, and that is in fighting. Because being a “south paw” is rare, it can give a fighter an edge, and a level of unpredictability, which was also mirrored when researchers looked at the number of lefties in team sports. While this theory sounds convincing, it isn’t when it is applied to women because we are less likely to have “evolved” this way given that we are less likely to physically engage in fighting. 
When I was in living in a small town in Colorado, I shot a gun for the first time. Even though I grew up playing video games, I don’t think the gun I held for Nintendo’s Duck Hunt counts. Although when I did hold a gun, it was a rifle to shoot at clay pigeons. I was working at a summer camp for kids, my boyfriend-at-the-time was the program director. He was used to teaching children, so he was a good teacher giving me all the safety bits that I remember to this day, like, “it’s not a flag, don’t wave it around.”
In retrospect, Easter Sunday was probably not the best day to shoot at clay pigeons. We had a lot of fun though, and we even improvised when we got tired at shooting towards the sky. The guys starting rolling the clay disks through the tall grass and we pretended they were rabbits or something like that. We didn’t get drunk or anything, but we did make an awful lot of noise with the gunshots echoing throughout the valley. God knows what people thought.
Afterwards, my then-boyfriend got the bright idea that he wanted to hunt, but we had to get our hunting license. I tried to keep an open mind and went along with this even though the idea of killing a deer, getting up before dawn, in the early morning cold, and sitting still waiting for hours did not appeal to me at all.
And even though I could not shoot anything near the bullseye or let alone anywhere on the paper target (embarrassing!), they still gave me a hunter’s license anyway. Of course, this is the same state that allowed me to trade in my Hawaii driver’s license for a Colorado one even though I had never driven in snow before. Somehow I had convinced myself that they would surely give me some helpful tips for driving in inclement weather.
We’ve been told that left-handers are “right brain dominate” while right-handers are the opposite. But it is not necessarily true that right-handers are left brain language people, and vice versa. About 20% of left-handers are “right brain” and another 20% engage both hemispheres.
Even though a right-hander’s brain will more likely exhibit signs of predictability like having a larger left brain hemisphere, the left-hander’s brain will not. Brain activity is less likely to be localized and more diffuse for everyday tasks. There is even evidence that suggests that left-handers’ brains enjoy more synchronicity between the two hemispheres. 
Interestingly, more left-handers are prone to schizophrenia while less towards Parkinson’s disease. 
Despite the brain benefits of using both hands, which I do (hello, computer mouse), learning to drive a motorbike in Thailand felt like a slow and clumsy process. Just to back up a bit (pun intended), I did learn how to drive a stick shift, but after a couple of years, I gave up on it when I killed the truck in the middle of a busy parking lot.)
Anyway, learning to drive a motorbike was a big deal, but a pretty common initiation for expats and tourists. I learned on a red 110 cc Suzuki Swift. It was a kick-start, a non-automatic bike, and this was just one of problems for a left leg and hand dominate person.
But after I realized that it was my handedness, I felt much better about my seemingly slow abilities. I had to gain strength in my non-dominate leg in order to start the bike. Then, I learned how to use my right hand to accelerate with more control. I learned the hard lesson of not putting the bike in gear until I was ready to move forward. And I had to consciously talk through which side the gears and breaks were on because the hand breaks weren’t something I should rely upon in a hard stop.
The Sword and Shield Hypothesis is another interesting theory. Typically, a person holds their sword in their right hand and in their left, their shield. The idea being that we attack, use strength and force with our dominate hand, and we defend or push away with our left.  You might try this (without thinking if you can), which hand do you use to ‘stop’?
My partner likes to say he uses his left hand for subtle or precise work like drawing and writing, but he throws with his right, since it’s his power hand. It’s possible he’s ambidextrous. Funnily we just had a heated debate over the direction of my check/tick marks. I make my marks the opposite of a right-handers, or as he just said ‘backwards’, and told me that I must fix my ticks immediately. I will not!
But he was the one to clue me in to the fact that Asians have a pretty strong bias against left-handers. When he was working in China, he had to meet his boss somewhere to sign something. And as he was using his left-hand, his boss said, “Don’t you ever use that filthy hand in front of me again.” Of course, my BF told him to shove it in so many words.
A quick internet search does indeed produce evidence of Asians forcing natural lefties to write and eat right-handed especially in India and Indonesia. I understand this in India where you eat with your right hand (no utensils), and ‘clean yourself after defecating’ with the left. When we were in Malaysia, eating at an Indian restaurant, everyone was using their hands, but us. I hope they weren’t too offended.
In Thailand, there’s this habit of not using soap to wash your hands after using the toilet, UNLESS, you do no. 2. I’ve been on a crusade to get my students to use soap after they go to the bathroom, regardless, and also to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. When we moved to Cambodia, I was thrilled to see soap in the restrooms.
It’s odd to me that the left hand is considered dirty when soap is around…never been a fan of tradition.
Further reading reveals the word ‘left’ has negative connotations in many languages. There’s an exhaustive list on wiki ranging from bad luck, clumsiness, infidelity, stupidity, to even associations with the devil and murderous tendencies. Seriously? The term south paw doesn’t sound so bad now…
In Vietnam, students are deducted points from their exam if they use their left- hand.
In Japan, women were afraid that being left-handed hurt their chances of finding a husband. 
This feels so different from when my stepdad reversed the strings of a bass guitar, so I could play left-handed. No one has ever made a big deal out of it except to point it out, “hey, you’re a lefty!” I’d shrug because it was like saying, “hey, you can talk!” I mean, it’s nice of folks to notice, but I never know what to say. Although there was a time when we noticed how many teachers in the teachers room are lefties. That was fun.
Sometimes I remember to sit on the outside of a table so I don’t jab anyone with my elbow while eating. I shake hands with my right. I play along with the right-handed world. I cooperate, it’s all good. But it’s kind of wild to think about two-thirds of the world considering my handedness as ‘wrong’ or ‘dirty’. Sheesh! Give me a chance to talk, or do something first, and then label me.
I’m right eye, left ear, left hand, and left leg dominate. What about you?