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Products made for lefties are left behind--by lefties

Twelve-year-old Caitlin Towey swung recklessly with the right-handed golf clubs her grandmother bought her as a gift only days before. Towey, a confirmed lefty, looked around, mortified to see all the country clubbers watching her.

“It was so awkward for me to be at a country club to begin with!” said the now 23-year-old youth programmer for AmeriCorps. “Never mind the fact that I felt completely ridiculous using golf clubs that were totally wrong for me.”

Still, Towey continued on with the game of golf throughout childhood and into adulthood. “I ended up being pretty good at the sport,” she said. “Think of how phenomenal I could have been if I had learned with the proper lefty clubs.”

After centuries of discrimination against the left-handed, southpaws can now be proud of their uniqueness. No more believing that lefties are a bunch of cryptics; no more kids getting their knuckles slapped with rulers to force them to use their right hand. Even President Obama recently signed documents with his left hand and quipped to reporters, “I’m a lefty, get used to it.”

But does Obama--and the rest of the 1 in 10 lefties of the land--realize they could be signing documents with a fast-drying ink lefty pen? Or cutting coupons with some lefty scissors? Oven mitts, watches, mugs, notebooks, pens, knives, vegetable peelers and can openers all exist and are available now on the Internet. At a modest cost (lefty scissors: $12; fast-drying ink pen: $5; left-handed notebook: $5; lefty oven mitt: $7), one would think lefties would snatch up these goods and parade around with their new gear. But it turns out that despite their burgeoning pride, lefties still rarely use the lefty-specialized products now available. Instead, they choose to struggle and adapt the best they can to a right-handed world, even when there are products available to service their dominant side.

“So many lefties have adapted to righty products throughout the years that it can be awkward for lefties to use left-handed products, especially scissors,” said Kelly Kempczenski, the left-handed manager of San Francisco’s Lefty Store, which calls itself the first store in the United States to cater to left-handers. “It definitely gets some taking used to.”

It turns out that because lefties have gotten so used to adjusting to a right-handed world, most don’t see the point in changing now. Growing up, Alissa Leone tried to keep her computer mouse at home on the left side of the key board. As computers became used more in school, her right hand became shaped to the righty mouse.

“I can’t use lefty products anymore,” said Leone, a 25-year-old insurance underwriter. “I write with my left hand but I can do almost anything else with my right hand. I usually eat with my left hand but occasionally will switch to my right hand and not even be aware of it.”

Like most of the lefty community, Leone is more ambidextrous than dominant-handed by forcing herself to adapt to the world with her rare physical trait.

Unlike blond and blue-eyed folks who like to play up their recessive genetics, or those who try to emulate them through dyes and contact lenses, lefties instead give in to their surroundings. Most choose to settle with a frustration-fueled ambidextrous way of life than play up the uncommon feature that claims to be a sign of superior creativity and intelligence to the left-handed.

“Righties that come into our store don’t realize the little things that we lefties deal with in this day and age,” said Kempczenski. “From everything like cutting a slice of cheese to measuring something; from opening a bottle of wine to playing cards, lefties have to do many things in their own way. Most of us are ambidextrous because we have no choice but to adapt to the ‘right-hand world.’”

Specialty lefty products can’t be found in a Staples and Office Max store. And especially in a harsh economic environment, most lefty stores have gone online to sell to left-handed customers. While the Internet offers several options buy lefty products, the availability and demand still pales in comparison to the hair dye and colored-contacts business.

Sarah Newcomb, who hit the DNA trifecta as a blond, blue-eyed lefty, finds the use of left-handed products more frustrating than fruitful.

“I remember I had a couple lefty notebooks,” said Newcomb, a 22-year-old New Hampshire resident. “But it actually was more difficult for me to write in them I think. I was so used to just having the binding for my left hand to rest on.”

“It seems like more of a hassle, anyway,” Newcomb said, “to have to go out and buy lefty stuff that’s so hard to find.”

And despite Towey’s negative experiences with golf clubs, and choosing to lead a more difficult life without the use of lefty stuff, she’s grown to love her left-handed dominance.

“Even things as simple as noticing someone else is a lefty and exchanging high-fives, or noticing someone with ink all over their hand taking notes and nodding with empathy,” said the recent college graduate. “It’s like a secret club that the only lefties are a part of.”