Tuesday, August 9, 2016

For The Outcasts

I’ve never been very good at blending in. In fact, I tend to stick out like a sore thumb almost no matter what I do. Even in basic training for the Army, wearing the same clothes as everyone else with the same no-hair as everyone else and doing my best imitation of a round peg in a round hole on the round surface of a round container, I managed to walk around in my own spotlight and draw (usually unwanted) attention. I went in with the intention of being wallpaper - not even standing out as much as a wall flower! - and ended up being known by Drill Sergeants from surrounding companies who had nothing to do with us. It’s a talent. I’m not always certain it’s a gift, but it’s definitely special.

I’m mostly good with it now. There was a time when I would have traded anything to be normal, or to at least be able to appear as normal, but that time is a distant memory and, to be perfectly honest, not even a fond memory. I mean, obviously the various extra curricular activities that led to me wishing to be normal weren’t fun, but even the memory of wanting to be normal doesn’t ring happy bells for me anymore. I like who I am. There are parts that could be easier, sure, but they are pieces of a whole that I think has worked out fairly well. Normal is boring, and boring is one of the few things in life that really scares me. Most of the truly dumb decisions I have made in my life can be traced back to being bored. On the plus side, I don’t get bored easily. On the down side, we have most of my High School career. Trust me on this one.

There’s a secret I want to tell you. Speaking for the outcasts and to those on the inside looking out, there is something that we wish you knew. Or maybe you know but don’t fully understand. Communication problems between the inside and the out are pretty common, so it’s hard to say for sure. This is important, though, so let’s give it a try.

The secret is this: I am who I am. I’m not different because it bothers you. I’m not trying to be a thorn in your side or a rock in your shoe. I’m also not different because of what you can see. It is so much deeper than that. This is me. This is who I am.

I usually make it a point to not speak for anyone else, but I feel pretty comfortable about this one. We’re all different in different ways, but I think most of us agree on this one. I’d go so far as to say it’s a pretty common pet peeve. “Why don’t you just get a haircut?” “Why don’t you just wear normal clothes?” “Why don’t you do this or do that?” “Why don’t you hold your breath until the world changes?” That last one? That, or something very much like that, is what we hear when you’re asking those other questions.

It’s not what you think it is, not for most of us anyway. You see the oddball with the funny hair, unusual fashion, and Oh! Look at all those marks or scars! You see all of that surface stuff and think that makes a person different. Then, and this is distressingly common, you mockingly point out how all of those different people are being different in the same way, as though this were something that no one else noticed and no one else has commented on, over and over again. You think you’re being clever, I know, but it’s more like when someone makes fun of my name. I heard them all before I was 10, and we had run out of variations before I was 12. It’s not clever. It’s very old, and very worn, and misses the entire point but about a billion miles.

All of that stuff you see on the surface is not what makes a person different. It’s a result, a side effect, maybe even a symptom of being different, but it isn’t the difference. If we set aside the surface differences, do everything by the rules, the way it’s expected to be done, we’d still be different. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense. From the inside looking out, it seems easy. It’s not easy. I promise you, there’s nothing easy about it. A square peg cannot become round by a simple change in paint. You have to knock bits off and sand them down. You have to physically remove the differences. That may be fine for a wooden peg, but people don’t respond well to bits getting removed. It’s painful, and often unhealthy. It can even be a sort of death. The person who comes out the other side is not the same one who had all of the original bits. Maybe sometimes you need to be a new person, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you just need to learn how to be the person you already are.

Sometimes we do the surface differences because that is easier than the alternative. It’s the magician’s assistant. If you’re looking at the purple hair, you’re not looking at what’s behind the purple hair. In my experience, you’re going to notice that I’m different, so I’ll make my life easier by giving you something obvious to latch onto. You’re going to insult me, so insult my piercings instead of my thoughts. It’s a distraction and, as a distraction, it works marvelously.

It’s not that simple, not really and not all the way down, but that is absolutely part of it. Most of us have defense mechanisms, and sometimes being different is the best defense against being different. It’s all in how you look at it.

None of this takes away from personal taste. I like my tattoos and piercings and hair (back when I had hair, anyway). I like my music and my fashion, and, if I’m being entirely honest, I even enjoy the funny looks I get from certain types of people. I enjoy being me. Some of that is a learned behavior, but some of it is just taste. Think about your favorite color. Now decide to change your favorite color. It’s not so simple, is it?

I am who I am, and I have spent a lot of years learning who that is, and learning how to be comfortable with that person, even to like him. I’ve also put enough effort into this self-discovery to know that mine has not been a unique path. We who are different aren’t always so different after all. It can be a painful road, but you don’t learn strength from an easy life. I’ve learned quite a bit of strength. I don’t ask permission to be who I am, but I’m also not being different just to spite people. In the end, I just want to be the best me I can be. Strip away the differences and isn’t that what we all want?

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