My mother wishes she was normal.
She’s 82 this year and away at an Elderhostel full of people, including one pediatrican my mother has identified as a transwoman who dresses butch. There are 38 other people from around the country, who she thinks are normal.
But she’s not normal.
“How long haven’t you been normal?” I asked her, thinking that maybe it was her walker that made her feel different. After all, she was the only one who had to sit in the bus with the driver while the others took a walking tour of a quaint, historic neighborhood.
“I don’t think I was ever normal,” she tells me.
“Ah, so you were always special, unique and exceptional,” I say
“I was always weird,” she tells me.
Carol Queen said that whenever queers tell their story, straights always think we are writing about them.
I suspect that is true because we speak a truth that isn’t often heard in society. The mainstream talks of normal people living normal lives, but inside each of those people, they know that they are different, special, unique and exceptional. In other words, some nagging part of them tells them that they aren’t normal either.
Heck, the guy from eHarmony promises to find you a partner who can “See you, accept you, and love you passionately for who you are.” Of course, he only makes that promise to straight people, who are the only ones eHarmony serves, but the fact the marketing wonks chose that statement tells you that even straight people don’t feel they are seen, accepted and loved passionately for who they are.
This truth, that we all feel misunderstood and unseen is a blessing and a curse for queer people.
It’s a blessing because it means that straights feel there is something they can learn from those on the edges, something about engaging that feeling of difference.
But it’s a curse because the limits of how they feel different are the limits of how they can understand how others feel different. If we all don’t feel normal but can suck it up and fit in, then why can’t you?
The moment you step into queer is the moment at which you see and affirm choices others make that you would never make in your life, and beyond that, keep loving the people who make those choices. The choices may squick you, may seem distasteful or weird, may feel scary or dangerous, may be ones others would separate from, would stigmatize and deride, may just be queer, but only affirming them can help you become at peace with your own queerness.
I realize that we do need some kind of line to separate good choices from evil ones, and for me that line is consent. Killing, raping, stealing, all things done without consent, and all bad. But just making others uncomfortable, just pushing the people’s buttons, just bringing queerness into a worldview they want to sanitize “for the kids,” well, in a free, pluralistic society, your comfort isn’t protected, just your rights.
My mother feels different and separate from the rest of her group. She feels like she isn’t normal.
I know that. I needed her to teach me how to nave normal relations with the community, to have friends and neighbors, and that wasn’t something she could do. But neither could she teach me how to be happily and sucessfully weird, walking in the world with self-confidence and pride.
But how do I connect with all those people who fear they aren’t normal without triggering their fears that moving too much past normal will lose them everything, even if that just means standing with and for people who are very much not normal, standing with people who are queer?
The fear of being seen as not normal and being stigmatized for that difference is the tool society uses to keep people in line, and that fear is strong.
But that fear only works if people know one thing: that somewhere, inside, they are exceptional, different, unique and not just normal, and that must be hidden.
Imagine, though, what happens when we start to understand it isn’t just us who isn’t normal, it’s everybody who is exceptional, different and unique. Then we can start to affirm their choices, even the choices we would never make for ourselves.
We can move from feeling abnormal to queer.
And that, my friend, might just be liberation.