Eccentric was my refuge.
I knew that I couldn’t get away with normative, so from as early as I can remember, I cultivated a front of eccentricity.
There is power in eccentric, the power of surprise. The eccentric, you see, cannot be easily predicted. They can do anything at any time, making unique choices, and everyone will just think, “Well, they are eccentric!”
Eccentric let me not have to get pinned down, not have to lie, not have to be this or that. I was solid, as one friend said, but solid like an iceberg; I moved around quite a bit.
Eccentric, though, kept me outside. It left me on the edges, neither in nor out, but a little bit of both.
For me, eccentric was the compromise I could manage. Eccentric was queer in the old style way, before queer became a label about sexual identity. Eccentric was the claiming of individuality beyond convention, the power to be myself even when expectations were different.
I needed eccentric. With my family, normal just wasn’t in the cards. I lived in a world very different than my classmates, a world where no one was taking my feelings into account, a world where the only emotions that counted were the ones my mother spewed out of frustration and pain.
People failed to understand her, to make her happy, to connect with her. To her, that was their fault, their attempt to hurt her, their abusing her.
The notion that she was responsible for her own feelings, not her husband or her children, was beyond her. To her, the only real pain was on her skin, the only emotions that mattered were the ones inside of her, the ones she could neither understand or control.
The only safe space for me was inside my own head. I was smart enough to survive the torrent by being eccentric, learning to read before I was three, immersing myself in books. The attention I got were not because I was a sweet, playful kid, it was because I was smart in a way that Aspies could understand and respect. The defenses I built demanded I understand and manage my parents emotions in a smarter way than they could.
I became manipulative, just to survive, always ready to be sharp. My manipulation, though, was very clear, honest and overt; no concealment of motives or emotional flattery from me.
When I was 17, I saw Bogart in “Casablanca” on the big screen and knew that his kind of crusty defence of a romantic soul was the most effective way I knew to protect my own tender, feminine, trans heart. At the same age, though, I was dating women around MIT in a way that years later made sense only as a lesbian style.
My explorations of trans were covered by my eccentric approach, gender freak kind of play that irked the crossdressers who wanted to correct me, explaining that I had to take a femme name, had to really work at being fake femaled to achieve the perfect “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy” second self.
My dream, though, my secret dream, wasn’t finding new and more extreme ways of being eccentric. Eccentric wasn’t my heart, it was my shell, the defence that let me move around in the world.
Around me I saw transpeople who left their normative lives to claim their own eccentricity, learning to use the effect of claiming individuality to make space for their trans expression in the world. Good for them, I thought, understanding the power of letting your freak flag fly, but to me, the notion of moving from eccentric to more eccentric just seemed wearing.
Authentic is something I claimed from my earliest days. At 13, when the therapist wanted me to self-diagnose by telling her who I wanted to be, I stood fast on that trick question: I wanted to be myself. I was a child for whom magical thinking, dreams and possibilities were purged early, in the face of irrational Aspergers.
My dream was, like the dreams of so many transpeople, to become seen, valued and accepted, to be loved, for the what I knew to be the true contents of my heart. I wanted to be adored like the girl me inside craved, wanted to be loved like the woman inside me needs.
No matter how much I showed my feminine heart and devotion, that wasn’t to be. I was just weird, freaky, odd and eccentric, too much, too extreme, too incomprehensible, too overwhelming.
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple and allow myself to be seen as eccentric.” It’s the great goal for so many, claiming the freedom of age, but for someone who was adultified early and who has lived their life backwards, well, becoming more eccentric is not nearly such a desirable or comforting outcome.
I know how to use eccentric choices to tough it out, to claim the freedom, to be the one who everyone looks at with derision and awe. I know how to use that frisson of fear and authority to offer gems that make people go “ahhhh!”
I just know that when I do that, well, it costs me somewhere in my heart. It’s a front, an eccentric and by now elegant polished front, that may give people what they want but a front that has cost me a great deal.
“Be careful who you pretend to be, because you are who you pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut reminded us in “Mother Night,” which I read when I was 15. I have put up a pretense of eccentricity so long that I no longer seem to have any other possibilities, not at my age, or state of health and not with my experience of the world.
The moments when someone could have come inside my eccentric, concierge, guru shell seem to have come and gone. The possibilities of being touched with passion and tender intimacy just don’t seem available any more, not with the crust and scars I have built up over the ages.
I speak with the best voice I can muster, inviting people inside, but I know that the odd mix of theology, politics, vulnerability and pain just throw them off. They want something cleaner, simpler, more easily eccentric. They want a product, just like I tried so hard to be when I was young and putting myself on television.
Eccentric is good. I recommend it. Use the power in it.
Like anything else, though, eccentric has limits. Use it too much and things get out of whack, out of balance. Tolerance builds and it stops working well for you. The byproducts start to raise to toxic levels and the isolation just gets to be too much, leaving you mired in the well of loneliness.
I love eccentric. I love the freedom it gives people to tell their stories in their own voice, free from trying to avoid losing in a conventional game that they can never win. Go Bogie.
But somehow, after a lifetime, it isn’t a place I want to go again. I’m just too tired.