… or An Ode to Square Pegs Who Laugh at Round Holes. Either is fine.
I read a mini-article in the Sunday Times supplements this morning. It was a small section of a big article in Style, which was focused on “eccentric” style becoming popular. This section was written by someone (typically, I can’t remember her name, and papers have a sneaky way of disappearing when you live with one avid reader and one obsessive hoarder – and I’m not talking about me in either case, for once) who had felt like a square peg in a round hole all her life. She basically went on to describe how Being Different had affected her throughout her life, how glad she was for It to have been recognised, and how comforting it was that people are, quite deliberately, coming out of the metaphorical closet with their eccentricities on show. Warts and all. And probably worse.
It got me thinking – hence the post – about a not-wholly-unsurprising correlation between Difference and Acceptance (of others, that is).
So I’m going to tell a story.
My favourite hiding place at university is the special-access computer room for disabled students. I had been directed there by my Aspie Mentors not because I had any need for specialist software or adapted hardware (oh do calm down), but because I had asked if they knew of any places where I could escape sensory overload when it took over my brainwaves.
At some point during the first term of university, not long after Coming Out Properly (which, to me means Not Over The Frigging Internet, you know, the brave way) for the first time – to my aforementioned Aspie Mentor… who is an Utter Legend With A Cherry On Top if there ever was one… I had another go. This time, I had not planned it in advance.
I went into the computer room to find the brilliant woman in charge (another Legend, I might add) having an interesting conversation with another woman who admitted early on that she really should have been doing some work. Both are dyslexic, and that was the main focus of the conversation; strangely, given my own conversational inabilites, I joined in without even meaning to. And no one seemed to care… which was even better.
The conversation was incredibly tangential, which I am used to; anyone trying to follow my brainthoughts, myself included, needs a great deal of patience and perseverance, so luckily I was equipped for exactly this kind of situation.
(I should point out here that I am an utter addict to Deep Conversations. And I don’t mean deep – necessarily – in the sense that everything must be important, just thought about and reasoned out beyond all sane proportion. I’d happily have a 3-hour discussion on the merits of Brie over Cheddar, as long as a lot of thought has been dutifully put in. But try to talk to me about TV on a superficial level for longer than 5 minutes and I will zone out and start plotting your slow and painful death. That’s a promise.)
Back to the point. I will get there soon. I hope. As, I’m sure, do you.
In this tangential conversation, we covered topics from dyslexia, disability in general, self-harm and The System, mental health and the treatment of those with mental illness, to gender, gender stereotypes, sexual harrassment, abuse, socialising with Total Misogynistic Dickheads, socialising with Total Dickheads Period, and eventually made our way back to dyslexia… at which point everyone decided they’d put off working for long enough – 45 minutes, in fact – and could no longer avoid the issue.
My point is that, completely unexpectedly, during the course of this conversation, I came out to them both. I don’t know why, or what actually set it off (although I think it may have been their talk of gender stereotypes and working in mainly-male professions that got me on my soapbox about unnecessary gendering, but don’t hold me to that one). But I did. And the reaction was phenomenal. I couldn’t have had a better response. It was acknowledged, accepted, and then was included in the conversation when it was relevant. I’m going to make a couple more points about this, but I’ll bullet them to spare your brains from having to read great chunks of waffle. Rather like this one.
- It didn’t turn into an interrogation, complete with lengthy discussions on My Bodily… Things.
- It didn’t dominate the conversation.
- At the same time, it didn’t get ignored or smoothed over.
- It was brought up at later points, relevant points even, when it actually made sense to bring it up.
- It was brilliant.
And it took me a while to figure out why. But I think I’ve got it now.
I’ll Try And Explain
To do so, I’ll have to rewind and go into (hopefully, appropriately vague) detail about an earlier point in the conversation.
The Woman Who Should Have Been Doing Her Work (I’m really not good with names, but she never said it anyway, so I have an excuse… or so I like to think) was talking about her daughter, who is also dyslexic. She had some Soapbox Time where she ranted – in a way I can appreciate – about The System, and just how much of a toll it took on her daughter. Understandably, seeing her daughter suffering while powerless to help made her livid with The Way Things Are, and since she had also had her own experience, I can imagine it would make her searing anger that much bitterer, and that much more painful.
When I worked out why it was that they in particular had taken my revelations so well, I wondered why I hadn’t figured it out earlier. One of the main points she had made, one that had made her particularly angry, was that The System expects you to be able to tick certain boxes, and you are treated as Wrong if you can’t. This was met by sympathetic – and loud – expressions of agreement from the rest of us, perhaps predictably, but we’re only human.
While she had been talking about learning – in particular, the way many are branded early on as stupid or difficult if they don’t learn in the way They want you to – I think most people could find an issue in their own lives where the backbone of the Ticking Boxes Principle applies. And for me, it was my gender; not that school stuff wasn’t difficult, but I don’t think I’ve ever been branded as stupid, and I’m pretty good at kicking up a fuss if my Precious Individuality isn’t being respected. Well, that and the fact that they couldn’t avoid the fact that we were paying (extortionate amounts, in many cases) for a quality education… and assimilation just doesn’t work in such instances. Sorry.
So when I mentioned the fact that I was transgender, all that meant to them was that I’d been a non-box-ticker too. Especially when I said that I rejected the gender binary completely, and all stereotypes within it. At that point, in fact, they both jumped in with their own frustrations with gendered stereotypes, and seemed relieved to be able to express their irritation when others reinforced them. Accidentally or otherwise.
Which brings me to the Thing I’ve Noticed.
The Brilliance of Difference
I have had some fantastic responses to my coming out. And the best ones – also the first ones – came from people who have Lived. Properly. Those who Just Know how to handle it in the perfect way have dealt with Real Problems in some form or other (almost always, or just happen to be wise beyond their years naturally, which is still pretty damn cool).
Every Problem With A Capital P is different; whether it’s their own head stuff, or that of others, many have had dealings with unfair stigmatisation (is it ever fair, really?). But they’re inevitably there, lurking in the background somewhere. And it causes real thought on my part about the harshness of life, and the accidental benefits.
Life is odd, no doubt about it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.