I’ve been thinking a lot about normalcy lately, and the fleeting desire for it.
Let’s get this straight (pun intended)–I’ve never felt normal. And I’ve probably never been “normal” by anyone else’s standards either. I’m part hardcore, bibliophile introvert, more likely to be seen with a book than a buddy, and part “Dyke Diva”– with the right genderbending attire, I’ve been known to strut and even swagger. But none of it makes me normal, except insofar as my proclivity for emotions is just as human as anyone else’s. But let’s face it, there is a difference between human and “normal.” After all, we made up the latter. Social construct–it’s all relative, yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill.
So what IS “normal,” anyway? Is it routine? Is it commonality or majority? Or is it simply whatever is familiar? We like to talk about “normal” as though it’s some fixed, universal principal, but in reality whatever seems “normal” to us only seems that way because it is familiar to us. What’s “normal” in the West is unlikely to be the “normal” in the East (though, globalization is quickly chipping away at that via television, business and the internet). Leviticus, which people so love to cite to bash gays, is really just a list of normal practices for Jewish tribes back in the day. Leviticus is the rules that separated them from outsiders. Nowadays, though, eating dairy with your meat and getting haircuts are commonplace. “Normal” is anything but fixed and universal.
So why worry so much about being normal? Well, I must say friends, there is some comfort in normalcy. There is comfort in being able to fly under the radar unmolested. And as someone who’s spent much of her life as a painfully confused wallflower, normal seems pretty appealing. It’s the chance to not have an entire room stare at you and not having to pretend you don’t hear them talking under their breath about you. (Though, I’ve taken to inventing my own dialogue when I hear people talking about me– “Oh Jade, she’s so cool! I’m so jealous of her cool, collected nature.” It works better than you’d think.)
The “normal fallacy,” as it were, can be quite tempting. Heck, I even fell prey to the assumption that I was normal during puberty. As a queer person, I get asked about my coming out quite often. And, frankly, it’s a little embarrassing. When did I know I was gay? Well, it’s a bit murky. I knew that I was attracted to women by the time I was 15, but I didn’t make the connection that said fact meant I could date women or that, heck, I might be gay, until I was 20! Ridiculous, right? But it truly never occurred to me that (1) my attraction to women was out of the ordinary or (2) that it said anything about my sexuality. After all, we’re all born straight! Right? Right..? Wait…
I even went so far as to date boys (rather, a boy) for nearly four years before I finally had to admit to the world that I was a raging dyke (and so many other parts of my life suddenly made sense). I could not have been more oblivious at the time. “Well, yeah, of course girls are sexy! Have you met my boyfriend? He’s pretty, isn’t he?” The desire for normalcy is powerful and blind.
And so it is with relationships too. That is, sometimes I wonder if my occasional longing for a relationship isn’t just a longing for the path more traveled. In some ways, being a part of a couple is like getting into a special club. You can go on double dates with other coupled friends, you get a plus one at weddings and special events, heck you have built in company for just about any event, and you can even bring your partner to a class reunion as a big middle finger to those asshats who said you’d always be alone. Especially as you get older, others expect you to pair off, and reality becomes ever starker as your friends gradually pair off and you remain the ever-vigilant quirkyalone, who receives pitiful offers from friends to “live with me and my husband and kids someday,” as though all I ever wanted was to be a gay, glorified nanny for my straight friends.
None of this even mentions the financial or emotional benefits of being in a couple, just the social ones. Sometimes it just seems like it would be easier to be part of a couple (which is ironic since any worthwhile relationship actually requires a lot of work and commitment!).
But there’s some trouble with normal… The Trouble with Normal… I kept uttering this phrase to myself this morning until it hit me– I have a book with that title! (As a bibliophile, I often go on book-buying-binges when I’m depressed, and hence have a lot of books I adore, but have yet to read.) I ran to my bookshelf and yes! There it was! The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner. I just started reading it, obviously, but I am so excited about this book. Mr. Warner promises to present some seemingly radical ideas–like that marriage is itself unethical and there’s a principled defense for pornography–and I’m really quite giddy about the concept of dismantling sexual shame.
The culture has thousands of ways for people to govern the sex of others–and not just harmful or coercise sex, like rape, but the most personal dimensions of pleasure, identity, and practice. We do this directly, though prohibition and regulation, and indirectly, by embracing one identity or one set of tastes as though they were universally shared, or should be.
And who says they should be? I’ve felt like a total weirdo, sore-thumb sticking out, my whole life. Or, almost my whole life. Times when I didn’t feel weird? At NYC Pride. At a drag show. At queer dance parties. I don’t feel like such a freak of nature when surrounded by my LGBTQ friends and allies. In these queer safe spaces, I’m not constantly hearing about what an abomination against God I am, how I’m flaunting my sexuality just by being true to myself, or how the way I Love is “unnatural.” And that makes all the difference. We are what we fill our heads with– and when our heads are constantly filled with damaging messages about how we’re freaky, or weird, or flat out immoral just by being who we are… it’s easy to see why we sometimes feel like “normal” is right and we are “wrong.” Pile this on top of all the other messages we’re bombarded with–about gender, about race, about creed, about body size and type–it’s perhaps a wonder that we aren’t all huddled in a corner in the fetal position. There are so many qualifications to be “normal,” and none of them guarantee you happiness. Just ask Ashley Riggitano.
Friends, I end this entry with a call to action: Do not be satisfied with normal! Do not be satisfied with what you already see in the world (especially on television/in movies)! Go out, create, be true to yourself, be what you feel in your heart, and confidence and happiness will eventually find you. I commit to this, too. That I will embrace my “Dyke Diva” side instead of my social anxiety, and I bet you that “normal” will quickly lose it’s shine. More reviews of The Trouble with Normal to come.
Oh, and I’ve said the phrase “Dyke Diva” enough times that I’m now required to show this: