What if we celebrated “otherness?”
I grew up on the East Coast, in a quiet fishing village in Southeastern Connecticut. I went to a small school that was all total about 250 students from grades K-9. My exposure to the greater world was somewhat limited to field trips and family vacations. I heard the words “gay” and “lesbian” but in my narrow world-view they were mostly ascribed to flamboyant men and butch, man-hating women. Those boxes felt as far away from me as “tall” or “musically talented.”
I was not gay, not a lesbian, but let’s be honest here, I most definitely was not straight. I wasn’t anything that I saw around me. And so I made do with what I had. I learned how to fit into the dominant culture. I learned how to dress, how to carry myself, what I was supposed to be interested in and who for that matter. And I did that to a T. As with a lot of internalized homophobia, it’s so often the most closeted that work the hardest at passing. I got so practiced at performing in the heteronormative world I was in, that I’m not sure I even realized the myriad of ways I had been suffocating my authentic self.
It’s a slippery slope this practice of fitting in. One act of conformity most often leads to another and another until I gradually (and painfully) realized that there was very little of me left in the worlds I was participating in.
Life trundled on and I hopped from small town Connecticut, to a Massachusetts boarding school, to college in Virginia. I think you see where this is going. My trajectory meant being faced more and more with the ways I did not fit, deepening my sense of otherness and essentially integrating more and more this sense of not belonging. Perhaps it had become so ingrained in my subconscious that I just continued to seek out more and more experiences that reaffirmed that I was an “other,” because to have a different experience would shatter the very way in which I had come to understand myself and my place in the world.
Remember, the ego likes what’s familiar, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Then, I moved to Boulder—the supposed bastion of liberal, progressive lifestyles. One of the things that I heard about the gay community was that there wasn’t one—at least not in a cohesive way. Boulder was so open and accepting that there didn’t need to be a separate community. Everyone belonged. Everyone fit. As long as you assimilated to the dominant culture.
Lesbians and straight couples could push their shopping carts side-by-side at Whole Foods with no qualms. But this isn’t necessarily acceptance, at least not in the sense of acceptance as radical inclusiveness.
My sexuality doesn’t need to be the center point of my identity. I don’t think it needs to be the driving force behind the people I form friendships with and the communities I engage with. I don’t think it needs to be the be all end all to places I live and decisions I make. There does need to be space for it beyond how well I assimilate in the dominant culture.
Heterosexuality is celebrated everywhere in our culture. The flip message is, if you’re not heterosexual then you’re not going to be celebrated. If you’re not celebrated, then you are some how “less-than.” Maybe that’s extreme, but I can tell you as a queer person, that has so often been my internalized experience. And I can take responsibility for how I’ve engaged with those messages. But, what if things were different?
What if we celebrated “otherness?”
I don’t want acceptance that is interwoven with assimilation. I want to be able to step into a space looking how I look, loving who I love and be seen not based on how well I fit into the dominant culture, but as a human being—with desires and fears and flaws and beauty and passion.
I want equality in celebration. I want to celebrate you. I want to celebrate the way you live your life that is most closely aligned with your truth. I want to celebrate the way you express your authentic self. I think the world would be a bit of a different place if we learned to celebrate the ways in which we all, individually and collaboratively, show up in this world. Let’s make celebration the new normative behavior.
I am queer and I revel in that word, wear that identity like my favorite sweatshirt, connect to it because it speaks to me of the complexity of my soul, my longing, my desires, my joys and my sorrows. In essence, queer allows me to identify with the complexity of what it means to be human. Because here’s the thing (and I’m speaking solely for myself in this, allow it to resonate if you wish), my sexuality, my identity in this way, is only in part related to what sexy time looks like for me.
It also has to do with honoring the ways that I don’t belong to the normative majority and instead of shaming myself for that, celebrating what my version of normal looks like (or completely doing away with the concept of “normal”). It has to do with the choices that I’ve made in my life. If I am being true to myself, I’m not often going to be able to meet the expectations that were handed to me with a pink bow on top the minute I was born.
It has to do with the loneliness that comes from growing up in a space that didn’t offer a mirror to validate my differences. It’s about still struggling with the scars of that loneliness, and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing to find the courage to have those mirrors now. It’s about being proud of my capacity to nurture a relationship with my partner that is loving and communicative and supportive and generous and playful and explorative.
It’s about holding her hand and kissing her on the street and letting myself brace a little bit for the aggressions (big and small) that inevitably come our way, no matter how progressive this liberal town is. It is about being proud of my ability to love with so much of my being: myself, my lover, my family, my friends, and my community.
But this isn’t just about being queer. It’s about being honest. It’s about being brave. It’s about living your life in the way that feels best to you (as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else). It’s about not knowing what that looks like and learning how to be with uncertainty. It’s about spending years trying on different versions of yourself only to throw out the entire wardrobe and just walk around naked.
It’s about learning (and unlearning) what’s important to you.
It’s about letting it all change, all the time. It’s about not judging your heart, because it won’t speak loudly enough for you to hear it if you’re going to judge it. It’s about believing that you deserve to do all of these things. And you have the capacity. It’s about allowing for complexity and simplicity and both/and. It’s about reveling in polarities and throwing off the bars of duality, binary, dichotomy. It’s about making this life yours, whatever that means and however it looks.
Not that you need it, but you have my blessing.
I can’t wait to see what that looks like for you.
Alicia Banister swims in the sea of bodyworkers in Boulder, CO. as a CranioSacral and Massage Therapist. She is not very good at sleeping late or cutting in a straight line. But, she is really good at regularly feeding her dog, being in the woods, cooking, laughing loudly and often and making mistakes. She regularly marvels at the human body and the breadth of its inherent healing capacity, as well as the fantastic beings that inhabit those bodies. She makes it a practice to let life humble her as often as possible. And to remember to have a sense of humor about it all. You can find her ramblings at reflectionsmassage.wordpress.com and www.reflectionsintegrativetherapy.com~Editor: Colleen Simpson
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