Or maybe Normal vs. Not.
This has been on my list of possible topics for many, many years. It was on my old list, before I stopped blogging for several years, and it’s still there. It’s something I want to talk about, but it’s hard for me to find the words. So I’m just going to do my best and hope at least a few people hear what I’m trying to say.
The first problem is what even is “normal”? It’s a tough question. I’ve seen the concept of “there’s no such thing as normal” for years now and I’ve had a broad range of reactions to it. The first time I saw it, I hated it. It made me SO ANGRY, because “normal” was a dream for me. I wanted, so very badly, to be normal. To see “normal” be dismissed like that felt like a personal affront. Like it was just casually dismissing all of my deep and complex feelings around the basic fact that I’m NOT normal.
Time has, of course, since passed, and my view has evolved at least a little. If you asked me to describe what a “normal” person is I don’t think I could give you an answer. There’s “typical” but that’s different from “normal.” And there’s no such thing as a typical person. There are various traits that can be listed as typical (like neurotypical), but I’m pretty sure not a single person on the planet is entirely made up of typical traits. If there is, that in itself is pretty atypical.
Even so, I am Not Normal in ways that make me stand out and be on the receiving end of discrimination, hate, and other unpleasantness. There are, of course, the two that this blog centers around – I am autistic and I am trans. I didn’t choose either one. In fact, I spent years of my life desperately trying to be normal in both of those areas. All it got me was misery and failure. In the end, I am who I am and that cannot be changed.
So another aspect of this is the different ways I’ve seen people view the concept of “normal.” For me, “normal” was something I longed for. I spent so much of my life ostracised because of my differences and my inability to fit in that normalcy really looked wonderful. I genuinely thought that the key to happiness was achieving some standard of normal. Of course, happiness has come from self-acceptance and self-love, but that’s a topic for another time.
But then there are people who view “normal” very differently. Which really shocked me at the time I ran into it. For instance, I once had a friend with a Ph.D. who really prided herself on her intelligence. We once had a conversation on our views of what “normal” is and it was a shock to both of us. Because to her, “normal” was something to be eschewed. Normal was bad, normal was less. Normal was beneath her. She had grown up with the idea that it’s important to be better than normal people, smarter than normal people. She presented me with the analogy of pens in a cup – you don’t want to be just an ordinary pen in the cup, you want to be the BEST pen in the cup, the one everyone wants to use. I responded by saying that in that analogy, I’m not even in the cup. I’m the pink glitter pen over on the side that’s maybe super great in situations that call for pink glitter but otherwise I tend to be overlooked. From my perspective, ALL the pens in the cup are normal. From her perspective, I don’t even exist to be compared to.
It was an interesting conversation.
Now let’s have yet another example from my life! I don’t even know how many years ago, probably from way back in my 20’s, when I was on a dating website and was still living as a woman. I got a message from a dude who used that classic line “you’re not like other women” as some kind of bizarre compliment. Of course, I’m not like other women in that I’m a man, but I was in heavy denial at the time so that’s not how I took the comment, nor was it how it was meant. I wasn’t about to accept a compliment that involved insulting an entire gender, and I said as much in my reply. He came back with something about how he had thought I could have been extraordinary, but apparently I just want to be ordinary (sorry, the messages are long gone so we’re relying on my memory here for the general gist of what was said). That was the end of the conversation but I must say, I found that last reply of his HILARIOUS. He obviously intended it as some kind of neg or for me to feel insecure about myself, with “ordinary” somehow being bad or undesirable.
At the time, I was definitely still wanting to be ordinary. I didn’t know I was autistic but I did know I was weird and different and struggled in many ways that other people didn’t. I didn’t realize that I was trans, but I did know that I hated being a woman, wanted desperately to be a man, and absolutely loathed certain parts of my body. Being “ordinary” sounded absolutely wonderful compared to that.
As I wrap this post up, I do want to acknowledge that I did not attempt to define “normal,” “typical,” or “ordinary” in this post. The words, while similar, are not identical and are not used in the exact same ways or domains. My partner wanted to point out that to them (thanks to their work) “normal” is a matter of distributions. However, no one bothered to carefully define normal or ordinary in these conversations or memes either. They are words that we have feelings about, and clearly those feelings can vary wildly depending on the person and how they personally relate to those words
I still don’t know what “normal” is. Maybe there’s no such thing (at least when it comes to people). Maybe “normal” is whatever we make it to be. If “normal” is a list of traits, then I’m normal in some ways and not normal in others.
Ultimately, I’m me. And anyone who tries to pass judgement on me or make me feel things based on my adherence or lack thereof to some standard of normal is definitely someone I want nothing to do with.