Thursday, 25 October 2018

Things I Don't Understand - Normal

I don’t understand ‘normal’.

I’m thinking of two types of ‘normal’ here, though they blur at the edges.

The first is who or what is largely still assumed to be the social norm, the ‘standard’ for others to live up to, emulate, or to be measured against. And that norm is the white, Western, middle-to-upper class, cis-heterosexual, able bodied, neurologically typical male or, as one commentator calls it, ‘Default Man’.

And yet is this really the ‘average’ person? Just looking at statistics says no. Most of the world’s population is non-white, for starters. Even if you only look at, say, Europe, in most of its countries, more than half the people are female. Even looking at just the men, setting aside those who are gay/bi/trans/gender neutral/etc, those who are not white, not middle or upper class, those who are not of the majority religions, and those who are not able-bodied and neurotypical… I’m betting that what’s left is actually only a very small proportion. (Ten percent, according to the writer of ‘Default Man’.)

So how did this minority become held up as the ‘standard’? The answer to that lies with history. Men have been dominant for millennia. Add in all those colonisers, slave-owners and plunderers of non-European countries who didn’t think non-whites were even truly human, centuries of religious and social condemnation of non-cis-heterosexuals, a power imbalance in favour of the rich, screwed-up attitudes to the disabled coupled with lack of understanding of science… And you have the perfect storm for a narrow slice of the population to be able to hold themselves up as the benchmark group for everyone else to envy, compare themselves to, and wish to belong to – or to made to feel as though they should wish to.

We can’t change history of course. But some of these attitudes are still with us. Witness the bias towards male experience in the diagnosis of autistics, for example, that sees many females not diagnosed because they don’t fit the stereotype. Or how black kids are not allowed to wear their hair in ‘black’ styles in some schools. Or how people react to Muslim women’s head-coverings. Then there’s the pressure to not be ‘obviously’ gay, or to speak ‘standard’ English, or for immigrants to speak English instead of their own language even amongst themselves, or the recent attempt of a certain Australian politician to have a motion passed that it’s ‘okay to be white’ (apparently, if it wasn’t passed, whites would be the ‘victims’ of ‘genocide’, yes, you can roll your eyes now).… You can probably think of more examples, but you get the picture.

So I understand the historical reasons for the current situation, what I don’t understand is this clinging to the old standard, when it’s so obviously not actually ‘standard’, or even ‘average’. I can only assume it’s fear – fear of ‘the other’, fear of change, fear of somehow losing white privilege (which too many of them view as their ‘rights’). They’ve been thinking of themselves as the ‘norm’ for so long, they’ve come to feel they really are it. Or the best thing to be, or however they justify it to themselves. And you can almost watch the scrambles going on in their minds, as they try to do so. The mental blocks and torturous reasonings they have to manoeuvre around, the gaping holes in their arguments and world views that they refuse to look at.

I can tell you that as a person of European ancestry, I don’t feel fearful of ‘white genocide’ any time soon. I am more concerned with the actual genocides and wars and oppressions already going on, the plight of autistics everywhere, of gays in some countries, of immigrants fleeing terrible situations, the effects of climate change, etc, etc, etc. Not to mention all my own day to day difficulties of course. You know, real problems.

So I don’t understand this insistence on a group who never have been the majority, being able to keep their power, their wealth, their privilege, at the expense of those who actually are the majority. I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t understand reactionary people.

The second ‘normal’ I don’t understand, is a category of people I don’t even have a name for. They’re the ones who simply …do things. Like, they get out of bed in the morning, go off to work or school or wherever, come home, eat, relax, and then go to bed and fall asleep. Straight away. And then wake up and do the same over again the next day. Without thinking twice about any of it.

And on their weekends or days off, again, they simply get up and do things like mow lawns, catch up on housework or schoolwork, tinker with their hobbies or take themselves and their loved ones out to places like movies, shows, amusement parks, the beach, and so on. During their holiday breaks, they crowd to places where lots of others go, and don’t seem to mind that at all, or even like it.

And if you ask them, how do you just do these things, they look at you like you’re crazy, or simply say ‘I never thought about it.’ And shrug. And go on doing it.

I get that people do this, I just don’t understand how.

How they do it without stress. Or at least not the kind of overwhelming stress that us ‘not-normal’ people suffer. They never worry about things like sensory challenges, social challenges, transition challenges, executive functioning issues, mental/emotional states and triggers, stairs, wheelchair access, exhaustion, blood sugar levels, allergic reactions, pain issues, will-there-be-food-I-can-eat issues, whether-X-activity-will-make-me-dizzy issues, and all the thousand-and-one other things that those of us with ‘conditions’ stress about. Not to mention those of us who have the anxiety of possible exclusion or even threats to personal safety because of race, class, sexuality, gender identity, religion or lack thereof, etc.

These ‘normal’ people just …do things. Without a second thought. No agonising, no scattered thoughts, no intense pre-planning, no I-did-this-yesterday-so-I-have-no-spoons-to-do-anything-today, no double and triple-checking everything, no fretting over whether you’ll get a park close enough or will the accessible parking be all taken or will some dipstick give us hassles because we have an invisible disability and park in a disability space, no worrying about potential meltdowns or shutdowns, no ‘at what point does it get too much and we bail out’, no ANYTHING.

I used to read accounts of these people’s lives, only half-consciously looking for any sign of this, but it just wasn’t there. And then it finally hit me - that they don’t worry about these things because they don’t have to. So I understand that now. But I’ve been struggling with so much for so long, that I have no conception, no understanding at all, of what a life without that struggle would feel like.

But what I do understand, is that, if all of us ‘not-normal’ folks got together, we may find that, like the non-‘Default Man’ people, we’re actually the majority – and that it’s actually normal to be ‘not-normal’.

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