I live on the margins. I’m a marginal, a shadow creature, one of those who most people don’t even know exist, or are only vaguely aware of. I identify with all the other marginal – and marginalised - beings, who inhabit the world that lies beyond the harsh glare of nine-to-five, two-point-five mortgages, two-point-five kids and the house in the burbs. You know – the ‘normal’ world, inhabited by the straight white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, neurotypical, married, everyday people. Like you see on TV, in ads and programs and movies and so on. Normal people.
Please understand, I have nothing against them, I don’t dislike them or anything, in fact I find many of them fine people. I just don’t identify with them, and I can barely comprehend what it might be like to be them. And I guess they don’t really understand people like me either.
Us, that is. The not-so-normal ones. The socially rejected or scorned or ignored. The outsiders and the strangers and the simply ‘strange’. The autistics, the ADHDers, the dyslexic and the dyspraxic and the whole shebang of neurological ‘difference’. The gays and the dykes, the bis and the pans, the trans men and women, the aces and the aros and the happy-to-be-singles, the demis and greys and enbies and queers and all the rest. Or, for that matter, those who are not whiter than whitey-white, the immigrants, the disabled and chronically ill, the poor, the welfare beneficiaries, the homeless, the addicts and the mentally ill, not to mention the writers and artists and musicians and other creative types, and hell, even the hippies and nomads and rebels of all stripes, in fact pretty much anyone who finds their reality is not included in this supposedly wonderful ‘Norm’.
I don’t mean that I, personally, am all of these things (though I am quite a few of them), or that I know what it’s like to be all of these things. I mean that I most emphatically know the experience of being ‘not mainstream’, of being outside that norm, and so I empathise far more with these groups, collectively, than I do with the ‘normals’.
I also understand that many fall outside the norm in only one way, and wouldn’t consider themselves ‘marginal’ or even perhaps ‘marginalised’, and possibly are fighting to be included in the mainstream. How much any given individual feels marginalised tends to vary according to how many non-mainstream attributes you have. One, and you may reject any idea of being ‘marginal’. Lots, and you’ve usually given up on normal. Some don’t even care about it anymore, and some positively relish their marginal status. While if you have just a few attributes, you could be anywhere in-between. It’s a very individual thing, and no-one has the right to tell another how they should see themselves, or who they should identify with, or how they should live their life.
But all of us on the margins - beyond the boundaries of ‘normal’, in one way or another, and sometimes in multiple ways, being pushed further and further out beyond the back of beyond, in the eyes of ‘normals’ anyway - we inhabit our own universe. In that universe (or perhaps it’s a variety of different universes?), we connect, sometimes, with each other, and fail to at other times. We network, and fight, and disagree, and fall apart, and carry on anyway.
And our lives, our universes, are all too often invisible to the ‘normals’. If they do encounter us, they sometimes refuse to acknowledge that our lives are actually different to theirs. “But everyone feels like that sometimes.” “Aren’t we all a little bit autistic?” “What do you mean, you don’t like sex/romance? Everybody wants a partner!” “I’d kill myself if I had your life.” “He/she’s just making a joke, it’s not really racism/sexism/homophobia.” “Non-binary? That’s not even a thing!” “But you’re in our country now, you should speak English.” And so on, and so forth.
But we know. We know our own truths. We live them. We know our day to day struggles are real – everything from wheelchair access to sensory overwhelm to pain management, from the lack of services to the lack of acceptance to the many micro-aggressions. And sometimes not-so-micro aggressions. We know it. Does it make us better people? Maybe. Sometimes. And sometimes not. All too many of us are simply left bitter, angry, hurt, sad and reeling away from the world. And even if we are stronger for it, I think most of us would still rather go without all the stuff we went through to get there.
Because we’re stressed out. It’s not fun to feel excluded, to never or rarely see our lives depicted in movies or on TV or in books or even just in a damn ad. (And why are so many movies and TV shows, even now, about The White Male Experience, especially the whole white-male-saving-the-day thing? I could write a whole book on this one, and no doubt someone already has. But do the movie and TV people ever think that even many of those who are white, might like to see something, y’know, different?)
Anyway, all this feeling invisible, ignored, overlooked, not valued or recognised, being the recipient of all sorts of bad treatment - prejudice, stereotypes, belittling, rejection, misunderstanding, mocking, ridicule or even outright violence – none of it is fun. But it happens. And it happens so often, and even if we complain about it, it’s obvious that the ‘normals’ don’t much care, really.
And that’s what cuts.
It’s not being different that’s the problem. It’s how others respond to us. We are what we are. Whether we hate it, love it, simply accept it or just wish we weren’t in a particular category, we are these things. And can’t be anything else. So why shouldn’t we feel pride in what we are? Why shouldn’t there be gay pride, indigenous rights movements, multi-cultural celebrations, autistic pride? Why should we not campaign for recognition, for human rights, for acceptance, and so on?
And what’s wrong with being different? Why are so many insistent we all be the same? What’s so great about being all alike? Why do the normals get to decide what we should aspire to, and why do they think they’re so wonderful that we should all be copying them anyhow? Did it ever occur to them that we just wanna be our own goddam selves, and not copies of them?
And I can’t help wondering, in the midst of this Covid crisis, whether it’s going to change anything for us. For most of my life, when I’ve looked around, I’ve seen a world increasingly skewed towards the superficial, the self-serving, the frenetically materialistic, and all too often the simply nonsensical. But this crisis has forced a change in many (apart from the usual idiots of course), it might even be that some serious changes will happen.
Our Prime Minister, Jacinda of international fame, has repeatedly urged us to ‘be kind’. And certainly there has been a surge of public-spiritedness evident, along with the Zoom conferences, the gee-we-can-work-efficiently-from-home-after-all, the endless hand washing and the social-distance-at-the-supermarket thing. But has this kindness been extended to real understanding and support for us marginal people? (Was it ever really anyway, except as patronising acts of inspo-porn, or other ‘feel-good’ exercises?) Will there be a wholesale change in how we’re seen? Or will this new-found public milk of human kindness vanish along with the need for hand sanitiser?
But whatever shape the future takes, one thing is certain – that I’m a marginal person, and always will be. The marginalised are my people, my tribe, and I’m happy with that, even if I’m not happy with how we’re treated.
How do you identify?