Back to the library
Next article
Previous article

The Concept of Normality
Considered Harmful

by David of the Jinkies

This is a spontaneous insomnia-fueled essay/rant (that is far too long to be the LJ comment it was supposed to be). That'll teach me not to check LJ when I wake up at 4am...

(Disclaimer: This is not intended to be confrontational. I'm not looking for an argument. I accept that everyone who feels they must "fight against" our living comfortably genuinely feels that it is necessary.

Please don't argue that you are not being or doing the extreme of what I'm describing, I'm not suggesting that you are. Consider this an exploration of why so many people in minority groups feel hurt or unable to be themselves because others are 'too far from normal'. Consider this an exploration of why so many people feel hurt and limited by our existence even when we strive to do no harm and live by a code of ethics and a desire to accept all others. I do not consider that one group's happiness has to equal a reduction in the happiness of others, I do not believe happiness to be so finite. Perhaps I'm wondering why 'everyone' who is 'not normal' by some small degree feels limited not by the concept of normality but by those who are even less 'normal' (or simply more obviously 'abnormal')).

Concerning attitudes about not wanting to be seen as being like multiples who seemingly embrace 'freak status' (cited example: systems who are vocal about being into BDSM)] -- I find these attitudes worrying. Perhaps because we have found ourselves trampled by similar attitudes in almost all the groups we have based our activism from. These sentiments are generally called assimilationism, wanting acceptance from the mainstream group by proving to them that one is absolutely completely normal but for the one thing that makes one not normal; but the message is that because all the people who are that thing are normal too (putting forward one's self as an example of this) said thing should be included as an extension of normality.

With gay rights activism, assimilationism involves the claim that all gay people are 'just like you' but happen to fall in love with people of the same sex. They just want normal lives and normal jobs. ...of course woe betide anyone who happens to be 'obviously gay' or who actually likes a lifestyle involving many partners or casual sex. Instead of being included in the activism these people are 'swept under the carpet' or silently resented or even publicly hated with as much or perhaps more vigor than that exhibited by the minority part of the mainstream group with the strict views which bring down the 'lowest common denominator' that the assimilationist group tries to meet.

Personally we had a great deal of trouble passing as a 'normal male'. This was certainly not 'flaunting it', 'effeminate affectation' or 'exaggerating our freak status', however we often felt that we were resented or hated for being 'obviously gay' (or at least obviously not a straight male). People would say that when they came out as gay we were 'what they had to fight against'. We regularly had to deal with people who wouldn't come out of the closet and have a chance of living a comfortable open life and having a partner (both of which they very clearly wished to have) because they knew there were people (like us) who you could tell were gay. How this impacted on their life I am not sure.

Eventually we realised that we had a lot of gender issues (being around a lot of gay people who had huge issues with femininity really brought this out in us -- we'd try to 'act less offensively' or at least in a way that was less likely to have people scowl at us and our entire life would begin to seem like an uncomfortable full time acting job that we weren't very good at). We didn't see any visibility of androgyny or genderqueer, at least presented in a way where it was possible for us to be that way, so we went the to the full extreme of transsexualism (a convenient change of front from a gay boy to a transsexual women helped at this point).

Well, we found that assimilation was even stronger in the transsexual camp. The message was that transsexual women are just normal women, you wouldn't be able to tell anything was different unless they told you, the only difference is in their past, an accident of birth. Woe betide anyone who didn't pass perfectly and yet still made the decision to transition and at least have a chance of happiness. Such people deserved absolute hatred. Woe betide anyone whose gender behaviour doesn't happen to match that which is deemed acceptable and normal. Butch women and femme men? They're just not making the effort, they're flaunting their trans status, they're making it difficult for the rest of us. If they'd just make the effort to wear makeup/ have more speech therapy/ wear more female clothes/ butch it up/ stop acting like faggots...

Again, we were just being ourselves. To us, transitioning was about not having to pretend to be something you're not. The idea that you had to change all sorts of things about yourself in order to pass completely seemed no better than having to assimilate into 'male' or assimilate into 'gay'. We really don't like pretending to be things we're not, it's a really unhealthy and uncomfortable existence for us. We continually saw young transsexuals spouting the most extreme intolerant hatred towards unpassable 'late onset' transsexual women. If someone was literally unable to pass as female, to assimilate completely as a 'normal woman', if someone would be instantly visible as having been male, then they did not deserve to express the gender they felt they were inside. They should be forced to stay miserably untransitioned, they should be locked in a cell or killed or drugged or something (I really saw opinions this strong). These visible transsexuals made like difficult for the rest of us because other people interacted with them and held huge prejudices about them, decided they were freaks, decided to hate them. If you lived as a transsexual that was what you had to 'fight against'.

Then we realised (mostly through a change to a more cooperative and shifting fronting group) that we did not (consistently) feel female any more than we had felt male and we felt just as uncomfortable living as such. We did not want to live a lie, we disliked that people treated you entirely differently depending on which gender they read you as, we weren't comfortable with either of these stock behaviours and found them difficult to handle when we knew that our presentation or our name or even what we'd directly told people was the reason for us receiving such treatment.

So again we dropped an affectation (conscious adherence of female gender roles) and started to be ourselves. Gradually it became very obvious when we were being treated as if we were full on doing the female gender role when we were not, this was annoying (OK it was extremely upsetting) because it seemed like they way we were actually behaving and the things we were saying were being ignored and our female name or the way we dressed were being seized upon for a two- sizes-fit-all approach. So we dropped our female name, adopted a purposely ambiguous name and never again told anyone anything about our gender, unless they asked (which very rarely happened) in which case we explain that we have no preference. This is where we are now with regard to our public presentation. We don't tell people anything about our gender, whatever they decide came from them (or hopefully us if they're shifting pronouns around with time (which is really the reality of the situation)).

Now you wouldn't believe the hatred and resentment we receive from transsexuals. That we're making it harder for them. That if any androgynous person tries to get unisex toilets, that will seal the fate for transsexuals wanting to use toilets appropriate to their gender identity. That any weakening of the gender binary makes it harder for them. That we're just being freaks on purpose to get attention and we're making transgenderism more visible and so passing is harder. That we're just doing it to be cool and it lessens the 'impact of their suffering' (because obviously we didn't suffer gender at all to decide to radically change the way we present). Again, we're just one more thing that they have to 'fight against' when they try to be open, transition and live their life as they feel comfortable.

You will note that at no point along the line did we choose to become 'a freak', at no point did we decide to take on any affectation except in the assimilationist direction and it always resulted in pain or discomfort for us. At every step of the way to reaching our comfort point we have received resentment (and even hatred), we have been accused of 'flaunting it', we have been accused of making it harder for other people, we have been told by others that we are stopping them from achieving happiness through our attempts to be ourselves and achieve our own happiness.

In my opinion the problem is not the people that don't fit in. The problem is not even those who really do 'flaunt it' or base a lifestyle around being different. The problem is not that some single issue is not being accepted by the general public. The problem is that it's considered wrong to be different. The problem is that all sorts of behaviour and ways of being that in actuality physically hurt no one are considered wrong or bad or of less value that another set of behaviours which are only arbitrarily or traditionally or accidentally in place but are due to those reasons considered the norm.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying sex of any kind with any other consenting person or people. Sex is a pleasurable thing. There is nothing wrong with talking about the fact that you enjoy such sex. Sex should not be shameful. Not having sex should not be shameful. Only having a certain kind of sex should not be shameful because there is no actual logical reason for it to be so except the arbitrary / traditional taboos within our society.

There is nothing wrong with loving any person or group of people. There is nothing wrong with not loving any one. There is nothing wrong with being true to your feelings. One type of relationship is not better or worse than any other kind. It is not shameful to be open about who you love, it is a human need to talk about the people one cares about (but it is also not shameful to decide one does not have this need).

There is nothing wrong with holding any kind of identity. There is nothing intrinsically bad or shameful about only feeling comfortable presenting in a way that is (entirely arbitrarily of course) deemed to be inappropriate for one age, gender or species. There is no inherent harm or shame in expressing that one is what one identifies as. There is no shame in sharing a body with many others, there is no harm in sharing your body with no one, there is no shame in being more complex than that. There is nothing intrinsically harmful about being inconsistent in one's identity, there is nothing harmful in bad about radically changing one's identity or expression of identity with time.

If one feels different from others it is not bad to express this, to talk about it, to ask (within reason) that others alter their behaviours to match your feelings (if only because it's polite to make whatever non-harmful simple changes you can to your behaviour or language if it will significantly increase the happiness or comfort of another to do so). It is not bad to draw attention to oneself. It is not bad to at least try to make things different in order to make things more comfortable for oneself.

The problem is that different is bad. People are complex, if you are fighting for just one thing to the exclusion of all other things you will find that you are excluding the people in your group who happen to share some of those other things. The problem is not these people, it's the attitude that only one thing in society needs to be changed, that everything else can remain 'normal'.

All of my activism is based around the central premise that there is no one issue. That there is no one sort of person I'm working towards the acceptance of. I work towards the freedom for all people to be accepted for who they are. I work towards the day when it is not considered bad to be, say, think or feel anything which is actually in reality harmful to no one. I want to see all ways of being accepted as of equal value to all other ways of being. I want to see the concept that one way of life is acceptable to the exclusion of all others eroded as much as possible. I want to see the end to taboo and social stigma.

Yes I'm an idealist, but without these ideals activism breeds exclusion and ultimately hurts many of the people it is supposed to help. It is OK for me to be who I am, I celebrate myself. It is equally OK for everyone else to be who they are, I celebrate that too (the only things that are not OK are the attitudes of elitism and relative value of people and groups of people, and behaviours which actively cause nonconsensual harm to others or which actively limit the ability of others to live comfortably).

If my acceptance comes with the exclusion of others who don't meet some standard, I don't want it. (If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution).


You can write to Pavilion at pavilion@ karitas . net.
Back to the library
Next article
Previous article