I was a quirky kid who told my parents that I was “an alien baby left on their doorstep.” I suspect they believed me at times. I always felt I was out of step with my peers; running a bit too fast to keep up since I was diagnosed with asthma at age four. I wanted to both stand out and fit in. A juxtaposition that exists to this day. I surround myself with creative souls who write, draw, paint, dance, play instruments, sing and take photos of the world around them. In those groups I have found my tribe, since they too, have expressed feeling outside the constraints of what is considered normal. I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “normal is relative.” I have also read that “normal is a setting on a washing machine.”
One of my favorite cartoons is one that portrays an Adult Children of Normal Families Convention. In it is an auditorium where two people sit. The joke is that one of them is lying. What is normal for one person may feel totally unnatural for another
Jane is one of six children who grew up in a family that has their own business. It is expected that each child does his or her part to keep it running. She expressed that she doesn’t have a linear, logical cell in her brain and is of an artistic bent. In her mind, she travels to places of whimsy and wonder and then splashes the images on canvas. It is where she finds both her liveliness and livelihood. Her work is seen in galleries and, on occasion, her parents and siblings have attended her openings. They refer to her as a “Bohemian Artist”, a title that she wears proudly.
Mel lives in an intentional community with those considered “family of choice”. Using the pronouns they/them, Mel considers themself gender queer. Much of Mel’s life has been kept undercover from their birth family, since rejection was a likelihood if they knew who Mel truly was. When visiting home, the old persona is like a costume worn to avoid censure. Mel’s parents would see Mel’s lifestyle as so far out of their own comfort zone that they wouldn’t know how to communicate their feelings with the child they had raised who now feels like a stranger.
Sam is a multiply-tattooed and body-pierced young millennial who just turned 19 and is living at home. His parents are concerned that he won’t be able to find a consistent respectable job given his current appearance. Their mainstream sensibilities shape their perception of acceptable career paths. Sam’s best friend is a tattoo artist who designed Sam’s body embellishments. With his friends he attends music festivals and Burning Man. He comes home waxing poetic about the experiences he has had, and they can’t wrap their minds around his vision for the world in which everyone shares what they have.
Some who are labeled ‘weird,’ may have an unusual sense of humor, seeing the world through a non-traditional lens, others saddled with social anxiety and may not know how to express themselves in a way that fits in with the cultural norm. Those who view themselves as outcasts and misfits often wonder how to navigate the waters while paddling a leaky boat that they were never taught how to patch. It is those folks who were likely maligned as children who often rise to stardom.
Consider Lady Gaga, who in a 2011 interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, speaks of having been bullied for being different from her peers. I wonder if those who persecuted her in her teens remember how they treated the mega star. She took her unique persona and made it her signature image. She attracted her following of those she referred to as little monsters, to her Mother Monster.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show which debuted in 1975 has become a cult classic as it is still played in movie theaters world-wide, and attracted its own audiences of those who perceived themselves as different as well. Dressed in costumes that resembled the characters, the story line was acted out with props such as water pistols, newspapers and rice to emulate the script. I saw it over 30 times in my college days and a bit beyond as I attended the midnight show at the TLA (Theater of the Living Arts) on South Street in Philadelphia, decked out in costume as well. When I was in that mode, I relished the feeling of being other worldly. My friends and I still fondly reminisce about those days.
Now in the seventh decade of my life, I sport purple/fuchsia hair, flowing, clothes (think Stevie Nicks meets fairy Goddess) and occasional henna tattoos. My 31-year-old son calls me his “weird hippie mom,” sometimes said with a wry smile. Ironically, his in-laws attend rock concerts, their home is decorated with rock posters bearing autographs from some of their favorite musical icons and their bathroom is embellished with peace signs. For my birthday a few years ago, they gave me a purple lava lamp. When my daughter in-law buys me clothing, she chooses something her tie-dye loving father would like.
My son also tells me that my purple hair isn’t professional, and I remind him that in my therapy practice are young clients for whom my look provides street cred. It also is a way of attracting conversation with strangers who comment on it. A few days ago, I met a woman coming out of the bank whose own short cropped tresses were a vivid, almost cotton candy pink. We admired each other’s appearance and stood for a good 10 minutes comparing notes about our lives. Of course, we friended each other on Facebook and are following each other’s antics in cyberspace.
As a tribute to those who, like me, may have been the rainbow sheep of their families, I share this hodgepodge of quotes about honoring your weird, having your vibe attract your tribe and letting your freak flag fly.