I'm weird. An oddball. Different. I've known this for ages, ever since I was little and every time I opened my mouth someone in my hometown thought I was from a different continent. That was due to my speech disorder, which seems to have morphed into something of a southern accent and doesn't get comments these days. But I'm still different. Pagan. Bisexual. ADHD. It's not like there's no one else like me out there, but I'm definitely in the minority.
And that's ok. There's nothing inherently wrong with or othering about being different. The problem arises when someone is pushed to the outside, to where they no longer belong.
One of the best examples of this comes from when I was selling Girl Scout cookies outside a store. Someone else was handling the transaction, but I noticed that the customer wasn't sure what to get. Trying to be helpful, I told him "The Tagalongs are my favorite!" The guy looked at me, back at the other Girl Scout helping him, and said in a tone that was almost scornful, "Where's she from? New Zealand?" He then paid no more attention to me, she said nothing about it, and they finished the transaction. It was pretty clear to me though that because of how I spoke, he considered me beneath his notice, except as an object of derision. And then we all pretended like it hadn't happened.
That brief interaction hurt badly. It's only in the past few years that the memory stopped being painful. I want to say that it's because I've learned to not care, but I have to admit that maybe it's because I apparently finally sound like I'm from the continent I've spent my whole life on.
I want to emphasize though, the problem wasn't that someone drew attention to my speech disorder. That was a regular occurrence that I was comfortable with. The problem was being treated as other, as though I didn't belong. Let me show you another way it could have played out that would have been fine.
"The Tagalongs are my favorite!" "Hey, weird accent. Are you from New Zealand?" "No, it's a speech disorder. And I was born down south, but raised up here." "Oh, ok. Hey, are the Thin Mints any good?"
This one would have also stuck in my memory, but only because no sympathy or reassurance that I sounded fine was offered. (Why reassurance ticked me off would be for another post, though.) What makes this scenario so good, to me, is that ultimately my accent doesn't change how I'm treated. Fortunately, my speech disorder hasn't made a difference to most of the people I've met.
As to what prompted this post...I don't know. I can't even say that being different has particularly been on my mind lately, because it always is. It's kind of difficult to go a whole day without being reminded of how I'm different in some way. But something, somehow, got me thinking about how being queer, Pagan, or whatever, doesn't necessarily mean that one has to be an outsider. And I think that's an important thing to remember.