My girl Scarlet is a beautiful creature with milky skin, a staggering vocabulary and the best conversational skills of anyone I’ve ever met. She’s a bohemian, creative and funny, with a girlish little giggle. She could be anything- a doctor, a writer, a dominatrix, a shrink, a person who sells her home-grown produce at the farmer’s market. Scarlet is simply a lovely woman.
However, Scarlet doubts the course her life is taking. She is currently planning to get her doctorate in English Lit and teach at the university level. This is causing Scarlet distress because she foresees a future filled with grading badly written papers, cajoling hungover college students to appreciate Emily Dickinson, creating lesson plans and publishing or perishing. She has chosen this path primarily because she’d be really good at it, but another reason is because Scarlet feels that she is expected to do something significant with her highly superior brain power that would meet with the approval of her loved ones. Further, Scarlet is bisexual. This is viewed with suspicion by some of her “friends”, who see her sexual orientation as greedy and possibly false.
My other girl, Delaney, is struggling with a different kind of problem. She is transgendered- man to woman. Delaney was brought up in a rural, conservative community. She is the former frontman of a heavy metal band, formerly married and the father of two boys. Delaney is fighting on a day-to-day basis with others’ prejudices and fears. She is in a battle to convince the people she loves—her parents, siblings, children and old friends—that despite the fact she is in the process of becoming a woman, that she is indeed the same person she was before-- inside.
Two women with two different lives, yet they share a common problem: how can they happily become who they need to be and yet have the support and approval of those they love?
Bill Moyer recently interviewed author Jeanette Winterson on his show. Winterson was brought up in England by strict Pentecostal Christian parents and throughout her childhood attended tent revivals, prayer meetings and the like. She began to step off her parents’ path, much to their consternation and extreme disapproval. As a teenager, Winterson fell in love with a girl and they decided to move in together. Winterson was leaving her mother’s home for the last time and while walking out the door, her mother called after her:
“WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU CAN BE NORMAL?”
It’s such a funny and telling statement from a woman who wanted only a “nice” life for her daughter. What mother wouldn’t want a simple, tidy life for their child, without confusion, without mess, without trouble? Alternatively, what person doesn’t want understanding and support from their friends during the travails of becoming who they are?
So there is the clash. The child who loves the parent and wants their approval, and the parent who wants an easy life for their child. The person who was once loved by friends and is now treated with suspicion and is the object of anger and resentment.
We all know people who fit into the generic, simple molds made available by our society. There are also those people who realize they don’t fit into the generic mold yet they fear retribution of some kind, so they squeeze themselves into the ill-fitting little confine (Ted Haggard). I think those that fit into the simple mold are happy—they’re really lucky. The others who contort themselves and struggle to fit inside the simple mold are conflicted at best, because I think they’re hiding stuff from themselves and from others.
Then there are those mavericks who state, “Well, I’m never going to fit into any of those molds and furthermore, I’m not interested into trying to squeeze in there.” Those are the people who step out to become themselves—white-hot, pure, unapologetic and unforgettable.
It takes thick skin to be a maverick. It also takes a little bit of “Fuck you very much”. Hardest of all, it takes “Sorry you don’t like it. I love you anyway.”
To paraphrase Mrs. Winterson: “WHY BE NORMAL WHEN YOU CAN BE HAPPY?”