Being Different

I’ve always felt out-of-step, different. I never quite fit in, never quite feel at home.

This is not an uncommon feeling among writers or among those who read science fiction and fantasy. Perhaps it’s not uncommon in general.

Maybe nobody fits in, when you get down to it.

Though I have to say, thinking back to high school, that some people always seemed to be very comfortable with the way things were.

They were striving to be homecoming queen, not questioning whether homecoming queen was an important thing to be.

I should note that my difference wasn’t obvious on the surface. I’m a Texas Anglo, with roots going back to before Texas became a state. Most Anglo Texans who share that kind of ancestry look a lot like me. And I can still talk Texan when I need to.

Some of my difference was defined by politics. I went to a segregated high school in a small Texas town where they taught us — in the 1960s — that the Civil War was fought between us and them.

My parents held liberal views. They deplored racial segregation and Jim Crow, had Black and Mexican-American friends, voted for the most liberal candidates they could find, all that despite being descended from people who fought for the Confederacy.

Some of it was that I never felt comfortable in the limited roles available for women. I was never good at girly stuff.

My mother was a journalist who kept working even after the men came back from World War II. And my father was a big fan of strong women.

Some of it was religion. I was brought up Episcopalian in a town founded by conservative Quakers and also influenced by Southern Baptists. The local schools refused to hold dances, so we held them in the Episcopal Church.

Because of my family, I learned to navigate in a racist, misogynist, fundamentalist religion-centric world without losing my values. That is, I learned how to be different and still fit in when I needed to.

It wasn’t always easy, but I didn’t realize until fairly recently the amount of privilege I had from being white and Christian with deep Texas roots. My high school dating life was pretty much non-existent, but nobody was going to call the cops on me even though I was loud and outspoken.

I had room to be different and I’m glad of it.

This stood me in good stead over the years, when I spent a lot of time as one of the few women in the room. Women were still a tiny part of the legal profession when I got out of law school and most of my years of martial arts study were in schools with way more men than women.

When I moved to Washington, DC, and worked in low income housing, I learned how to be the only white person in the room. That was sometimes complicated, since I was often there as the expert or the organizer, but I knew enough about being different to know that I shouldn’t use that authority over everyone.

I also found myself in a few situations where I was the only non-lesbian in the room. Those experiences have come in handy as we built a world with marriage equality and grew to understand just how complex gender can be.

After all, sometimes when you’re different, you need to blend in as best you can. Being different doesn’t automatically make you better — something people heavily invested in their difference can forget.

It’s important to learn when to speak out, but it’s also important to learn when you should be sitting quietly in the back.

To this day, I always look at the gender and racial balance in a room. I try to speak up when there aren’t many women; I try to make sure Black people get heard when the room feels too White.

I recently read an essay by a progressive person arguing that people should live where they grew up. It was an argument for ties to family, to roots.

But while I remained close to my parents and my other relatives, I also couldn’t wait to get out of the narrow confines of the society I grew up in. I don’t think I could have become the person I wanted to be if I’d stayed there. While I’d certainly have been politically active and outspoken, I think the sheer pressure of balancing when to do that and when to be polite would have kept me from living my best life.

My parents and my uncle, who all had strong West Texas roots and liberal ideas, were content to stay in Texas (though I note that they did not stay in Lubbock or San Angelo) and live in a place where they were different politically.

These days, that difference is harder and harder to cope with. When I talked to my uncle recently, he was pretty frustrated with the Texas political situation. I never heard him say anything like that before, even back when he was chair of the county Democratic Party.

Despite that, I cannot stop being Anglo Texan.

And if I go to Texas, I expect to be treated properly and will push back if I’m not. I feel about it like these lines in Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man”:

‘Home is the place that when you have to go there
They have to take you in.’

‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

But I don’t want to go there for any reason beyond time with family and friends. I’ve had it up to here (draws line above her head) with working around being different when it comes to things that really matter to me.

I’ll always be an outsider of some kind, but one of the nice things about living in progressive urban areas is that there’s room for my whole self here.

I am accepted for who I am, so long as I show the same courtesy to others.

Both parts of that sentence are important.

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