I’ve been musing about the many ways one can be considered normal or otherwise. Here, for your eyes only, is a list of generalisations and epiphanots worth precisely what you paid for it:
- You match the same criteria as the statistical majority. For instance, being straight is normal purely in the sense that the majority of people in our society identify as straight.
- You do not match the criteria for the majority, but you match the accepted criteria for a normalised (or at least recognised) minority. I think of this as “normal for X”. For instance, I have never been successful at performing modern femininity, largely because I have never bothered to try. The amount of upset that causes people largely depends on their expectations, so it can vary hugely. However, I have fairly consistently been reprimanded because I am not a lesbian (though never, to my knowledge, by actual lesbians). As it emerges, what is considered abnormal for straight women fits many people’s stereotype for butch lesbians. By stubbornly insisting on liking swords, chainsaws, and dick, I am breaking not only the rule, but also the accepted exception; and that, evidently, has the capacity to upset a lot of people.
- It ain’t normal, but it doesn’t come up. I get sensory overload in crowds, but I live in the country, so the issue has no impact on me or anyone else.
- It ain’t normal, but you’ve developed workarounds to manage it. I get sensory overload in airports, and sitting on a plane is simply hell, but I can block it all off with headphones and a book. The issue is still there, but I’m not having to deal with it, so I can manage. That doesn’t mean that being in an airport or plane doesn’t bother me, though; it still has an impact on how I feel afterwards, and it generally puts me off travelling by plane.
- It ain’t normal, but it only affects you. It is possible to be horribly affected by something and to still meet, or even exceed, people’s criteria for normal behavior. This is when things get gnarly, and painfully relevant to those with neurodivergences, hidden physical disabilities, mental health issues, and trauma. I got fabulous grades in school, but that wasn’t because I was a good student. I just had zero self esteem and could only gain worth by achieving at all costs. Those 100% grades barely filled the hole in my soul, and required so much effort on my part that they took an awful toll on my body and mind. But as that made my teachers and my mom look good, nobody minded that. In fact, had I found the strength to give myself a break and let myself get a B, I would have been punished for it.
- It ain’t normal and it affects others, but it does so in a way that benefits them overall, so they encourage it most of the time but punish it sporadically. I used to suffer from paralyzing social anxiety, but that fit in quite well with my family’s belief that children should be neither seen nor heard the vast majority of the time. It only became problematic when I was trotted out to perform for strangers, like a show dog. My anxiety usually made me mess up, and I thereby shamed my entire family and all of my ancestors for countless generations. This kind of situation can be literally crazy-making, because you are required to be two different people on demand.
- It ain’t normal and it affects people negatively, but that’s handy. Some groups need a scapegoat – a bad child, a bad student, a problem teen, a lazy worker, whatever. It is often the case that these people are not failing because they want to, or because they are not trying hard enough. They are simply not allowed the resources they need to perform satisfactorily, and that isn’t always by accident. Having someone to punish can be used as a means of strengthening group cohesion, as well as of keeping members into line – after all, if you slip, that could be you.
There’s a ton more scenarios, I’m sure, but this is all I’ve got at the moment.
So what? So, there is a huge difference between someone who doesn’t have a problem or need and someone who is managing a problem or need. Some workarounds require effort. Being affected in the moment but holding shit together until you’re in a safe place to let yourself hurt, doubly so. Masking your entire personality and replacing it with a front you have created just to fit in can corrode your very soul, and sucks the juice out of your life. Results may also vary; if something is a problem for you and it takes extra resources to deal with it, your ability to deal with it may vary from day to day, depending on a variety of factors: your state of health, other drains, whether you’ve had a chance to recharge after the last rodeo, and so on. And, contrary to popular beliefs, overworking that metaphorical muscle won’t strengthen it. As with physical efforts, exhaustion is a thing.