Over the weekend I read an article that made me roll my eyes so so hard I could practically see my brain. Eva Wiseman, a Guardian columnist, wants everybody to stop ‘pretending’ to be outsiders and admit that doing so is just a way for ‘ordinary’ people to feel ‘special’. Am I being too harsh, or does this seem to be profoundly tone deaf? The article suggests that we all start trying to fit into the mainstream a little more because it’s her belief that we would discover that everybody else is faking ‘belonging’ too. The problem with that hypothesis is that she’s basing her definition of ‘outsider’ upon all things transient – hairstyles, clothing, accessories, and company – whilst completely ignoring anything that actually sets people apart from the perceived ‘norms’ of society.
The moment a hearing aid is considered this year’s must-have accessory, or a white cane is what all the top celebrities are sporting at the Met Ball, maybe then Ms. Wiseman will have a valid point. However, choosing to see life only through the prism of her own experiences automatically nullifies the practicalities of trying to get into a party to which you were never invited. We’re not defining our ‘outsider’ status by wearing 1950’s wiggle dresses or adorning our faces with Ray Bans in the winter*, in fact, we’re not defining our outsider status at all – it’s being defined for us by the parameters that society at large finds acceptable.
Assuming that everyone has received the same invitation to the ‘in-crowd’ is naive at best and offensive at worst. Even before we consider the blatant ableism there is a clear wilful ignorance of ingrained hierarchies – the hierarchies that create the incessant micro-aggressions that those of us living life beyond the boundaries of the glass dome are subjected to. There are people who have never met me who would happily see me beaten to death because of what I look like. Sure, I can cover up my tattooed skin with clothing, but I would need an entire scramble suit to hide my ethnicity. It doesn’t matter how many run-of-the-mill, perfectly acceptable Laura Ashley style dresses someone has if the in-crowd party is not wheelchair accessible. And there’s no point in stating that all are welcome if nobody wants to spend quality time with someone who is not neuro-typical.
Wiseman states that “Learning the rules which allow you to play inside, with all the change and disruption that enables, is a valuable skill.” But the woman in the clip below (talking to the amazing Grace Neutral) did exactly as suggested but was still told to get back to where she belonged.
That interview makes this statement, suggesting that being an outsider is nothing but pure adolescent fantasy ring hollow: “The idea of outsiderness still holds huge sentimental currency. But nobody wants to admit that standing apart from a crowd is as much of a pose as wriggling your way in.”
Sorry, Eva, those of us getting our hands trampled on as we struggle on the lower rungs of the ladder vociferously disagree. It is much easier for us to build communities with others who are like ourselves (or good allies) than to try and squeeze into spaces where we are either unwanted or seen as an exotic exhibit.
We’re not posing when we see the reaction from a doctor or potential employer when they realise that an anglo-Saxon name actually doesn’t belong to an anglo-Saxon body. We’re not posing when we see the eye-rolling mother who can barely conceal her annoyance at having to fold down her buggy to make space for a person in a wheelchair. And we’re not posing when an entire office shuns ‘that one guy’ that apparently ‘no-one can relate to’.
If you look at Wiseman’s Guardian profile picture (in the link at the top of the page) it’s obvious that even if she were to go ‘full goth’, ‘full punk’ or ‘full whatever‘ a simple change of clothing, a new make-up palette and a bit of hair dye could have her fitting right back in with the rest of the ‘normals’. But for those of us truly on the outside whose status cannot be changed according to fashion – those of us whose differences are genetic, neurological, or just too much in plain sight to be ignored – a couple of cosmetic changes will do very little to hide who we actually are. Our faces don’t ‘fit’, our interpersonal interactions are too ‘weird’ or our mobility aids are just too incongruent with the terrain. So why shouldn’t we celebrate our alien eminence in all its messy diversity, rather than forcing ourselves into the mantle of the ones who we make feel uncomfortable?
We’re not trying to be the ‘cool kids’, the cool kids are trying to be us – only without all of the pesky baggage and real life hardship that our situations can bring. Cripple Punk and proud!