I have a complicated relationship with “being weird.”
It is true that I feel “weird,” “alien,” “different” a lot. So it would make some amount of sense if something about the idea of “being weird” resonated with me in a positive way. It would make sense if I identified, at least to some degree, with it based on the fact that that’s how I often experience myself in a social context.
There are other, relatively trivial things about me where it is like that:
1. I am relatively tall, or at least I am not generally counted as short, and I don’t resist that categorization. I take it on as just a random fact about me. I have neither particularly good or bad feelings about it; it just is and I accept it as that.
2. I walk fast. This is something I observe every day by comparing my walking pace to that of people around me. If somebody pointed it out to me, I would probably nod in quiet agreement.
Being weird is different somehow. My reaction to being called “weird” tends to be (at least mildly) negative no matter whether it is meant in a positive way or a negative way. Is it just because it is something about myself that I don’t want to accept? Is it my resistance to this “fact” about myself that creates a negative experience when I am externally identified with it?
“Oh, sorry that you took it in a negative way, but it’s actually okay and good to be weird. We are all weird in our own way. You are weird! That’s what we like about you.”
It sounds so honest and heartfelt and positive and yet, there is that resistance telling me that something about it is not right.
That is the thing with emotional responses: you can’t just disagree with them and overrule them, and you can’t just pretend they don’t exist. They always tell you something about yourself, whether you like it or not. All you can do is work with them in a way that is constructive, that propels you forward, that acknowledges them and integrates them into a way of being that feels whole.
Emotions are a bit like a quirky roommate. No amount of annoyance about them will change them or make them more bearable. No amount of artful separation from them makes them disappear. The most satisfying, least painful, least exhausting way to live with them is to embrace them, accept them, become familiar with them, and find ways to incorporate them into your life.
So what is it about “being weird” that makes it so difficult for me to see it as something that can be good if you look at it in a certain way?
“You are unique!” — Is that better? Not really: the statement is both trivially true (we are all unique, all the way down to the molecular level) and false, or at least just very arbitrary: there is no particular reason why one person, out of all the unique people in the world, should be singled out as somehow especially unique; as unique in a way that is worth remarking on.
“You are special.” — No. That just means being different and being relatively alone in that. Different from the majority. What is the relevance of the majority?
“I am queer.” — This one is different from the others. I don’t mean to imply that queerness is broad enough a concept to encompass the entirety of the ways in which an individual can differ from the majority the way “unique,” “special,” and “weird” are. “Queer” certainly has a more constrained meaning. And there is another difference: it is almost nonsensical to assign queerness to others. “You are queer,” while syntactically correct, violates the rules of what queerness is about and what it is for. It is an identity to be claimed by identifying individuals, not to be assigned by others.
“I am weird.” — Is it possible to claim weirdness for oneself? What would that mean? How would someone who identifies as “weird” talk about themselves? How would they add detail to what it means to them to be weird?
“I often act in ways that others find surprising. I don’t necessarily consciously reject other people’s expectations; it is more that I am not always aware of them and so naturally sometimes I don’t live up to them. I dress, move, and behave in ways that deviate from social conventions without necessarily wanting to be different. I sometimes lack reliable reference points that would allow me to choose to be invisible in a group of people.”
Is that an identity? Does it make sense to identify as someone who lacks access to reference points of acceptable humanness? Who would that identity help them connect with?
“That’s what we like about you.” — That’s nice, but what does it mean? What is likeable about a person who has no clue how to not stick out? How can a limitation be something to be appreciated and admired for?
There are limits we impose on ourselves and limits we are governed by that we aren’t necessarily aware of. I can see the physical limits of by body. I have a pretty good sense of where my skin ends and where the rest of the world begins that is not as intimately linked with the physical and chemical machinery of “my body” as the dynamic spatial arrangement that I count as part of “it.”
But some of my limitations can only be seen by others. And often when they see them, I see them too, because I can see them seeing them.
And that is where the possibility of a claimed identity is under threat of not being sustainable: if what people see is the deviation, the surprise, the novelty, the loveable quirkiness, then it is not really me they are seeing; they are merely momentarily becoming aware of a particular aspect of their own normative perception.
They see the foreground in relation to the background.
And while they may very well enjoy that experience and associate it with the person that triggered it, there is a lack of specificity about it that fails to link that experience back to who or what it is that is in the foreground, just being itself, not in relation to some background and not in conscious separation from it, but rather in negligence of it.
It is as if I happened to stand in front of a blue wall and somebody came up to me intending to compliment me by saying, “I love the way you look in front of that wall.” “The… what?” “The wall behind you.” I turn around and look at the wall. I turn back at them and say with a shy smile, “I can’t see myself in front of the wall. But I can see the joy in your eyes when you look at me standing in front of it.”