by Sarah Hoyt
(And yes, this was inspired by the arguments on Dave’s post, on the subject of “are we geniuses”? I thought “no, but we’re odd. And there you have it, ladies and gentle amphibians.)
I used to be able to pass. Long ago, before I became a writer and stood out on the ledge of eccentricity doing my own things.
Pass, you say? Pass as what? If you’re looking at me and wondering if I’m part of a racial minority – well, both the kids tend to be identified as Latin on sight, which is odd, because I’m not (identified as such. According to Los Federales I AM Latina), but that’s not even racial, it’s cultural. Not that a few choice idiots won’t hold it against the boys, the same way I’ve had a few people tell me to go back to Mexico. (Fortunately my habit of spending most of the day inside and the fact my hair went white at twenty eight and I can dye it any color I want make me rather blandly Mediterranean. Not that my original color of mahogany-brown was particularly ethnic. Actually it just looked dyed.) But that’s neither here nor there. My husband who was born in New England and, if he spends enough time in the sun, looks merely “white” has been told to go back to Russia. (This still puzzles me. I mean, do they think the name was originally Hoytinski?) And I’m sure if I were a blond, blue-eyed woman named Mary Jones some idiot would discriminate against me because he hates blonds. Which in a way is part of our discussion, and in a way it totally is not.
No, racial discrimination is more or less verboten in the States these days and though voluntary segregation (more on this later, as again, it’s germane and not) is probably worse than ever, people just don’t seem to care about race or different subrace as much as they once did. In fact, racism has become such a taboo for most normal human beings in the US (the asses you shall always have with you) that an accusation of racism has now become a weapon under which to hide repulsive habits, bizarre beliefs and oddly destructive attitudes. “You don’t like my habit of burning babies alive because you hate my Carthagenian ancestry, you racist” would totally work in modern day America. (More on this later, too, as it just gave me an idea for a modest proposal.) I don’t vouch for other countries, though I will say that those where I’m privileged to mingle with common people and listen to their conversations are about twenty and sometimes fifty years behind us in removing that racist thing from their culture. Yes, even the ones who point fingers and tell us how racist the US is (what you expected different?) I suspect Canada and Oz and other anglophonic-colonist cultures are about where we are. For the others there is a reason they’re not as integrated that goes to the heart of the argument.
So, first, what do I mean by passing? How can I not pass?
I can’t quite explain it, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s just that I belong to a minority, and I have the stigmata. Many people believe we’re a minority by choice and think we should just get over it. No, it’s not a sexual orientation minority (would that it were that easy to explain.) though we have an unusually high number of people with same-sex attraction in our number. Also, an unusual number of people with attraction to squids. And people who, to put it bluntly, might decide to marry their pillow in a small ceremony, attended only by their closest friends.
It’s not an IQ thing, though we often also score exceptionally well on that – which oddly does not translate to success in life, mostly (I think) because we tend to think sideways and backwards to normal human thought patterns. (Yes, I do know a number of Phds who work nights at convenience stores. Why do you ask?)
We’re not all of us science fiction fans, though that’s the way to bet. Some of us have managed to become just as geeky as the most pointy-eared Trekker by fixating on other things: mystery, regency romance featuring one-legged dwarves (you think!) or molecular cell bio. (I still remember when the World Fantasy Convention took place in the same hotel as a convention of neuro-researchers. They crashed all our parties. We fit. We were family.)
You can identify us even in kindergarten. More importantly, so can the normals. Recently I’ve started to suspect the unusually high number of Aspergers diagnosis, particularly among kindergartners is not EXACTLY accurate. Again, we also have a high number of Aspergers spectrum people, but we’re not ALL Aspergers spectrum.
An editor I respect – as an editor – recently had his kid diagnosed as Aspergers and I didn’t try to argue with him, but the characteristics he was giving made me think “they’re medicalizing being one of us.” Among others it was that the other kids just instinctively didn’t like him. (Waves hand in the air.) That the kid couldn’t ride a bike (I managed it at eighteen. And then I forgot it. To this day, btw, I can’t jump rope. NO ONE IN MY PATERNAL LINE CAN. My mom thinks we’re all insane. She spent hours trying to teach me. Hours. [It was a great part of socialization for a girl in Portugal in my generation. So was the elastic game, in which two girls held the elastic, and another jumped in the middle, touching it or not, in increasingly elaborate patterns. If I worked VERY hard, I could do the simplest beginning patterns.]) That his handwriting is atrocious. That his coloring between the lines is bad for his age and, oh, yeah, that he tends to give mini-lectures.
Yes, I know a lot of that fits the Aspergers spectrum. But it’s also “us.” So medicalizing that, without showing how it really affects our lives negatively and without being able to cure it, is the same as medicalizing homosexuality.
Of course, “we” are a harder minority to defend, because we’re not easy to define. We know each other, mind, and tend to gravitate to each other like a buttered surface gravitates towards expensive, white silk carpet.
The closest we come to assembling in a group, though, is science fiction conventions and/or some mystery conventions. “Does not play well with others” is a good beginning identification point, but that’s not even true if you look at us in a group of our peers. Our families are often unusually warm and connected, in fact, partly because we’re all odd people clinging together.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be – as such – a function of the environment. I pity those of us who are adopted and raised by normal people, though now I think about it, an unusual number of us are adopted. The thing is we tend to breed true, and given how we navigate social relationships (like a transatlantic going through the kiddie pool. Why do you ask?) perhaps that’s not all that surprising, either.
At some point – possibly soon – some researcher will isolate a gene we all share, which makes our brains work funny and accounts for our social presentation (which works fine with others of us, I hasten to add) and the way some of our abilities (like coloring between the lines or rope-jumping) lag WAY behind normal. Some day. I’m not sure if that will be better or worse. Maybe people will decide to make us protected (which is bad and good) or maybe someone will come up with a way to “cure” us. (Shudders, because despite everything, she likes being herself.)
Until then, people will accuse us of thinking too much, tell us we are weird because we want to be weird, or accuse us not trying hard enough on the simple stuff. (Like skipping rope.) And though we will never be able to put a name to it, we’ll continue to identify each other on sight, and, if we find enough of us, gather in vast groups and have more fun than all the normals combined.
And we’ll continue to wish we were normal. Or rather, because we really like who we are, dirt and grit and all, we’ll continue wishing normals were us, and that we were, therefore accepted.
In a way my gay friends have it easy – if you throw things at me, I’ll never talk to you again, boys and girls. Besides, it’s true – in that they can at least name the way in which they’re odd. And they can tell themselves the reason they’re not accepted is religious/cultural prejudice, not an instinctive and inexplicable recoil that goes all the way before kindergarten, before you could guess there was anything “wrong” with us. Of course, a vast number of my gay friends are “of us” too.
Anyone of us who has kids and who has seen the kid enter a class, and find out the other kids hate him in a way toddlers can’t begin to explain, and find himself excluded out of all the games and ridiculed for the oddest things, wishes the normals were more like us. Or that they accepted us. Or at least that we knew why they don’t.
We might be pink monkeys amid brown monkeys, but we’re a race of monkeys that is not supposed to see in color, and we can’t figure out why we’re rejected.
I was relatively fortunate too, because I could pass. Sort of. Half the time, my way of “passing” was to paint myself hot pink and convince the brown monkeys I should be their ruler. No, seriously. I couldn’t jump rope, or do the stupid elastic thing, so I simply convinced my classmates those games were boring and for babies. Instead, I invented RPGs based on my particular obsessions, and played out full throttle: the Musketeers, Robin Hood, Cowboys and Indians and, after I discovered mystery, police and criminals.
And then when I was sixteen, I discovered dressing up, which I approached rather in the way I approach everything else. Hence the elaborate lace silk stockings and the short skirts. Once I hit puberty, if I dressed up, people would think I was eccentric but not ODD because “us” don’t dress like that, period.
Nowadays I’ve gone back to not fitting too well. Part of it is the job. My husband works in the tech field, and yet half the people think I’m weird because I write science fiction. They somehow also think this makes me “racy” and “risque” and I’m at a loss to explain THAT one. No, really.
And part of it is that I have the internet. You see, it is the terrible curse of humanity to be social animals. Yes, as Laura put in the comments, it is a good thing too. But here’s the problem – social is fun and of course, rubbing together is what makes us humans (and what makes humans. What? Oh, come on, it’s just the tiniest of dirty jokes. Just once? Remember I’m one of those dangerous SF writers. RACY.) But the downside of being social is that it also makes us tribal. We want to belong to a group. We want the group to belong to us. We want to all be “alike” inside the group, though all being sufficiently different also works for us.
Most of “us” as far as I can tell, grew up being the only pink monkey in miles around. I suspect like other accidental, non-directly-hereditary minorities (sexual or professional or…) we used to either gravitate to large cities where we could find more of us, or live out in the middle of nowhere, and pretend normal people didn’t exist.
Now? Most of us are in touch with a vast network of us. And no, not all of us are late night convenience store clerks or fertilizer factory fork lift operators. Only about half of us. The other half are usually at the top of their fields. (Possibly driven by not-fitting-in.) And sometimes the ones in dead end jobs are working on time-travel in their basement. Most of them won’t succeed, of course, but if anyone can succeed, it’s one of us.
You see, even though our condition has its problems – not fitting in is HARD particularly in childhood – it has advantages, too. We can think at right angles to other people. We don’t think in the box. We can’t find the box.
A lot of us are – like other minorities – enamored of totalitarian regimes. At the back of our heads is the idea that a sufficiently powerful government can make THEM accept US. Unfortunately totalitarian regimes try to create uniform societies, and we’re more likely to find ourselves up against the wall. I think as far as a society that accepts us, the anglosphere and particularly the colonial societies, which are already used to discounting body shape and color, and even a little bit of odd behavior, are as good as it gets.
And the internet is a mixed blessing, because it allows our Odds children to meet the Odds children of others like us and … I’m not going to speculate. I think the reason that we are disliked from kindergarten is an instinctive response to signs of mutation – signs we might eventually speciate. In other words, we hit normal people’s uncanny valley. And maybe their instincts are right.
However speculation on HOW we would speciate, what it would mean, and if a species that much at weird with itself could survive shall be saved for a (much) later point.
Meanwhile we’re back to us not fitting in and being unable to explain to people why. Well, we can’t form a race. I mean, we can, but the fact that our colors range from “so pale, it looks blue in certain lights” to “my ancestors have spent the last hundred generations working on our tan” it wouldn’t fly. We can’t call ourselves a sexual orientation, though brainophile or geekosexual have their own appeal.
Not being able to name ourselves and group together, metaphorically, for defense, is hurting us, because they SURELY can tell who WE are.
So, I suggest we form a religion. Or, given the nature of our people, several religions, under one umbrella faith. It has to be – of course, since a number of us are religious – one of those umbrella faiths that allows us to believe the ‘real’ religion on the side. I.e. our faith allows us to have other faiths, has no opinion on the existence of G-d or your fate after death.
We could call ourselves Odds. It would have denominations. Probably impressive and made up on the spot, so that each family – heck, each of us – could come up with a specific denomination. “I’m an Odkin Trekker, of the first Firefly diaspora. You? Oh. I see, the Buffy heresy. My parents followed that cult for a while.”
Think about it. If we call ourselves a religion, we can even accuse people of being racist when they pick on us. No, it’s not right, and of course, that will bother us, but it’s common usage, and it will make us seem even MORE normal. “What do you mean I can’t have the week off to drive to Dragon con? It’s part of my religion. Are you some kind of racist?”
Soon enough we’ll have them on the run, and those nasty normal kiddies who refuse to play with our sons and daughters in kindergarten will have to take sensitivity training. AND THEN they will be made to feel abnormal.
I say it’s worth a try. Do it for the children.