The Consequences of Difference

Being left our is the worst. Studies have shown that it sucks so much, we often feel palpable, physical pain when rejected. And it’s universal, any random who reads this knows what I mean when I say the sting of rejection. Oddly enough, most all of us know what it feels to reject someone, too. And this stuff matters so much, people write songs about the circle of hurting and being hurt. While I can’t say why we insist on continuing the cycle of rejecting and rejected, I can talk about about  what the process of rejection looks like.

The reason I think it’s crucial we discuss the intricacies of rejection is simple: I believe that a discussion of the anatomy of any social issue brings about awareness, and as the plethora of awareness days in our country speaks to, awareness is the first step to understanding, and the very beginnings of dismantling prejudice. I’d also like to acknowledge that every single one of the concepts I discuss here on out, outside of my personal or silly examples, are to the credit of Julia Serano, a brilliant author, researcher, performer,  biologist, and trans activist, for whom you should probably exit this blog in favour of googling right now. The ideas discussed here are explained at length in her book Excluded, which is on Amazon, if the Amazonians have any good sense.

Rejection Quality #1: Marked vs. Unmarked

In the party that is human interaction, being marked is that moment when you were indisputably set-apart from others. Whether you were the only kid who brought peanut butter and honey to kindergarten snack when peanut butter and jam was trending, or the only girl in third grade not allowed to watch Sailor Moon (I’m looking at you, Mom), or the teen with the pussiest zits in high-school, everyone knows what it is to be “marked”. It’s a concept understood as that thing that makes you stand out from others. Julia Serano defines marked as simply “some quailit[ies] people actively notice and pay attention to.” They are the things that stand apart from all the norms we take for granted everyday, and as you probably guessed, are highly contextual. By grade four, no one cared what was in your sandwich, and Sailor Moon was long forgotten. But boy, did junior kindergarten suck the big one when these issues were hot topics. What you would’ve told your Pre-SK self if you could.

As Julia states, it’s crucial to mention that the stigma attached to the marked quality has absolutely nothing to do with the object itself, it’s entirely reliant on context. This is evident when I leave my building–where no one notices/cares/or bothers to actively stare at my chair. This all changes if I’m at a pool in my swimsuit. People get all “What’s happening over there?” and “Is she OK?” even if I’m just vegging out with a book or Sunchips. It seems swimming pools are out of the realm of expected go-tos for people like me, even though me, or my ability to eat chips hasn’t changed a bit, just my situational context has.

Rejection Quality 2: Exoticize/Mystify. When we mystify, we dehumanize.

This one is a Duh moment if you ask me. Maybe that’s because it happens to me every time someone tells me I’m fucking inspirational. Shut up, I’m a person, trying to navigate my life with less white brain matter than most people. And every time you tell me I inspire you, you’re losing sight of me, and replacing me with a genre, a decided measurement for the validation of my existence. You’re putting me in a fake/arbitrary category, a vantage point which then determines how I will be perceived by you, instead of just hearing me, without the noise of your overcoming-the-odds narrative. The result is, of course, losing a real person to a projected image.

In the interest of time/space, I will not elaborate, but I hope you can use the imagination the universe gave you to picture how exotisizing can dehumanize. You exalt difference, to the point of no return. You make it about you and your learning, instead of seeing the person for their collaboration of human, relateable qualities. Email me if this explanation just don’t drive it home for you.

Rejection Quality #3: Remarkable and Questionable Trait(s)

When you have something about you that isn’t deemed “mainstream” people constantly treat you like a living museum display. I’ve unknowingly written about this a gazillion times, in both this and my other blog. And while there’s nothing wrong with curiously and questions on their lonesome, I believe the issue occurs in our tendency to feel entitled to ask about difference. This too, is dependent on context. If a friend, new or old, asks me about the weird derpy flop my foot does everyday, I’ll answer because in this circumstance it is a right of our relationship and part of our getting to know each other. As contrast, let me provide the follow 2 examples, both which happened last week:

I’m in the prescription pick-up line at the drug store. A friend is picking up meds, and I’m a tag-along, so when she broaches the counter I veer to the side where a man in his mid 40s, is also waiting. “A friend of mine had one of those when he was in the hospital,” he says, nodding slightly at my wheelchair. “It was a scooter actually.” I give him a curt head-shake as acknowledgement, and he takes it as ample cue to continue. “His didn’t go very fast, can yours go fast?”

“I should hope so, in case I need to get away quickly,” I answer in a tone that I hope conveys sarcasm and relevance enough to stop this convo. Nope, right over his head. He laughs and says, “So it goes really fast then?”

Can’t we just talk about the weather??

Story #2 has me on the bus, coming home from a long day of Saturday Friendship and suntanning. I’m reading, and feeling sun-tuckered, when this woman says she likes my jacket. I mumble a polite (ish) thank-you and flip to the next page even though I wasn’t finished the current one, you know, to signify active reading.

“Are you a student?” She interrupts my fake reading, despite my impeccable fake-line-scanning.

“Yes” I barely look up, can’t break my own fake fourth-wall

“Where do yo go? Ottawa U?” Hmphhh. I close my book in a very real gesture of giving up and talking to this person.

“I go to Algonquin.”

“Oh yes. Good school. Do you use the Centre for Students with Disabilities?”

“Well sometimes, yes.” By now, I’m mad. So very mad. The characters in my book are probably developing without me, and this woman has decided to hone in on the one thing more obvious than my trying to look busy: my disability.

“Yes, I-I ask because I used to work there. I was always very surprised at the number of disabled students the college has.”

I immediately and silently deduct that this woman was fired from the Algonquin Disability Centre for being scathingly prejudice.

I nod and open my book again. She smiles sickeningly and I watch with relief as she exits the bus.

In case the direction I’m going in isn’t glaringly obvious, both of these seemingly nice people, thought themselves entitled to discuss my obvious difference, despite not even knowing my name. The fact that they each seemed sweet enough (albeit slightly ignorant) demonstrates how heavily ingrained it is for us as a society to feel entitled to be overly curious and suspicious of difference.

Please don”t misunderstand, I have never been a person who is closed-off to questions about my disability. If i know you, in most contexts, I find no fault in someone asking a question. As I hope I’ve made clear, the issue arises as a societal/cultural issue, and is exposed when perfect strangers assume they can ask me anything.

So there you have  it: Three major concepts that surround rejection. As I said, there’s much more magic where this came from in Julia Serano’s writing. And if any of you have had the pleasure of reading any of her work, I apologize deeply if I butchered any part of her eloquent, brilliant ideas. In truth, I think that information this revealing and significant should be shared, hence why I skimmed some of her in-depth concepts today.

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t mind the direct questions about my disability. The more others know, the better for us is the way I feel. Still, there are those people who strike up conversation with me just so that they can feel they’ve done their good deed for the day or are trying to appear so caring when, in actuality, they don’t give a damn. They just want people to think that of them.

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