What is that exactly? Who are those people? And what does that even mean?
I’ve been thinking about this normal thing for a while, now. And what it even means.
To some people, I live an incredibly abnormal existence. I eat mostly homemade, organic food 24/7, I watch hardly any television, don’t drink or smoke (anything) regularly and go to bed at 10pm most nights of the week, even on weekends. I’ve worked for myself for the past six years and I’m in better financial shape than when I worked for someone else. I also fall into the o.3% of US adults who identify as transgender. And that’s really an arbitrary statistic because we truly have no idea how many people are transgender.
Compared to other people, however, my life is fairly conventional or normal, at least by some American standards. For the most part, I look like a shorter-than-average, white, male-identified person. I was raised between my middle-class, divorced parents in the suburbs of New Jersey and attended Catholic school with the same people from kindergarten to 8th grade. Then, I attended a private school (for girls), went to college and graduated to become a middle school teacher.
But in between and among those experiences, I’ve been exposed to the reality that there is no such thing as normal. There is a social construct of it and people spend most of their lives arranging themselves and their identities to “fit in” to this construct.
The construct of NORMAL is arbitrary, a hoax. There is no such thing as normal.
Many people don’t even realize this. I was sitting on my front step the other day and two neighbors walked by. One person was sharing a story from work, presumably, and she said, “and this person just randomly up and booked her flight…I mean, for something like that, I would have prepared weeks and months ahead of time….you know, like any normal person would.”
“Right,” the other person said, nodding.
And I laughed out loud, thinking how many people I know who book flights to take trips at the drop of a hat, including myself. This fall, I wanted to visit one of my friends in Wisconsin and booked the flight within an hour. People I know do this all the time. Does that make us not normal?
I also consider what normal means when I hear mostly straight, cisgender women commiserating about how gender roles affect the sharing of chores in their homes. To them, and many others, it seems to be normal that men don’t help them with housework like cooking and cleaning. Since my early 20s, my experience involves mostly queer relationships, where gender roles were less fixed or socially constructed. I had a partner and we did everything for the house together. I literally don’t understand how and why partners wouldn’t do the same thing, that doesn’t sound like a normal, loving relationship to me. But, to the women who share this experience of feeling frustrated, my perspective and life experience isn’t normal. They are doing what they know. And honestly, culture and media strongly reinforces this “helpless, useless stupid man” concept, so I do see where it comes from.
So who and what is normal?
I was told by a former partner that the conflict and challenges we experienced in our relationship weren’t “normal”. From my coaching sessions, various life experiences and educational research, I disagreed strongly with her. Negotiating many conflicts and challenges in relationships is more normal than not.
When I was leaving my teaching career because I was afraid to come out as queer, I was told it wasn’t “normal” to leave just three months shy of tenure. I was giving up job security and health benefits at the age of 24. People just don’t do that, it isn’t normal. I did it, anyway.
The more I’ve personally defied convention and social norms, the more I’ve truly experienced the world as it “is” and not as I was taught to live it. The more I study change theory and culture, the more I realize how much of a farce all of society is. The truth is, there is SO MUCH going on behind the doors of peoples’ homes but most people believe the false exteriors other people show, instead.
People either drink the Kool-Aid to fit in or practice fearlessness to show their true colors. And we see which ones we call inspiring (usually it’s not those on the Kool-Aid).
Roy Baumeister said social psychologists have determined that a great deal of human behavior is aimed at being liked. Isn’t it ironic, then, the lengths that will people go to in order to sabotage being liked for others and themselves? By calling everyone back to be “normal”, we limit the wide range of personal self-expression and freedom that occurs in the diversity of human experiences.
Instead, I think we should ditch normal and instead practice authentic sharing of our unique and complicated selves. We should express the wide range of human emotions and interests and talents and personalities and physical variation that occurs naturally among us.
The more people do this, the more it becomes normal to do it.