Torrie: What exactly is different?

I grew up being the “different” kid. Growing up a fat, deaf (with that oh so odd deaf voice), smart LD kid in a VERY whitebread, VERY snotty suburb, it’s easy to see how that could happen.  It was very hard, and some of the stuff I went through could have easily been classified as hate crimes. (My bike being stolen just b/c it was mine, being told I wasn’t normal to my face, being told I sucked, in a drive by when I was doing nothing more then walking around my town…to name but a couple of incidents). I know kids who grew up with me who experienced similar attitudes and they didn’t exactly fall out of the norm of what you’d see in a somewhat diverse American town. Meaning poor, Gay Lesbian Bisexual (GLB), black or whatever.

But what exactly is “different?” Just a few short decades ago the GLB community was demonized as completely evil (and this was mainstream acceptable thinking). Yet, my best friend (who is only about 8 years younger then me), came out as lesbian when she was 15, and had a very hard time coming to terms a couple of years later with the fact that she’s bi. It’s strange. We as a society both idolize uniqueness and, at the same time, have a herd mentality that anything “different” from the norm is automatically to be made fun of or shunned.

We celebrate people like Tim Burton, Angelina Jolie, Ozzy Osbourne, and Eddie Izzard. But, at the same time, if one of those people showed up in a suburban high school or lived in small town America they would instantly be ostracized as “definitely weird”.

I grew up being told I was weird, being told that I was “different” that I didn’t fit in or belong, or wasn’t “normal”.  Did my environment have a distorted idea of what those things actually mean, and just labeled me with those labels because they had very little experience with a more diverse population? Sure I wear hearing aids, talk with a “deaf” accent (which unfortunately has lead people to assume that I have mental disabilities), have social-emotional issues, and deal with a lot of psychological issues. As a matter of fact, I am a frequent poster on a Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) message board. There is a psychologist who specializes in the pediatric DHH population. Every time she posts research about mainstreamed DHH kids, I have to go ” Stop knowing so much about my life!”

It really is funny how much my experience as a kid with mild multiple disabilities (who mainly identified as hard of hearing) mirrors the research on mainstreamed DHH kids in general. I was shy, underachieved academically (because all I got were very minimal accommodations), hid my hearing aids (in 6th or 7th grade I actually got the old lady ITE aids because I hated my hearing aids so much), very socially awkward and so on. But then again, the “difference struggle” is not unique to any one ostracized group. There have been plays, musicals, songs and countless popular media all about the difference struggle, and trying to fit in or hide who you really are.

I remember hanging out with a bunch of my GLB friends in college, and one of them said she’d never felt comfortable with straight people.

When she said that, my face must have looked like I’d had an epiphany.

This was at a small Mass State College that was far more diverse then my Stepford Wives’ town. It was a bit of a surprise to realize that a lot of people who don’t have obvious differences may feel like they don’t exactly fit in. And, yes, it was kind of late for that sort of realization, but then again I did grow up in an area that seemed to have a lot of, “you’re only normal if you’re superficially normal, and being superficially normal is all that counts in life.” thinking.

And the thing is……in my journey through life and accepting my “differences from the “norm” (not overcoming them), I’ve begun to strongly suspect that a lot of so called normal people are faking it. They are simply so insecure about the fact that they are faking it, that they feel the need to attack those who are different in any way, whether it be disability, religion, class, or what have you.

It’s funny…. looking back I hated hated hated being “different” I even underwent surgery (canalplasty) as a teen to try to become hearing, and ditch the hearing aids. The surgery did not work…and at the time I was heartbroken. That was a very tough time for me. But looking back, the only reason why I even opted to try to become hearing was b/c I hadn’t come to terms with being hard of hearing.

You never would have seen me with purple hearing aids or a business designing and selling hearing aid jewelry (Click here to learn more!). But looking at who I am today, those differences and that struggle to accept who I am, made me what I am today. Granted it could have been a lot easier, but on the other hand, I have come out stronger and better for it. My experiences in life led me to become a hardcore disability rights advocate, as well as a very outspoken liberal activist.

1 Comment

  • Loved, loved, loved your blog and the video! My little one has mild dysmorphic features, too! (And you must know how much I love and celebrate and every little beautiful (“weird”) thing about her :)

    I remember watching the doctors measure the width between her eyes, her nose, etc. and grimly describe the contrasts with “normal” as though there was something wrong and thought — What?! Are you serious? Look at this gorgeous child, look at all that life. She’s perfect. And unique. And still perfect. That which makes her different makes her so beautiful. And the same applies to you!

    But then, I knew you were unique and beautiful long before I saw you in that video :).

    Beth (Li’s mom)

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