Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Making Peace with Weird...

I grew up – pull out the violins – as a kid in an increasingly unhappy home and, from fifth grade through eighth, school life also got more Lord of the Flies-like each year, if restaged in an affluent Chicago suburb with upwardly mobile sadists. Thus I had no refuge: there was no respite from the difficulties at home when I was at school and no respite from the stresses of school at home. What I did have: a bushy mushroom cloud of black hair fashioned in a perverse attempt at a Dorothy Hamill cut (no one knew how to deal with curls in the 1970s), a tamped down personality that had grown leery of any attention and a rich inner-world that contrasted mightily with my real life.

In my fantasies, I could escape to being a make-believe girl named C.C. whose blonde hair feathered perfectly and had a just-right sprinkling of cinnamon freckles on her lightly tanned face. I wasn’t sure what her initials stood for, but I liked the sound of it. Maybe her parents – very wealthy, genetically blessed, deeply in love, they never fought – named her C.C. at birth or maybe it was a family name handed down generation after generation after her ancestors first stepped off of the Mayflower. Her name was waspy, precise and perfect, just like I wanted to be. As I imagined her, C.C. was a popular and athletic girl and she was able to mingle with the brains or the partiers, the jocks or the ice queens with an easy, fluid grace. The one faction that C.C. never interacted with was the weird kids – known in the aggregate as the losers where I grew up – a messy grab-bag of special ed students, overweight kids, Trekkies, brilliant bookworms and artistic types who daydreamed and sketched dragons in their notebooks. C.C. didn’t have a drop of weird in her. She was defiantly un-weird. C.C. was the perfectly composed poster child for Normal. In other words, she couldn’t be more unlike me, who, by fifth grade, was already an active member of several weird kid classifications and subtypes.

It wasn’t fun. In fact, other than when I was with my grandparents or idling in my imagination as C.C., the years roughly between fifth and eighth grade were the worst ones of my life. I was “a weirdo” and I felt branded for life. The thing is, though, once I started high school, I started the journey of finding my way and finding my way meant embracing the weird. The things that made me weird were the things that led me down the vegetarian path and then the vegan one. It’s my completely unscientific guess that this is true of many people who eventually find themselves here*. Generally if you meet a vegan, you’ve met someone who has logged considerable time on the outside looking in because it is this outsider’s view that helps us to be more critical of the conventional worldview regarding our relationship to other animals. I am speaking very broadly, of course; people stop eating animals for a variety of reasons today, many of which are not rooted in a deeply altered perspective, but in going vegan, it is clear that one’s way of looking at the world has radically shifted from society’s norms.

I’ve heard recent speakers in the vegan movement assert that the latest in social science tells us that people are more inclined to listen to those who are like them as a way to encourage activists to be as “normal” as possible. Guess what? I’m not that normal. I am going to hazard a guess that you aren’t either.

I am concerned that in our quest to “normalize” veganism and skew ever closer to what we believe to be prevailing mainstream norms, we are being asked to ignore those who are traditionally the biggest allies in the vegan moment – the artistic kids, the ones who reject the status quo, the ones who are less afraid to take an unpopular position – and this could have very sad consequences for our movement, and, most important, the animals, if we decide that fitting in is the best tool in fostering acceptance.

Someone asserting that the respectable norm (which usually happens to line up with the affluent, hetero and white male norm) is what we should be aspiring to in our outreach simply is ignoring that we represent a multiplicity of individuals and we will be talking to a diversity of potential vegans who are influenced and dissuaded by a wide variety of people and approaches. We are not cyborgs. We have histories and interests, attractions and disincentives because our species is just not that predictable. If having a certain approach were that much more likely to result in success, and if by inserting Tab A into Slot B, our efforts would result in more vegans, I’d love it. Again, though, it’s not that straightforward. People who might be less influenced by me might be more likely to listen to someone else. People who unmoved by one argument might be thoroughly compelled by another. The real world is messy and disorderly and it is just not that predictable, as alluring as that idea might be. I have no studies to back this up; I simply know this from 20 years of advocacy work. We do not live in a controlled laboratory setting. We live in a complex, untidy and endlessly fascinating world that we need to remain curious about, not believe that we have all the answers to, because we most assuredly do not.

This is all to say that in our drive to create more vegans, I think it is wrongheaded to deny that we are, for the most part, a rather weird population, meaning that we are innovators, more independent and more likely to reject the status quo. We have a worldview that is informed by beliefs not shared by the vast majority of the population and that perspective has compelled us to change our practices to live in accordance with our values. That is unconventional and that is more than okay. Instead of trying to conform our personalities to appeal to some amorphous “norm,” I believe that we should be modeling to the world how amazing it feels to live with consistency and to care less about fitting in and more about creating the world we want to live in. Confidence and honesty are alluring and captivating; shrinking and disingenuousness are not. By owning our values without apology in this messy world, we inspire courage in others to do the same.

There would be no animal rights movement without the weird kids. The C.C.’s of the world would not have created it. When I got comfortable with the idea that I was weird for life, C.C. faded from my imagination. I embraced the weird and my life became better for it. We are going to reach a lot more people being genuine and speaking honestly than trying to conform to a vague notion of socially acceptable “normalcy.”

* If you are an aggressively conventional vegan, congratulations, you are now officially weird, too. It’s okay.


  1. And this is why you are awesome. Yeah, I am definitely weird and have always been weird, and I like and prefer weird people.

    One person's weird is another person's honest and brave. I have been a vegetarian/vegan more than half my life, and I have converted many people (at least temporarily:), because they thought I was cool. They coveted my conviction. Because if you are weird long enough, it becomes cool. What is considered cool always comes from the fringe, then permeates inward. And we are experiencing that now in the animal rights movement with somewhat mixed results.

    Veganism has gotten tangled up with narcissistic fear-based crusades to live forever with perfect dewy skin. Unfortunately, for many people the shape of their butt is more important than the shape of their character.

    And it's OK and very human to want that security. Either way the animals still aren't being eaten, and that is a good thing. Statistically, people are being much more swayed by the health argument at the moment. Still, I feel the reason someone is vegan is important. It is important that someone not murder someone else, because they respect their right to bodily integrity, and not because they are afraid of getting in trouble somehow. These philosophical underpinnings matter to create a truly compassionate and free society. And the weirdos are still leading that charge.

  2. Yes yes and I 'll say it again. YES! True honest words that celebrate our diversity and dismiss prepackaged lives. I myself I am a weirdo, a vegan, non hetero, artistic and so many other unconventional things, and I am PROUD of all of them! Love your post! <3

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  4. It's funny how normal weird is! Thank you for your great blog.

  5. Thank you, Melody! I loved what you had to say and THAT is why you're awesome. :)

  6. Thanks, Roselie, and hugs your way!

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