Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lesson #16: Life Is Better As An Outsider

My third grade teacher assigned her students the task of decorating a paper turkey at Thanksgiving so she could display them on the wall.  As other kids used crayons to color their turkey the standard brown and white colors,  I remember demanding marking pens, so I could celebrate my turkey in bright purples and blues.  Fortunately she appreciated a frustrated eight-year-old diva, gave me some pens, and remarked, "You really have to do things in your own special way, don't you?"

The truth is, I have never fit in with the crowd.  As a boy I would have much rather watched soap operas than play sports.  As a teen I would have much rather gone off to see Rocky Horror or scrubbed toilets at Denny's than have anything to do with a high school function.  I am still not sure if my tendency to do things my own way was something complete innate, or a defense against knowing I was gay and couldn't fit in.

Nevertheless I thought all that would change when I went to college at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  I perceived the campus as a utopia where I could be out as gay, expressive, and finally belong to a community.  Not so much.  I entered in the Fall of 1989 to find that the gay community was an established clique who were shut down, unkind to strangers, and had very poor communication skills.  Once again, my status as an outsider was maintained.

However, this time I learned a different way of navigating the role of odd man out.  My very good friend Michael Santos was also dissatisfied and frustrated by the lack of support and community of the UCSC campus.  He suggested that instead of complaining about it that we change things by starting our own group.  It was through his guidance and organization that I learned how to come up with a mission statement, a budget proposal, and a plan of action.  Soon enough,  Michael and I were producing campus events for the "Porter Lavender Network" that were not only welcoming, social, and empowering, but were also drawing larger numbers than the other organizations.  In other words, I learned that I could make doing things my own way a creative strength, not a deficiency. 

Today I look at my life and see I still don't belong to a group.  I am not exactly your typical Marriage Family Therapist in New York City, as most of them opt to not to be so public about their age and embarrassing childhood stories.  I am not your typical soap journalist,  I am not your typical HIV Vaccine recruiter.  I don't fit it with the "mainstream" gay sector, and I don't exactly fit in with the artistic alternative groups either.   I have fondness and respect for all of these communities, but don't see myself belonging any more now than I did when I was coloring my purple turkeys in third grade. 

What is different now is the meaning I place on it.  When I was young I told myself that not fitting in was a limit.  At forty I can see how coloring outside the lines has given me more creative freedom and vision than I ever would have had otherwise.  It is because I don't fit in that I was inspired to move to New York, to write "Absolutely Should-less", and to create this 40 Lessons of 40 series.  It is because I already don't "belong" that I am not as vulnerable to ageism in the straight and gay communities.   I have no pressures to conform or change who I am to become a member of anything, and that is the gift of being the outsider.

EPILOGUE: While putting together this Lesson, I ran the ideas above by a very wise 22-year-old friend of mine. He listened and responded, "But don't you ever get lonely?" The truth is, there have been times I felt very alone with my proverbial purple turkeys.  The only time I have felt "lonely" is when I have tried to change something about me to fit in with other people's standards.  If I have compromised who I am, or acted against my values, then those are the times I have been most lost and alone (regardless of how many people are around me).  I have found that overall, when I live my life with integrity, and take action from a place of truth, that most people gravitate toward that.  As I get older I feel more connected to humanity overall, as opposed to specific subgroups, and that also negates a sense of being alone that I might have felt otherwise. 

Where do you see yourself fitting in and not fitting in? What strengths and limitations do you perceive as an "outsider?"

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at Shouldless@gmail.com

**If you are in the New York City area, please come to Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410**

3 comments:

DocT said...

Damon:

Your blog was exactly what I needed to read at this moment. I have marked it as one of my favorites. I have been a outsider with my family and especially since my Dad died two weeks ago I feel like I've been screwing up with my Mom and brother. It gave me insight I needed to help me on the healing process. Thank You

Lisa (@DrLisaThompson - twitter)

Kosh said...

Great post Damon. I remember working with you on Porter Lavender Network like it was yesterday. What a great adventure that was, and a great lesson for both of us. Creating the world we want to live in has turned out to be a useful life lesson. So glad to have shared that experience with you!

Love Michael

-C said...

We outsiders exist, Damon. I think maybe we often exist in a vacuum. I've felt the loneliest when I've watched the insiders close ranks, celebrate their closeness, and pointedly leave me out. I've wished I had an entourage of friends when another weekend goes by and I've done nothing but watch TV. You're right though. When I'm engrossed in what makes me ME, none of that matters.