Several weeks ago I met a man (who happened to be gay) who said his life was as simple as normal people’s lives. Two days ago, a note was added next to those words. “Define normal people. What is normal like?”
My brows furrowed. I was confused. I knew what it meant, in that context, but I wondered… Why emphasize normality? Why does it matter if someone is normal or not? I understood why he used that term, I think, yet I was a bit puzzled, and more so a few days later.
I was told I should learn to act a certain way, “like a normal person”.
I scoffed, half-offended, half-amused. I was upset. I was angry. I wondered why I had to hear that. Sure, it was not the first time the word was spitefully said to me. Still, I thought, what an awful thing to hear.
Then I realized, just now. It wasn’t really an awful thing to say, was it? What made it so awful? Why was being told I was (and probably still am) not normal so upsetting? What does it mean to be normal?
When I think of the word ‘normal’, I’m reminded of ‘norms’. Normal is being or acting according to norms. Oxford Dictionary defines normal as ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected’.
To be honest, by that definition, I am unconcerned whether I am normal or not. Being unusual, atypical, or unexpected, not conforming to a standard, neither bothers nor excites me. Yet, although indifferent to both being normal and abnormal, I still took offense. Why?
Let’s think about what it usually means to be normal. Straight, able-bodied, healthy, having no mental or personality disorders. Now let’s think of the sentiments attached to the words ‘abnormal’ or ‘not normal’. Frightening, unnatural, wrong, unacceptable.
Despite my personal distaste in binary oppositions, I am, after all, a product of socialization and social conditioning. I don’t exactly strive to be unacceptable or frightening. Being offended was an understandable reaction, although I can’t say I approve of or agree on the meanings and merits of being normal.
It is too loosely defined, in my opinion, to have such a great effect. If being normal is defined by norms, wouldn’t it vary based on when and where the act or interaction takes place?
Of course, I believe that to a certain extent, social norms are useful and necessary, having much to do with roles that keep a society functioning. What is too vague is ‘normal’ in its colloquial, everyday use, as insults, as praises, as assertions, as accusations.
Don’t people regard and react differently to conceptions of normality? Being non-heterosexual might be considered not normal, thus unacceptable and offensive by many. Yet, I personally consider queerness, in essence, as acceptable and inoffensive as heterosexuality.
Faced with another hypothetical statement of my abnormality, perhaps I should ask, “Normal in what way? By whose standards? In the statistical sense or the normative sense? Why is it a cause for concern? How does not being normal in this case affect our well-beings? How does it affect your attitude and behaviour towards me? Why does it affect you? How does it affect my attempts in reaching my own personal goals? How does it affect how I function in my life? Can you wait a minute? I’ll get a piece of paper so we can make a list to evaluate the pros and cons.”
On second thought, perhaps such questions would only take too much time, too much paperwork, too many brain cells, to reach uncertain results. Why bother? It would perhaps be more efficient, more time and energy saving, to just accept the statement of normality in all its vagueness, accept that it might be true or untrue, and say, quite truthfully, that, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”