“So what’s your major?”
Oh great. Small talk. Well, mister, I hope that you’re prepared for about three minutes of awkwardness before I skitter away, never to speak to anyone ever again.
“English,” I say.
“Oh, that’s cool. So do you want to be a writer?”
Yes! Yes! Someone who doesn’t automatically assume that I’m studying to be a teacher!
“Yeah,” I say.
“I used to want to be a writer, you know.”
That catches my attention. All of a sudden, the small talk has turned into something more, and now, I’m digging to understand him better.
“What changed your mind?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I just can’t see myself writing a book, that just doesn’t feel like me. Or maybe it does, and I’m just trying to talk myself out of it. I don’t know.”
He doesn’t have to tell me, because I’ve experienced it all my life: the comments that you get when you say you want to be a writer, or an artist of any sort, really.
“Writers don’t make a lot of money, you know.”
“You can’t make a living as a writer – it just isn’t realistic.”
“Why don’t you pick something else? Something that makes more sense.”
And it isn’t just writing that I’ve received comments like this on. All my life, attempts to express myself have been met with doubt, with people telling me that I can’t do that.
“I like your hair colour, but aren’t you worried about what will happen when you start looking for a job?”
“You’re so brave to dress up in costume – I could never do that! I’d be too worried about people judging me.”
“I don’t care who you love – boys or girls – just pick one!”
I know that the people who say these things don’t mean them harmfully. They’re simply informed by a very narrow-minded society, one that expects people to behave in a specific way. I think we all feel this at one time or another. Our clothing, our sexuality, our ambitions, our hobbies, everything is available for scrutiny. And I’ve never been the type to bow down to others’ negative opinions of me.
When I was ten years old, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I fought hard for that (am still fighting hard for that), and I faced plenty of judgement for it, but I never allowed myself to give up.
When I was sixteen years old, I spent full days at school covered entirely in green face paint because I wouldn’t have time to put it on before the performance of the play I was in. I was laughed at for it, but the very next day, I came back with green skin nonetheless.
When I was twenty years old, I came out as bisexual. I was surrounded by biphobic comments, and coming to terms with my sexuality was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do yet, but I can’t lie about who I am.
And I think that’s what a lot of this comes down to: I can’t bring myself to be anyone but me. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve struggled hard to fit into the little box that this narrow-minded society has set for me, but the thing is, it always feels like I’m shaving off bits of myself, creating gaping, painful holes in my very being, for the sake of somebody else.
And I am tired of living for other people.
But it always surprises me when I meet with people who don’t feel the same. When I meet the writer who opted for a major in engineering – not because he enjoys it more, but because he’s heard all his life that that’s what he should do. Or when I meet the girl who enviously googles images of funky-coloured hair or pretty tattoos but never allows herself to get it.
What are they holding themselves back for? Do they feel comfortable in their skin? Are they happy with their decision?
I can’t speak for everyone, and I know that what’s true for one person may not be true for another. Following society’s definition of ‘normal’ may lead to your honest self, and if that’s the case, then more power to you. But for all the others out there, all those people who are afraid of what will happen if they deviate, I say do it. Because it’ll be hard, and you’ll face many questions (not all of them friendly), but you can find a way to live around it, and god, it will be so worth it in the end.
Sometimes, deviating from the norm is the only way to stop shaving off bits of yourself for other people. It’s the only way to be a total, complete you – something which everyone should strive to be, in my humble opinion. Because you, whatever that might be (an artist, a scientist, a stamp collector, an activist, fat, skinny, covered in make-up, dressed down, LGBTQ+) is more beautiful than anything society says you should be.