Ever since I can remember people have called me weird. I’m never quite sure how I got this label, how even as a small child everybody just decided I was different. I was just a small girl living my life as far as I was concerned. But the word kept following me, from Primary School to Secondary School and even into university. “Did you know you’re really weird?”
Growing up I was always happy to play by myself, but I desperately sought out friends too. Sometimes I was successful, but it rarely seemed to last. I was as happy to, all on my own, pretend the steps to the playground were a swimming pool as I was to give “first aid” to others by soaking paper towels in water and putting them on their head (in true primary school fashion!). My best friend throughout most of primary told me I was weird regularly. Those who would not call me their friend used less kind words.
At Secondary School I fully cemented my place as class weirdo. Once I read from a history textbook and it came out like I was reading a story. Weird. I didn’t really want to start shaving my legs. Weird. I liked reading and hanging out in the library. Weird. I actually quite liked wearing a smart uniform. Definitely weird. By year 9 I would run from class to class to get away from the words, completely unaware that this was, indeed, also weird. It felt like everyone in the school had something to say to me, from year 7 to year 11. And I could never quite work out why. One Red Nose Day I suggested to some “friends” that I dress up as a scarecrow. “You don’t want more reason for people to laugh at you”, they said.
By the time I was 15 I had some friends who also liked hanging out in the library, and I finally felt part of something. Sure, being part of a group didn’t stop me being weird, but it allowed me to see that some people liked me for my weirdness. And so I tried to embrace it, my self-awareness allowing me to finally see some of the things which made me weird. My Myspace URL was “different is good”, I wrote websites about what to do if you were being bullied, I’d often describe myself as somewhat unusual. I wasn’t happy though. I started snapping an elastic band at my wrist whenever I did something that others sniggered at. I would walk home from school listening to Bad Day by Daniel Powter and I’d just feel… sad. I started to think I’d never truly fit anywhere. So it was time to stand out.
The hippy thing started at the end of year 11. I still can’t quite work out what triggered it. Perhaps it was my strong sense of social justice, or my admiration for the dreadlocked hippies down the road. Perhaps I just needed a way to express myself and emo just wasn’t going to cut it. So I started wearing long flowy skirts and not brushing my hair. I’d walk round barefoot and declared myself left wing before I ever truly knew what it meant (fortunate I was right really!). I stayed on for sixth form and spent the whole time either not going in or being told off for not wearing “office wear”. I was the only “hippy” in the school.
I went to university in Brighton, the capital of weird, and even there I came up against those who wanted to tell me how I should be. This has been a theme throughout my life. Well-meaning girls, and it’s usually girls, telling me that if I “was their best friend” they would tell me not to do this, or not to do that (funnily enough, not being their best friend didn’t stop them). My voice was too loud, what I was wearing wasn’t quite right, I wasn’t able to spend £70 on incredibly expensive shoes. It does occur to me that some of my apparent weirdness throughout my life has come from not being well-off. If most of your clothes are hand me downs and charity shop finds then you are going to stand out a little bit. And if you can’t spend money in the same way as your middle class university flatmates whose parents paid their rent then you’re going to look like a cheapskate. And that’s weird.
In second year I got involved in activism and I was the happiest I had been. Everybody was a bit weird, and yet somehow also incredibly cool. I kind of fit. Activism has always been a place I’ve found worth for myself. I started off protesting about climate change, had a dalliance into tax avoidance and university fees, and have ended up as a passionate advocate for equality. And I no longer care if that makes me weird. It won’t stop me speaking up.
I wonder if my life of being othered has made me more empathetic towards those who are also othered. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance. An unexpected benefit of growing up weird.
I dropped the hippy thing eventually, although I’ve still got a liking of bright colours and Dr Marten boots. And I still love a festival (and the amazing bunch of weirdos who accompany me). I’ve actually found through Facebook in the past year myriad people who dress like me. Not so weird, after all.
At university I was diagnosed with dyspraxia and in my mid-20s I came to the conclusion I was likely autistic too, although the NHS do not agree. Which did make me doubt myself. I thought I’d found an explanation for all the years of being called weird, and a whole lot of people within the neurodiversity movement who I identified with. But maybe I was just weird, with no real explanation at all. Maybe I am just weird. Maybe that’s OK.
In my adult life I am still weird, although people don’t tend to tell me that to my face any more. My sister reports that people from school still recall me as the “weird girl”, and that stung. But as I reach my third decade, I realise that being wholly myself has always been the best gift I’ve given to myself. I’m starting to realise it’s a gift I can give other people too. In my role as an autism practitioner I speak openly and proudly of being different, of not marching to the same beat as everybody else. I think if my young people can see me, proud of my identity as a neurodivergent person, refusing to change myself and refusing to let them change themselves either, then maybe that will make a difference.
So this Weird Pride Day I am coming out and proud as weird. I probably always will be. I now know the only people worth knowing are the ones who let you be yourself. Who don’t try to change your beat or tell you what to do, or how to be. They’re usually weird too. Would you like to join us?