It started happening when I was in highschool.
I’d be hanging out with my friends on the gym floor, our books and papers scattered around us on the half court line of the basketball floor, our teenage limbs sprawled across coats and bags. We were supposed to be doing homework and waiting our turn, but little work was getting done as we talked and laughed while the other cast members in the school play practiced their scenes on stage.
Once in a while the English teacher/director would turn around and holler at us to be quiet and show some respect for our peers. We’d lower our voices again and roll our eyes at one another. At some point, the hallway behind us would erupt with noise, alerting everyone in the building that football practice had let out.
And inevitably, someone would say it.
“Man, those guys are idiots.”
Or, “that guy thinks he’s so fucking cool. Ooh, me big and strong and run long way!”
Or some other casual observation thrown about with confidence because we were Us and they were Them.
And suddenly I would no longer feel like part of Us, but rather like a spy in an enemy camp.
“You know,” I would say, “he’s a really cool guy. And he’s not dumb. He’s actually pretty great once you get to know him.”
The scene would play out over and over again. Sometimes I’d be at a party and find myself defending the brainy nerds who didn’t drink. Other times it would be a cheerleading practice defending the speech geek who didn’t go to football games. The backdrop and assumptions would change, but every time the feeling was the same – the sense that maybe I didn’t belong here after all, that I must be doing something wrong or was betraying someone else by being accepted in this camp.
Sometimes I’d feel particularly brave and dare to expose myself. “You know, I’m in the play, too,” I’d say. Or, “you do know I’m dating one of those jocks, right?” Or, with closer friends, “Hey! I’m in the advanced class, asshole! What are you saying about me?”
And of course, they’d never throw me out of the camp. I’d always be allowed to stay, in their eyes, one of Us. And they’d reassure me with a pat on the arm and reminder that, “you know we don’t mean you. You’re different.”
And I’d shut up and let the conversation move on, but the guilt would stay. And the feeling of being a fraud, or of maybe just not knowing what I was or where I fit, would become more firmly cemented in my self image.
I’ve noticed that same pattern replaying in my life as an adult.
It happens both offline and on, with new friends and old ones. Time after time I find I’m defending my kind to those closest to me. And over and over again I’m reassured that I’m different or, for some reason or another, excused or exempt.
They don’t mean me when they talk about weirdos on the Internet.
I’m not really a mommy blogger.
I’m not one of those moms.
I’m not that kind of Christian.
I’m not like those other Democrats.
But instead of feeling relieved or flattered or accepted, I’m haunted by the same guilt and confusion and frustration of being the cheerleading captain at play practice.
And even after my own association with those people has been explained away by my friends, I still find myself wanting to defend those people.
I don’t know why this bothers me. I’ve tried to talk to a few people about it, and they’ve done their best to convince me that I’m different. Somehow any perceived flaws or seedy associations I have can be justified because I’m not really like that, or I have some other redeeming quality that makes it OK.
I don’t know why I can’t just shut my head up and take my free pass with a smile.
I can’t shake the feeling that that’s the easy way out. It seems to be the selfish, small way – to simply enjoy all of my wonderful friends and the rich, full life I have because I’ve been welcomed into multiple, varied circles – pretending I don’t see the others that have been cast out. I can’t sleep some nights knowing they’ve been cast out for being like me.
I want to rip off my disguise and expose myself to you for the fraud I am.
I want you to see the things you hate in other people and know that I am proud to have those things in me.
I don’t want you to excuse those behaviors in me, I want you to understand them in other people.
I want to tell you I don’t want your damn acceptance and leniency if you won’t let that be a gateway to acceptance and leniency to the rest of my kind. I want to demand that you see that I am not so different because none of us are just anything. I want to tell you that your friendship isn’t enough if it comes with excuses and justifications.
But I don’t.
Because, in the end, I can’t give you up.
Because, goddammit, you’re more than the group you belong to or the people you exclude. Because, to me, you never have been a band geek or a speech nerd or a mommy blogger or a Republican or a non-mommy blogger or a college graduate or an atheist or any of those things that we may or may not have in common. And at the same time that I’m wishing you didn’t see those labels when you looked at strangers, I’m beyond fucking grateful that you manage to look past them when you see me.
I just wish I could make you see more. I wish I could understand, why me and not them?
Why, if you don’t like kids and “breeders”, do you come here – knowing I’m a devoted mother?
Why, if you don’t like ads and commercialization and sponsored posts, do you come here – knowing that I’m not above using this blog to make money?
Why, if you can’t stand Christians, do you come here – knowing that I believe in God and Jesus and The Church?
Why, if you can’t respect uneducated people, do you come here – knowing that I have nothing more than a small town high school diploma?
Why, if you can’t stand loud and obnoxious people, do you come here – knowing that I am the loudest and most obnoxious in the bunch?
I don’t mean to ask you why you bother with me.
I just want to know why me and not them?