Growing up, my parents never forced me to eat foods that I didn’t like. Their philosophy was “if you don’t like it, make yourself something in the kitchen”. One of the foods I never grew fond of was meat products. I didn’t like beef, chicken, lamb, fish or any other meat product. So early in my life, I learned that I was a “vegetarian”.
This sparked a lot of controversy because people normally associate vegetarianism with the activist against animal cruelty. When I would go to a friend’s house for dinner, often their parents would berate me with questions about my “beliefs”. They thought that it was either bad parenting or that I had difficulty eating animals. It was hard for them to understand that I just didn’t like the taste of meat.
Through high school these questions continued, usually with negative undertones. People believed I was an animal activist and that it was a bad thing. In their head animal activists were extremists, bombarding TV with commercials of abused puppies and sad music. These people advocated against the cruel conditions of slaughterhouses. As a result, everyone thought that activists were going to take away meat.
This misconception about “vegetarians” being “animal activists” lead me to be treated as if I were a “sissy”. After all, “animal protein is necessary to survive and to be strong”, right?
Eventually, as I was shoved into the vegetarian/activist group, I came to realize that animal cruelty actually is a horrible thing. The amount of animals we kill and the way we slaughter them is cruel. However, even though I began to believe this, I didn’t push my ideas onto other people.
The reason I was vegetarian didn’t come from any ideology, it was simply because I didn’t like the taste of meat. This is what I told people for many years, and it was true. It reassured others that I wasn’t an activist and that I wasn’t going to try and change their views. Yet they still treated me as an outsider, like I wasn’t normal.
I consider vegetarianism, one of my “deviations”. It set me apart from others and made me reevaluate my actions. Over time I became a strong believer in cruelty-free products and helped fight animal testing. By being labeled as an activist, I began to understand their perspective and gained new friends who held the same beliefs. I became interested in why everyone despised these people and what they believed in.
My original deviation, and I think many people can relate to this, was cosmetic. I was born with exceptionally large ears that point out from my head. Most people have ears that run nearly parallel with their nose, while mine run perpendicular. At a young age, everyone told me that I would grow into them when I was older. Well, it’s been at least 10 years and my ears are still large as ever.
I said that many people can relate to this, not because large ears are common, but because everyone has a cosmetic flaw. Some people have crooked teeth or sharp noses, others are losing their hair at a young age. You know your own insecurities and you see them when you look in the mirror.
When I was in grade school, kids were cruel and made fun of my ears. They made jokes and excluded me because I was different. It was hard until my mother taught me something: if you’re one step ahead of them, they can’t hurt you. Now, instead of accepting my large ears, I was making jokes about them. Other kids couldn’t make fun of me if I was already doing it myself. So I’d say that I could hear radio transmissions or watch satellite TV with my ears.
This helped tremendously for many years because it taught me to accept my differences. The reason kids made fun of me was to force me to acknowledge how large my ears were. If I made a joke, I showed them that I already knew and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I could laugh about it and it’s a tremendous skill to be able to laugh at your insecurities.
As I said before, I never grew into my ears. To this day they stick out loud and proud. When I moved to Charleston, after a few weeks, a guy at work admitted that he called me “Ears”. It wasn’t until I met him that it stopped.
However, at this point in my life, I had accepted my ears. In grade school I made jokes because I was insecure. Now I was confident about them because I understood that everyone has a cosmetic flaw. We each have something we try to cover up in the mirror but fail miserably at. It’s difficult to cover ears in the mirror, so I spent many years growing my hair to cover them.
I consider this my original deviation because I struggled with it through most of my childhood and into my early adulthood. It separated me from others because, again, I was alienated for my differences. I couldn’t hang out with the “cool” kids because I was too weird with my ears and vegetarianism. This forced me to deviate and learn humility about myself and others.
My third and final major deviation came out when I was in seventh grade. It wasn’t a particularly rough time in my life, but middle school wasn’t easy, either. I hung out with a couple semi-popular guys who were effeminate. I told one person that I liked guys, and my semi-popular friends spread rumors throughout the school that I was gay. You know how middle school works.
Starting at the young age of 11, I became my school’s first openly gay guy. Immediately I was alienated again by many people at my school. Friends that I thought were close suddenly disappeared and I found myself alone. The flaw with having semi-popular friends is that when you’re the subject of controversy, they’re the first ones to run away.
Being gay held many stigmas, especially in the religious community, which I was part of. I started going to church because people were friendly and it was a good place to meet new people. When I came out as gay, there was a lot tension. I think they had difficulty telling a child that he was going to Hell. He was, after all, just a child.
I consider this my third major deviation for obvious reasons. Ten years later, controversy still surrounds gay marriage, adoption, and equal rights. One of my cousins has been part of Boy Scouts for a decade. He can’t continue as a leader because he is gay. Even gay pride is still met with protests and there is a lot of unease about the subject. Being part of that group, I inherited that controversy.
When I was a freshman in high school I immediately joined the gay-straight alliance. There was an incredible amount of acceptance and I learned that there are always people who will love you for who you are. My family never batted an eyelash, and I soon understood that there were people around me who would also love me unconditionally.
These “deviations” from society have built me into who I am today. We can always learn and even through suffering there is life. Some of our greatest struggles have the strongest impact on our lives.
Through losing friends and meeting new ones, I learned that there are always people who will like you and there will always be people who will dislike you. You choose who you hang out with. By struggling with my looks, I’ve learned to embrace my imperfections. Instead of paying attention to other people’s flaws, I’ve learned to accept others how they are. We all suffer and know our own faults, there’s no need to point and make jokes.
Being gay is remarkably the least significant of these societal “deviations”. The previous generation has done wonders to aid in the acceptance of gay youth. Nonetheless, we all still struggle with accepting others and, most importantly, ourselves.
Vegetarianism seems like such a little aspect of who a person is but you would be surprised at how badly we’re treated. If it says anything about the world, I get more derogatory remarks about being vegetarian than about being gay. This has taught me not to judge others because I know that I don’t want to be misjudged. Many people ignore vegetarianism because they have so many predisposed beliefs about it. I don’t want to be one of those people. What if I misjudge someone and miss what they’re trying to say?
All in all, life is a process. There will be times that you suffer and times where you are alienated. However, there will be moments when you feel like you could fly. You will always meet people who will make fun of your ears and others who call you a “fag”. Don’t discredit the moments that you suffer, they are part of your life too. You will learn from them and you will grow. When others don’t accept you, you will learn to accept others. Life is a continuous process of this learning and growing. Be who you are and make the most out of life.
P.S. This post was partly inspired by Joel’s 30th birthday blog post. His writing is inspiring and I hope to be like him when I’m older:
“I lived my life in fear for a long time, I was fearful of other people, I was afraid of myself and being by myself, and I was scared that I didn’t know how to be alive. Living in that darkness and that fear was tough, it was like a fog that got heavier and heavier the more I tried to find my way out of it. After I eventually found my internal light and was able to live without fear, I tried as hard as I could to live life with an open heart and mind. There’s no need to be afraid of a number, an age, or the idea of getting older. It’s nothing to fear, it’s an opportunity to own your life!”
Check out his work on his website at JoelRobison.com