When I was a youngster there were many things about my father that I found difficult to understand and accept. One of the most difficult things about him was his peculiar obsession with the issue of conformism. He frequently lectured me on the importance of conforming to conventional social roles and to the expectations of others, and of avoiding being strange. It was clear that he had a great deal of anxiety about me being insufficiently conformist, though I was mystified as to exactly why he was so concerned about it. Evidently he thought there was something wrong with me, but what, exactly?

“You’ve got to conform, Eric, you’ve got to conform!” he insisted over and over. He seemed to be particularly afraid that I would turn out to be, in his parlance, a “weirdo.” I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant although it was clear from the way he said it that whatever it was, it was something terribly shameful. He also apparently had a lot of concerns about whether my brother and I were sufficiently masculine. I suspected that in his mind he tended to conflate being a “weirdo,” i.e. a noncomformist, with being (at least a latent) homosexual, and of course for him and other heterosexual men of his generation being homosexual was the most shameful thing of all. So I think he had this fear that if I didn’t conform sufficiently to societal norms, that once I was on the path of weirdness there was a danger I would inevitably descend a slippery slope of increasing weirdness until I was finally a total misfit unable to fit into normal society, and perhaps eventually even became gay. This was something he was ever vigilant about, confronting me every time he detected the slightest sign of nonconformist behavior, such as having my hair a little too long or reading a lot of books or showing an interest in intellectual or cultural matters. Why did my father have so much anxiety about this? I still don’t know.

My father’s fears eventually were realized, at least to some extent. I didn’t turn out to be gay, but I did turn out to be a rather strange person in some ways, probably stranger than he could ever have imagined. I’ve always had a great enthusiasm for strange books, strange films, strange art, strange music, and strange ideas. Nowadays I write poems, I play unusual musical instruments, and I like to study odd, arcane things in my spare time just for the fun of it. I’m proud to be a weirdo. I’ve found that my unconventional interests and ways of thinking, far from being debilitating, have in the long run probably been beneficial for me, promoting a kind of inner flexibility and resilience to be able to deal with all kinds of situations and all kinds of people, and the ability to examine my own life critically. Not only that but I now suspect, after many years of observing people, that deep down inside everyone is a something of a weirdo in one way or another. It’s just that most people are afraid to come right out with it and let others know how truly strange they are deep down in their souls. Instead of being afraid we should all be celebrating our strangeness, our natural human diversity that makes life so very interesting.

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