I doubt that I am the only person on the internet who gets called weird pretty frequently. I know I’m not the only person who got called weird a lot at school. And I doubt that I’m the only person who finds that it doesn’t ever, entirely, stop stinging. I get called weird affectionately, I get called weird meanly, and I get called weird in that fuzzy border area between affection and mean where I think, ‘Huh. I don’t think you mean that meanly, but I don’t think it’s as funny as you think it is.’
Really what is weird? Is it that I read Foucault for fun, that I can quote large chunks of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that I have a Hogwarts tie, or care about constitutional law? Would the latter be less weird if I were a man, or, I don’t know, had gone to a different university? It would would certainly be seen as less weird if it was directly related to my job, wouldn’t it? I find reality TV weird. Also chat shows. And drinking so much you can’t remember the night before, that’s weird to me. But those things are all normal to a lot of people.
Or is weird the level of enthusiasm you have for things? Or the seriousness with which you take them? I mean, let’s take the hipster stereotype as an example. Let’s think moleskines, plaid shirts, men with beards, artisan coffee and indie bookshops. You can be thought weird for liking all those things terribly seriously. Or you can like those things terribly enthusiastically – collections of moleskines! coffee highs! #teambeard! TBH, I often whine that hipsters take all the fun out of all the things I like, and make it harder for me to like them without being mocked. I find a lack of enthusiasm (about anything) a bit weird – but I generally try not to find the thing itself weird. Or at least, I try not to say it to somebody’s face. After all, I read Foucault for fun, who am I to judge studied impassivity?
I’m coming to think that the fuzzy boundary place between affectionate and mean weird-calling lies around that fuzzy boundary place between ‘liking the thing’ and ‘the level of enthusiasm for the thing’. And there’s something, even at the nicer, affectionate end of being called weird, that can feel a bit off. Because while it laughs with you, it still works on the assumption that liking the thing that you like is inherently weird, that you ought to know that, and that it is ok to tweak you for that. And 90% of the time that assumption is false. Possibly more. Quite possibly if there’s something that is genuinely, non-social-influence perceived, absolutely weird, it’s not something that you should ever tease someone about. But mostly, it’s not actually inherently weird to like something. It’s just what happens as you get to know yourself and who you want to be. It’s called personality.
I don’t want this to be a strange, semi-confessional post. Or a post about the evils of teasing: I have to confess deal terribly badly with earnest people. I just want to poke them. And I hope it’s not about not being able to laugh at yourself. I can do that plenty. I am aware of the fact that some of my enthusiasms are inherently ridiculous to the rest of the world and I am more than happy to actively embrace the sillier things in life. I would probably quite happily invent a version of quidditch and play it and and I would enjoy it, and 95.5% of the time I would be thoroughly comfortable with you calling me weird for that. By all means, tease me for my level of enthusiasm for Harry Potter, but don’t tease me for liking Harry Potter. That’s perhaps the guiding line.
No, you should feel free to tease me and laugh at me, as long as it’s not meant cruelly. BUT. Are you laughing at my level of enthusiasm, or the thing I’m enthusiastic about? And if it’s the latter, why, and do you think that can ever not be a little cruel?
I spent a long time working out who I am and what I like and care about, and owning that. Most people do. And for those of us at the what one friend of mine calls ‘alternative’ end of the spectrum, that can take longer and be harder, because the weird-calling is often a bigger feature of the teenage years. So being called weird, even affectionately, tends to bring all of that back and you have a split-second moment in your head where you say to yourself, ‘Hey me, I like you. You earned me liking you.’ It’s a tiny internal battle, and 95.5% of the time (once you’ve got comfortable with who you are) it’s a fairly straightforward flash. But I don’t think it’s ever not there – and when you’re tired or stressed or around people you maybe don’t know so well – the battle is more noticeable to you and is that little bit harder to fight. And that’s when it stings.
But thankfully, there are people who are at home with my kind of ‘weird’, and funny with themselves about the level of enthusiasm. They call me special. And they’re the most special.