Little differences – a theory of everything me

It´s hard enough to be different from the majority of people in one way. I´m realizing lately, though, that I am different in more than one way. I tried to come up with a list, but I doubt it´s complete.

1) Officially brighter than average, and also coming from a home with many books and a whole lot of intellectual nourishment. Also, that seems to go with it: Heightened sensitivity.

2) Dysfunctional or at least fairly unusual family background.

3) Sexual deviation.

I deliberately left out “mental health issues”, because I´m starting to wonder if much of my issues might simply be down to me having to struggle with those three major differences, starting when I was little. I keep on looking for the answers within myself, but those differences are a fact and so far I have been shamefully neglecting their potential impact on my life (apart from, maybe, difference number 2). I don´t think I´m doing myself a favor there. So let´s take a look at these now.

1) In elementary school, I was some kind of Wunderkind to the other kids. I did things with ease which they only managed to do through hard work, if at all. I remember them learning for a dictation, and suddenly I found myself repeating by heart the text we were supposed to prepare. They were gawping at me in wonder. I couldn´t help notice that I was special in some way.

In fifth grade, I was best friends with a girl who struggled with German, as it wasn´t her mother tongue. She could speak it very well, but she always got bad grades on her essays. When we got back another graded essay, she started to cry in frustration and began kicking the desk in front of her. I had an A+, the only one. The teacher asked the class for a round of applause for me, and they obliged, all while my best friend was still crying over her grade. I was sitting there with my head lowered, frozen in shame. This situation wasn´t really my fault, the teacher was just incredibly insensitive, but I couldn´t help thinking how much my best friend had to hate me. I could see myself through her eyes: sitting there smugly with yet another A, what the hell does she know, that spoiled brat, she´s never suffered in her life, and now she can´t even be bothered to smile! I felt like it was damned if you do, damned if you don´t. I couldn´t cheer, not with her sitting there like this, but I had no right to share her grief. I was doing well, wasn´t I? What business did I have moping?

Throughout my time at school, the main lesson was that I was privileged. I was better off than the other kids, and I always had to cope with this somehow. Often I felt like a person who would best be invisible. At other times I cultivated some kind of arrogance. Not my problem if they are dumb. At the root of both, however, was shame. I´m not even sure what exactly I was and am ashamed of, but it is the same kind of shame I felt so strongly during the episode with that essay. I repeatedly found myself in situations in which I couldn´t overlook the fact that I was somehow better than those around me, while knowing fully well how inacceptable that idea was. What I was taught, after all, and what I wanted to believe was that we are all equal. It seemed to me as if I was guiltlessly guilty.

I think this basic conflict has developed in many different directions over the years, but I can´t follow all of them right now, so I´ll leave it there and move on to 2).

2) My family has always been very politically involved. This alone distinguished us from a society which, after some left-leaning decades, was swinging back towards neo-conservatism and political indifference when I grew up. I learned that there was a rift between us and “others”. We were “critical”, we thought for ourselves, we cared about peace and freedom and the environment, while the rest of the world largely consisted of sheeple. We were politically correct. A joke I had heard in kindergarten could get me into trouble at home.  A stern look from my father, a sad, chiding “that´s not a very funny joke”, and I felt such deep shame that I didn´t know how to cope. Sometimes I reacted with defiance and outrage, at other times I tried to justify myself or take back what I had said.

At the same time, my family was areligious, not respecting at all of anybody´s faith, and not shy to say it, at least not at home. This, too, clashed with everything I learned “out there”, in the world, where I was taught I had to respect other peoples´faith even though I didn´t share it. I could see both sides. I understood that I mustn´t hurt people by ridiculing their faith (and I was frightened I might accidentally do it and get shamed for it), and at the same time I knew why my parents were so anti-religion: Because in the name of religion speech was censored, women were oppressed and freedoms were restricted. Freedoms I believed in.

For my tenth birthday, my best friend gave me a picture with Jesus on it. According to what my parents had indirectly taught me I was supposed to be angry she “shoved her religion down my throat”, but I could sense the good intention and her appreciation of me behind that action (she was ten, goodness!). I accepted the picture (still have it, actually), even tried to believe and pray, but that didn´t really work for me. Often, I tried to be a “good person”, the way I found them in some TV shows or books designed to teach kids values which are fairly close to Christian ideals. This was something I carefully kept away from my parents, though. I knew I would get shamed for trying to be brave, humble and altruistic. They would simply regard it as a show, or as a game I was playing. And despite this, despite me even building a mythology of my own a couple of years later, I always labeled myself an atheist and defended atheism. Also, I laughed cynically at the idea of bravery, altruism and humility and told people in my “values class” at school that we don´t even have a free will, or that the common moral ideals are nonsense. I meant it, and I delighted in their indignation. Those two sides of me were so separate that whenever I was on one side, I seemed to forget I´d ever been on the other.

I could give a million more examples, but essentially my upbringing created a rift between my family and the rest of society, and somehow I had to try and adapt to both worlds. I feel like someone who´s been brought up in two different cultures. I´m rooted in two sets of values, attitudes, ideas; and most of the time they harshly contrast. Picture a child who was torn apart between two fighting parents. I´ve spent many years trying to find out which position is the right one, and, as a consequence, which side of me is my true self and which one is fake, but I think that was the wrong approach. I´m merely continuing a fight which I didn´t pick. I´m both now. I´m the callous sociopath and the sensitive martyr. Go crucify me.

Again, it would be extremely interesting to take a deeper look at the consequences of this conflict, but let me just leave it here: I had to adapt to two contrasting systems of belief, I had to find out how to behave in each given situation, and I ended up being very scared of and insecure in a world which, down to my other two differences, was never an easy place for me to live in anyway.

3) Yeah, I´ve been looking forward to that one. Under sexual deviation I sum up: A) Me being lesbian. B) Me being into BDSM (and above everything else, I have to be a bloody switch! Is nothing ever easy??). I´ll leave out the “issues”, once again, as I don´t accept them as a given, other than the first two. Maybe they are something that can be resolved. So.

I think my being different from other kids in terms of sexual development started to show very clearly when we all hit puberty. Suddenly my best friends (female) were falling in love with random guys, talking about them all day, while to me it were those friends themselves who meant most to me. While I did have my own private fantasy life where I dreamt of the perfect guy (perfect for me, that is), I found myself unable to fall for any guys IRL (though not for a lack of trying). I was starting to worry that something was fundamentally wrong with me, that I was unable to fall in love, that I was somehow twisted and distorted. When my friends talked about how some guy or some movie character was “sooo cute” I sometimes tried to join in, but I felt like a hypocrite. I was wondering if I had feelings at all.

What I was interested in, in turn, made me look childish, if not grotesque. Somewhere on the knife´s edge between childhood and puberty there was period of time when my best friend and I were fascinated with murder and torture, and we spent a lot of time discussing what we could do to others, and what my best friend could do to me. Without ever saying it openly, we accepted that she was the one in power and that my life was always on the line (yes, I thoroughly enjoyed that). It was our last game before she suddenly grew too old for make-believe. She returned from her summer holidays and everything had changed. Suddenly I was getting on her nerves when I brought up our old topics. Suddenly that was “childish”. She didn´t call me a sick freak, didn´t run for her life, no. It´s just that she found me embarrassing. I was an embarrassment.

Having no more allies, I let it all out writing stories. I wrote some ghoulish stuff, some of it good, some of it bad. The good stuff impressed, the bad stuff alienated people. Writing flat, gory stories about torture and mutilation seemed so out of character for me. So unsubtle, so insensitive, so low-brow. I was certainly better than that, wasn´t I? The sad climax was a lecture by my father about how nobody wanted to read negative stuff like that. He said a whole lot more than that, but I can´t quite remember it. The basic lesson, however, was once again that I was inappropriate. That I rubbed people the wrong way. Once again, I felt like the people I was addressing were ashamed on my behalf.

In retrospect, I can see that I must have been obtrusive in some way. I was trying to connect to people, but I was using the sledgehammer approach (yes, pun intended). Writing crude, gory stories was my version of making immature sex jokes. It was kind of hard to recognize, though. There is a script of sexual development for normal people. There is none for sadists yet, and so there was basically no one who could take me by the hand and say: “Look, I can see this is a difficult age for you, and maybe you need to write those stories right now, and I wish you had some real close friends who laugh and enjoy them and plot the annihilation of mankind with you! I´m sorry I cannot be this person, but like many others, I find such visions pretty disturbing! Maybe step back a little when dealing with normal people, so you don´t get hurt all the time. I´m sure you´ll find a way in which you can express yourself, and people who love you just for who you are, though it may take some time! Being a teenager always sucks, it just sucks in a different way for you!”

Essentially, being who I was, I had nowhere to go for guidance (this was before I got Internet access). And I would have needed a lot of it. One the one hand I seemed to have no normal feelings, I didn´t seem to be a teenager at all – where were the crushes, the immature sex jokes, my awakening sexual desire? On the other hand, I had a whole lot of feelings which were absolutely not normal, and plenty of desires and fantasies which just seemed sick, deranged and embarrassing to me. I never knew how to tell my story, how to label what was happening to me and how to judge where I was in terms of development and growing up. It´s hard forming an identity that way, or gaining any sense of self at all.  Having figured out these three differences I´m in a much better position to understand my story now. They might not explain everything, I may have to revisit a whole lot of things, but all in all those difference are real and they are vital.

I judged myself and told my story through the lense of many theories which don´t seem to accept those differences as a given. I cannot just be a sadist (and masochist), it doesn´t stand without explanation, there must be an underlying problem, a secret that can be exposed and then sadomasochism won´t be part of my identity anymore. It is something forced upon me through nasty childhood experiences, not a natural part of my true self (should such a thing even exist). Also, I cannot just be saint and sinner in one and the same body. Either I´m an innocent victim who grew up in a terrible family, or I´m a terrible person who masks as a normal human being with empathy and feelings. One of my two sides has to be a mask, a false self which needs to be stripped away, and I´m terrified of who I´ll turn out to be. And last but not least, intelligence makes no difference whatsoever. If I was really all that clever, I should be able to cope with the world and not offend people left and right. I should have social skills. If I can´t do that, then something has to be fundamentally wrong with me, and intelligence is definitely not the cause of my problems. It has no bearing on my personality and my experience, it is just a little extra which I unfortunately happened to build my identity around since I didn´t have anything else to offer. I´m blatantly and narcissistically overestimating its importance. It is not a valid difference. It doesn´t warrant looking at my case any differently. I´m an intelligent monster, but I´m still a monster. No way in the world my perspective and my behavior might be normal for a person like me.

I can still hear these accusations ringing in my head. I cannot force anybody to accept the differences I named as a given. There will be plenty of people who contradict and question the identity I´m trying to carve out here, and there will be nothing I can do about it except remind myself that I have no obligation to let their opinions define me. I lately realized that I lack this ability, the ability to separate myself from what people say about me. Maybe this, too, has to do with my lack of a stable identity, which is in turn the result of my lack of role-models and precedents. Maybe I´m more vulnerable to self-doubts than people who don´t share my differences.

I´m not sure how I´ll deal with it when my insecurities are touched. I´m not sure how I´ll deal with my own deeply ingrained self-accusations. Nothing is solved. Everything might just go on the way it did. This may be a breakthrough. This may be a little step on the way. I´m just trying not to get my hopes up too high.



2 Responses to “Little differences – a theory of everything me”

  1. writingthebody Says:

    I like this a lot – it really is, as you say, hard to know how to tell your story. This is a pretty good, and honest attempt, in my opinion anyway! Happy new year….

  2. Thanks, and happy new year to you, too!

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