Recently, I noted on social media that I hate musical theater. Like my intense loathing of sports, it’s a fact that I’ve never been exactly shy about sharing. I also don’t care for Beyonce, or the latest trend on Netflix–the exception to that is “Tiger King”. That shit is insane and I cannot get enough. On the occasions when I voice these dislikes, the response is always the same: a startled gasp followed by, “You don’t like _____???” There’s also an unspoken component, an implied “What is wrong with you?” Nothing is wrong with me. I just enjoy different stuff than you do. That’s not a bad thing unless, like most of us, you live in a society where deviation from the norm will be punished.
We Like What We Like. Or, Do We?
We all want to believe that we have good taste and come to our likes and dislikes on our own. And, in some casess, that’s probably true. But, what if we only like a lot of those things because we’re supposed to like them. Maybe we like them because we’re unwilling to pay the social cost of not liking them. Because that cost can be unreasonably high.
Deviation from the norm will be punished.
One of my favorite Christmas specials is “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. It premiered when I was 3 years old and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of the Christmas season. It’s that cheesy Rankin-Bass stop motion animation that’s oddly comforting to me. After all these years, it’s still an integral part of Christmas for me. So, when the memes started to fly, it was distressing. Especially since they pointed out things that had lurked naggingly in the back of my mind for a while. None more so than this one:
This hit me like a punch in the chest because it has been a continuing feature of my life. To society, differences are scary and it deals with that fear by attempting to enforce compliance. Unless, of course, it can find a way to capitalize on them. If it can’t, its response is to marginalize and compartmentalize them; i.e., call it stupid and cram it into a box well out of sight. And, that can be a best-case scenario. All too often, the reaction is more like, “KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!”
A Whole Other Level
While society’s demand for
compliance harmony can be a lot to deal with for neurotypical folks, if you’re neurodivergent, it’s taken to a whole other level. Not so much by the demand itself, though. It’s the fact that we’re handed yet another societal expectation among a metric fuck ton of others that get pushed on us without our consent. There’s the forced extroversion, the bombardment of sensory input, the weird-ass social conventions, and so much more. And now, you tell me I have to like certain things or I’m once again wrong in some way? It’s just one more layer among multiple other layers and it’s exhausting. Interestingly enough, however, our salvation lies within the very thing that creates those layers.
It’s Not All Bad, Though
Crazily enough, this is one area where being neurodivergent is actually a benefit. Spending your life being visibly different will develop a pretty thick “fuck you” skin. One that allows you to blow off stuff you’re not into, regardless of what other people say. You still have to mask, of course, because people don’t like it when you tell them they have sucky taste. But at least you’re not trying to convince yourself that you like that shit, too. Granted, it’s not much but it ain’t nothing, either.
The Bottom Line
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to live in a world where we get to like what we like because we actually like it. One where the things that make us happy don’t also mark us as “wrong” or “weird”. Where the phrase “deviation from the norm will be punished” doesn’t capture its zeitgeist. Imagine a world where geeking out over something you love is considered normal and doesn’t call your worth into question or push you to the margins. That world would be amazing. We could make it happen, you know. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be so worth the effort.