Southerners Love Eccentrics

As much as we southern folks love to say this, the reality is a little different.

By now, you know I’m neurodivergent. And, you may know that I live in the South–North Carolina, to be exact. But, I suspect that you haven’t given much thought to what it’s like being neurodivergent in the South. Don’t feel bad, though. Hell, I live this shit and it never dawned on me. And, fucking forget writing about it. Talk about falling down on the goddamn job. The idea came to me when I read an article in The Bitter Southerner about Flannery O’Connor and eccentricity that included the phrase, “But hell, we like eccentricity down here.” That got me thinking, Do Southerners really like eccentricity? Maybe, I thought. If we do, though, it’s complicated. And that did get me thinking. So, because of that awesome happenstance, you get an essay on what it’s like to be neurodivergent in the South. You lucky fuckers, you.

I Call Bullshit

A part of me has a burning desire to call bullshit on this Southern love of eccentricity. Mostly because, in my experience, it kind of is. Bullshit, I mean. With my Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder, I embody the very eccentricity that Southerners claim to love. But all too often, I haven’t felt that love. I think that’s because “eccentric” is really the same thing as “different” and being different in the South doesn’t always go over all that well. Usually, it’s like being different in middle school, aka, not a good thing. And, by “not a good thing”, I mean, “fucking awful.”

The Joys of Being Neurodivergent in the South

Growing up, I was always the weird kid in any group. I was introverted and kept to myself most of the time. Until the subject of my latest obsession came up, that is. Then, I couldn’t shut the fuck up, dumping information like crazy even as I saw the other person’s eyes begin to glaze over and they started to drool a bit. And, I’ve always been socially awkward, with an uncanny ability for saying exactly the wrong fucking thing at exactly the wrong fucking time. Add in my complete inability to pick up on social cues and the fact that I have trouble accepting a compliment and you can see that my social life is basically a disaster of fucking biblical proportions. All that to say I was a weird kid. And really, none of this has changed: I’m a weird-ass adult.

Loving Freaks… With a Few Caveats

I guess it’s possible that Southerners love freaks… as long as they’re dead. Or have moved up North. Or, have just gone somewhere where they can no longer make folks uncomfortable. And, I make plenty of folks uncomfortable. The problem is, Southerners don’t like it when you do that. Responses can vary, of course, but in more polite circles, it leans toward ignoring the thing that’s making them uncomfortable and hoping it goes away. In less-than-polite circles, though, it’s more “KILL IT! Kill it with fucking fire!”

This Shit Ain’t Easy

I think Florence King really captured the Southern reaction to eccentricity when she said: “Southerners have a genius for psychological alchemy…If something intolerable simply cannot be changed, driven away, or shot they will not only tolerate it but take pride in it as well.”  While King is right, convincing Southerners that something can’t be changed, driven away, or shot takes time. If you can stick out long enough to reach that “pride” stage, great. But, I’ve got to tell you, that shit ain’t easy. Take the case of a lady I’ll call Mrs. Smith (as this happened a few years ago, I don’t remember her name) for whom my dad and I did some handyman work. She’s one of the lucky ones who was able to reach that stage.

Of Old Ladies and Pigeons

Mrs. Smith was a retired college professor. But that’s not really important. What is important is that she kept pigeons. In her fucking house, flying around loose, shitting all over the goddamn place. No lie, I went inside to plug in an extension cord and within 10 seconds, I had stepped in shit and put my hand in shit. I thought it was, to say the least, disgusting, But not to her. Those pigeons were her babies–that’s what she called them, her “babies”–and she thought it only natural that they were inside with her. What got me was the way her neighbors reacted to this. This was one of the toniest, most “old money” neighborhoods in Greensboro, and no one seemed to care. Dad said their response was something along the lines of “Mrs. Smith? Yeah, she’s a little odd. Good people though.”

But She Persisted

But I can guarantee you that wasn’t the case when this lady first started letting her “babies” inside all those years ago. I can only imagine the horror of all those fine Junior Leaguers when they learned that Mrs. Smith was allowing what amounted to rats with wings the full run of her house. But she persisted and, eventually, her neighbors got used to the oddity of someone sharing their home with 20-25 pigeons. That’s also the way it goes for pretty much all the eccentrics you see scattered throughout the Southland. They are the people who persevered, who couldn’t be changed, driven away, or shot. The ones who hung around long enough for their neighbors to learn to love them.

Taking Pride in Our Weirdness

Am I pushing it when I say that the South’s love of freaks is overstated? Maybe. You may be thinking that my being neurodivergent and living in the South means I’m too close to the subject to look at things objectively. And, if you do, you can fuck right off. But, I suppose it’s barely possible that we do love oddballs down here. Like I said at the beginning, though, if we do, it’s complicated. I do think King’s statement is a much more truthful one than the usual bullshit declaration on the Southern folks’ love of freakery. Is it a strange way of dealing with the subject of abnormality? Definitely. I wish there was a way to change it, drive it away, or shoot it. But that’s not happening. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to fucking take pride in it. Shit.

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