With all the uproar around the screenings of Gayby Baby last week, one thing to arise out of the debate that I found particularly interesting was this fixation on the idea of normality.
In the film, 12-year-old Ebony ponders whether she, and her family, are normal. In his column last Wednesday, notorious dickhead Piers Akerman used the dictionary to tell Ebony that no, she’s not normal.
Later, we had Penny Sharpe deliver an impassioned speech to Parliament insisting that Ebony is normal, that Sharpe is normal, her kids are normal, we’re all fucking normal.
But what’s with the insistence on normality? Who wants to be normal?!
From a young age, we’re taught that we’re all different, no two people are alike. We’re taught to celebrate that, to embrace our diversity. So why now do we want to be just like everybody else?
From a theoretical perspective, there are a whole host of issues with the concept of normal. It’s generally based on the idea that there is a particular state the majority of people should be in, and if they’re not, they should desire to be. The concept is born from a medical perspective: that sick people are abnormal (or pathological), and healthy people are normal. But if you were to ask everyone in the room around you whether they had at least one ailment, of any sort, currently, I bet you’ll find that the majority of people will say yes. So who’s normal now?
An emphasis on normality implies that people who are not normal are lesser human beings. Are you worth less than I am because you have the flu and I don’t? And herein lies the major issue: Normal is an idea created by those in power, to tell those they oppress that they’re not worth as much.
So why should I aspire to be normal, when in the past it’s really just been a bunch of old white men telling me I’m not like them?
With movements like marriage equality, we’re falling into step with normality in order to be accepted. But we should be rejecting the idea that we should be treated differently if we’re not normal, because normal is an invented concept that is rarely based in empirical fact, and just elevates the status of oppressors.
I get that it’s easy to want to be like everyone else, because being different sucks. But it shouldn’t be the way we go about achieving rights, because ultimately, it means that we’ve lost. Sure, in some ways, by including gay people in the definition of marriage, we’ve expanded the idea of normal relationships to include gay people, but at what cost?
By assimilating into normality, we leave out those who can’t, or won’t, and our movement, and community is weakened as a result. Not only that, those who do assimilate face always being defined by the thing that makes them not quite normal. Because Akerman is kind of right: if normal is a majority thing, gay people will probably never be normal. Left handed people will never be normal. Twins will never be normal. We might “appear” normal, but scratch the surface, you’ll discover our abnormality, and we’ll forever be pegged as the odd one out.
So if we’re going to be the slightly odd one out, why not go the whole hog and reject the concept entirely?
There’s nothing wrong with being queer, or with having queer parents. It doesn’t make you normal, but Piers Akerman probably thinks he’s normal, and who’d want to be in the same boat as him?!
As a community, we should spend more time celebrating our difference, rather than hiding it in order to fit in with the people who have spent most of living history telling us we’re not like them, and, as a result, deserve to be punished.
Normal is boring, and oppressive. We can’t assimilate into liberation. Liberation comes from embracing queerness, and celebrating difference.