I never fit in a-ny-where.
Not nowhere, not nohow.
You can ask anybody about me, and you know what they’ll say?
“Well, I don’t really know her that well…”
For a long time this was a struggle, like I ought to be able to fit in if I just tried a little harder. I agonized over it through my childhood, into my teenage years, even through part of my twenties. I’ll spare you the details.
After a while, a long and difficult while, I started thinking about it a little differently. Like, what exactly is the point of fitting in?
I don’t mean this in some sort of inspirational or schlocky way. If I’ve read one manifesto about how you shouldn’t conform because you have a unique fire in your soul and the world needs your gifts… I’ve read a thousand. From the mind of every meme creator and motivational speaker, the mantra of individuality flows forth.
Funny how they’re all saying the same thing.
So as much as I always wanted to believe that it was good to be a weirdo, you know, it doesn’t feel that way most of the time. Instead of just being a weirdo, I learned to get along with people. I really worked hard at it. And once I had learned how to be sociable and part of the team…
I still didn’t fit in.
So I tried to hang with the punks, you know? The artists and the bike riders and the kids in the mosh pit. I worked hard at it, and before long I could weld and wear strange hairdos and do all the things they could do.
But I still didn’t fit in.
So that’s when I thought, maybe I should just stop worrying about it. Maybe it isn’t bad, or good, or even something I can change. Maybe I should just move on.
It kind of felt like I had won the battles but lost the war. Giving up on ever finding a tribe, ever having “besties” and #squadgoals and people who called me just to say hi.
This post isn’t actually about me, but I needed you to understand how much this photo means to me:
The person on the left is Lily Simonson, an artist who does expressionist paintings of marine life, collaborating with research biologists, swimming with dolphins, what have you. Lily was recently featured by Atlas Obscura as the only painter in Antarctica, because, for a while, she was. Scuba diving and then painting what she saw under the ice. One of her paintings is on display in the photo above, as she participates in a panel discussion about her work, at her won gallery show.
You may have noticed she’s wearing a hot dog costume.
I know Lily somewhat (this makes her roughly my best friend, see above), so I also know that she’s worn this costume to most of the major events in her life over the past year or so. Such as her sister’s wedding, and of course this show.
I haven’t really asked her why she’s worn the hotdog suit so much, though I intend to do that soon (and will update!). It seemed congruent enough with her personality that I just went, “yep, that’s great,” and didn’t wonder what sort of a statement she was trying to make.
After all, do you really have to be making a statement to justify wearing a hot dog costume for a year? Nah. You don’t. You just wear it.
Something about this picture triggers my incidental-individualist instincts. It’s that oft-referenced freak flag, the one you’re supposed to fly so the other freaks can find you. But Lily isn’t surrounded by freaks, and here’s the point—she doesn’t want or need to be among other freaks.
Look how much they all love her, those scientists with their spectacles and conservative necklines.
The thing about being aggressively different, is that it doesn’t have to be aggressive. You don’t have to place yourself in opposition to the world, in order to express your individuality.
I recently read an interview with RuPaul, and this quote shook my foundation:
…you get to a point where if you’re smart and you’re sensitive, you see how this all works on this planet. It’s like when Dorothy looks behind the curtain. Like, “Wait a minute. You’re the wizard?” And you figure out the hoax. That this is all an illusion. There’s only a few areas you can go. First, you get angry that you’ve been hoaxed and you get bitter. But then, take more steps beyond the bitterness and you realize, “Oh, I get it. Let’s have fun with it. It’s all a joke. You mean I don’t have to stick with one look or one whatever? I can shape-shift? Great.” That’s when you can save lives because otherwise the mediocrity and the hypocrisy is so mundane, it’s better to just not do it.
That’s the most punk thing I’ve ever heard. You can just have fun with it. It’s the key, the thing I’ve been missing. All that time, worried about fitting in or being unique, trying to understand which community might accept me, which people would validate me—that’s not the idea.
The idea is to have fun. If you learn how to have fun, you don’t need anybody but yourself.
So no, you don’t have to wear black to be a punk. You don’t have to have a hip hairdo to be cool. You don’t have to fit in to be loved.
All you need is your own version of the hot dog suit. And maybe a few inspiring people in your life, to applaud you whenever you put it on.
But really? The moment you slip into that zany little number, people will start applauding. When you’re truly doing you, so hard it makes you smile ear to ear, everybody will smile right back at you.
Or if they don’t, fuck ’em.