Archive for November, 2019

Everyday Bravery

Many times in the past decade, I’ve been stared at. I’ve been asked why I’m dressed in a certain way, heard some (frankly ridiculous) jokes and generally been on the receiving end of some very visible confusion.

Mostly this is because I’m Out in Public wearing my ‘work clothes’ – robe, cloak, staff etc. But sometimes it’s when folk see my tattoos, or a particular t-shirt statement.

Going back even further, I was sometimes stopped when out and about because I was dressed all in black, including hair and trenchcoat. Apparently this was fine when one is a teenager, less so when an adult.

I have never understood how some people can accost a random stranger in public and berate them for how they look. Even light mockery. I learned to have a small smile on standby, so that I didn’t reply with something rude; that way, at least one of us is being polite.

But then years ago again, I quickly learned what was acceptable and what was not, through being openly laughed at and ridiculed when I failed to conform. I vividly remember wearing an outfit that I absolutely loved (a long hippy skirt and top, nothing too shocking) and rushing back to my room to change, blushing wildly, because of that terrible laughter before I even left the house.

I still don’t quite understand that, either. How wearing something that I absolutely love can cause such a negative reaction. How does this threaten people so badly? What harm does an unusual hair colour, period clothing or simply expressing yourself do?

Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction, with no malicious intent. That’s (relatively) ok. Other times…

Apparently it’s my fault, of course. For daring to Go Outside not looking like everyone else. For not aspiring to that societal goal of Being Normal (whatever that means).

Which leads me to the times that I have called out to others in public.

I’ve told random goths how beautiful they look. I’ve run down the street after reenactors to compliment their efforts. It can be as simple as ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you look fantastic.’

Nobody ever does mind this. There can be surprise, of course, at this unexpected woman complimenting them, but hey – it could be worse, right? See above for examples. And that’s not even mentioning when words become physical violence.

I see it on their faces as I approach. The mental ‘brace for impact’, the anticipation of a kick – and the surprise and pleasure when the interaction is actually safe and friendly.

I try to hold this in my mind when people approach me. I’ve often said how blessed I feel that the reactions to me are 99% positive (and 1% stupid). I’ve yet to be beaten up for my looks.

I know that I’m lucky in that respect. I hear the stories of trans folk who suffer by just being who they are in public. Goths beaten to death. Breastfeeding mothers verbally abused.

I see it all around, and feel it on my worst days. How dare I show my face. Anticipating that laughter again, the mockery, the judgement.

But I am trying to be brave as I grow older. To retort if safe to do so. Engaging with the speaker can be quite enlightening sometimes, as I explain what I’m about.

Other days, I don’t have the strength to do much except keep walking, with my head held up. That can be the hugest of victories. The naysayers didn’t win. The bastards aren’t grinding me down.

I actually feel it becoming paradoxically easier and more difficult as I grow older. Because while I care less what people think of me than I did as a youngster, I’m also aware that ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ is a Thing. Unfortunately. So I’m still exploring what I’m brave enough to do, day to day.

The world can be a scary place, of course. By walking my walk when I can, I try to shine a light for others. By affirming that folks look amazing just for being who they are and that I’m happier for seeing them doing their thing, can be a tremendously powerful act.

It’s not just about me, I know that. But when I’m stuck inside my head, with the world pressing loudly against me, standing up as Me, in my Truth, is a miracle. Sharing that validation with others is a gift that I hope I can always keep giving.

Go be You out there today, lovely friends. Know that I’m cheering you on.

This post is dedicated to all of those gorgeous people at Witchfest, with their finery and wonderful happy smiles, holding safe space for the community. I’m looking forward to wearing my new feathered hat in public too.

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What Do You See?

This morning, a lovely friend shared an image on his social media:

I remember being a very small child and seeing what would have been an Original Punk on the High Street. My parents pulled me away, saying that I shouldn’t go near Those People.

This must’ve been the 70s. And fair enough, some punks were… well… a bit mad.

But since then, I’ve often been the weirdo on the High Street. Whether it be a teenage goth in full drag (stopped traffic), or in my wedding dress (stopped pedestrians), or in robes and cloak for a Handfasting (both).

This taught me a few things.

1. Learn to dodge people who stop to stare right in your path.

2. Have a smile on. Because it confuses people.

3. Be aware that if you dress differently to ‘the Norm’, be prepared for people to react.

I’ve had car-horn beeps and cheers, children gently stroking the velvet of my cloak, and any number of questions or catcalls.

But you know what? It is always an adventure.

When people approach to ask something, they are both curious and brave. It takes guts to go up to the Strange Person and speak to them. After all, who knows what might happen?

I do wonder if people would believe some of the questions they ask, but it’s to be expected. Eddie Izzard has quipped about people staring at him:

‘Man in a dress!’

No frame of reference… oh god, what do I do…

That kind of sums it up.

In recent years, however, I’ve seen that bravery grow. I’ve never had insults thrown; the worst was ‘what are you supposed to be?’

I’ve been asked if I live in a commune, Hobbiton, if I always dress like this, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings quotes (usually spells, oddly).

I keep smiling. I stop and try to answer. I’ve a number of retorts to familiar questions, but keep it lightly humorous. Then, when people see that I’m an Actual Person and not about to bite their head off, we can engage in conversation.

If it’s younger people, I always have time to chat, to let them touch my cloak or staff (or tattoos), and generally to teach them that It Is OK.

This is about respect, in both approach and response. It’s about engaging at a level that encourages understanding. It’s about inspiring, showing people that there is magic in the world, even if it turns out to be a normal(ish) human being underneath.

This is about walking the talk. Not showing off, but being who you are in that moment, and reacting well when people engage with that image.

I often wonder what people see when they look at me, all dressed up. Do they then go home and say to someone else ‘Ooh, I met a real Druid today!’

What do I want them to then hold in that image of me? ‘I met a real Druid and…’

Ideally, that I was friendly and nice, not stuck-up or daft! That this is real, not just for show.

I have so much respect for those who go out into the world showing their plumage. Be it punks, goths, pagans, drag Kings and Queens…

It takes bravery to do that, too.

What image do we present to the world, in both outerwear and engagement? Are we staying in ‘protective’ mode today, or dressing up? And when people approach to ask – with genuine respect and desire to know – what do we say?

I’ve been mulling over what to wear to Witchfest this weekend. Do I glam up or stay everyday? I usually like to give talks in my civvies, because my Druidry isn’t actually dependent on outfit.

But perhaps a little bravery is required this time…

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