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.

5 Comments »

  1. I hear you. I love how steampunk spaces usually are around this – how much support there is for innovation and individuality there. Some people are far too easily frightened by anything that does not reinforce their own stuff. It always tickles me when you can tell someone thinks they look normal, as opposed to you. In their supermarket bought bland convention, as though fading into the background is something to aspire to…

  2. Martin said

    Us weirdos need to stick together as soon as chinos appeared in the 90s I stopped giving a toss

  3. smithandskarry1 said

    Thankyou so much for this brave and beautiful post. Like you, I’ve struggled with all this over the years. Now I see my kids struggling with it too – being hurled abuse at for dressing / expressing who they are (by adults too, it’s so sick). I’ve actually the past two years toned down how I dress outside because of the street-abuse when I’m with my children makes me scared for them. It’s a difficult line to hold and I feel Nimue is right that safe spaces are like gold dust in that respect.

  4. lingib said

    While visiting beautiful Whitby Abbey, a Goth group came. Everyone avoided them or stared at them. I saw them later on in the museum there and went up to them and told them that I loved their amazing t-shirts and look. They were surprised at a little gran with a walking stick praising them and were so pleased. I never judge on appearances. My brother was a biker with some of the roughest looking friend. They were some of the nicest people I have met. I always treat people how I would like to be treated. There is no such thing as normal and I agree with you totally, Cat.

  5. Wrycrow said

    I have so much admiration for people who are truly themselves. I wonder if some of the hostility comes from people who would just love to express themselves but feel trapped by “normality” and so decide that if they can’t be free, nobody else should be either. I think one of the best things we can learn to do as human beings is judge people by their actions and not their appearances.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: