It is human to reflect. If there is no recognition in what we perceive, we are uniquely equipped to change.
Back in high school, I dressed in a way that I defined broadly as “A Matrix Extra”. I had a long coat and fingerless gloves of leather which I wore every day. Underneath I had fitted clothes. Black shoes, socks, and pants exclusively, and an array of shirts. Most black, but some other choice colors. I would spontaneously break out into running and made sure that everything would stay put. My father had hammered into me to always be “presentable”, and I had my own way of accomplishing this.
I didn’t really have a set clique in high school. Due in part to me changing schools every year but also because I had a wide set of interests. Plus, no matter what group I was set in, I was always an outlier in some way. But, in spite of what my ego says, I’m not unique in that regard. I managed to find plenty of misfits wherever I went. One thing that I appreciated about them is that they knew and were true to themselves even without having a social blueprint.
One day, I overheard a fellow classmate from my AP classes jeer aloud about one of my fellow misfits. “How can he let himself come out of the house looking like that?” Said misfits had green hair, a well-worn band shirt, Tripp pants or JNCO jeans (something fashionable at the time), and shoes as worn as his shirt.
While I was near and within earshot, I do not think my classmate was talking to me. However, when I walked next to him and leaned on the rail he was not put off by me. I had an off-the-cuff insight I opted to share.
“There is something the three of us have in common,” I began. “We all see ourselves in the mirror before we leave the house. You keep your hair trimmed close, glasses clean, shirt and slacks pressed, starched and ironed, and your shoes shine. My friend over there”, nodding my head over to Mr. Green Hair “has it exactly the same. His hair color is an expression of himself. The band on his shirt is one of many he likes, and the shirt itself comes from a concert he remembers fondly. His pants are just for style, but his shoes serve him solidly while he’s skateboarding.”
I then motioned to myself. “Like you, I keep my clothes fitted and belted. And like you, it is to present myself in a certain way… in part. But like my friend with his shoes, the clothes I wear are functional and broken in. I can run from one end of the school to another, get down and dirty in theatre, dust off and be presentable for our classes with no one the wiser. Much like you wondering about him, we’ve puzzled over your choices too.”
“But,” I continued, “Each of us has… A Mirror Moment. A brief time in which we look at ourselves before we step out the door. And we have the joy of seeing ourselves and saying ‘Yes! This is how I want the world to see me! This IS who I am!’ I think that everyone should be allowed that. For you to be clean-cut, for him to be rock and roll, and for me to be a Matrix reject. But we’re all happy, and that counts for a lot.”
This is when Self-Determination coalesced as being of high import to me. This speech, along with my childhood classmates allowing me to simply be myself (“Jasper is Jasper”), is something I extend to everyone.
As I am prone and wont to do, there are lots of little anecdotal scenarios I could spin. But I aim to be concise presently. Why do I let people tell me who they are? Because sometimes they are trying to grow out of who they used to be, in whole or in part. Having the benefit of the doubt and some support can give someone just what they need to discover themselves.
I feel like I am at a tipping point, and I see a lot of turmoil boiling all over the world. I have recently reread my article Distrust. The people that I wrote that piece to… I have not cut them out of my life. I often say “Where there is Life there is Hope.” And while I live, I want to keep talking about the views they have which will hurt me. The small allowances which pile up to result in me not feeling safe enough where they are for even a casual visit. They Self-Define as caring for and about me. I will write when I can in hopes that the scales will tip and they can do well by me even when I am not around.
To close off, you may have wondered what came of that conversation I had back in high school. While my friendship with my classmate did not undergo some profound deepening, there were a few days in which he’d hang out with me and the other misfits before the school bell rang. I like to think that he was able to look at my friends as I saw them: Bearing emblems and artifacts to highlight who they were. And I hope that he began to see himself in that light too.