School was out. I walked up the bus steps after another silent, uninterested day of middle school. As I sat down in my usual seat, Megan came walking toward me. She was short, blonde, and held an “I don’t give a [expletive]” attitude toward anyone that wasn’t in her close-knit, popular friend circle. She wasn’t really a classically attractive girl, but how did I know, I was a closeted gay kid, uninterested in that whole “girl” concept.
She sat down in the seat just in front of me. To my left, Danny sat down. Danny was an enormously tall 6th grader. We didn’t talk much. If we did, it was in the form of the regular taunts that he would throw at me while I pretended not to care.
As the bus left the school I assumed my usual posture: disengagement. See, the goal was to look like you were in your own world, engaged in something else. If that posture succeeded, they would leave you alone. Today wasn’t successful.
Megan decided that today was the day to really wreck me. Danny would be there to her aid. She popped up over the seat in front of me and asked, “Are you gay?” Immediately my defensiveness arose, but I calmly replied, “No,” and continued to look out the bus window. Stay unengaged; that’s the goal. Without missing a beat, she disagreed with me: “I think you’re gay. You’re a faggot and you know it.”
This barrage of question and accusation continued for my entire 30-minute bus ride home. It became a sort of twisted game, really: Megan—now joined by Danny¬¬¬—would insist that I was gay (or other words) and I would attempt to disagree or laugh it off. Over the course of the ride, it became increasingly clear that I wouldn’t be able to hold in my rage/sadness/awkwardness/shame much longer. I mean, I was gay, but no one would know that for another eight years.
My stop finally arrived. I got off the bus, attempting to hold my composure as it passed by me to leave the neighborhood. I knew they were probably watching me in hopes that they had finally won and would see me break down. I held my composure, but they did win.
I got home and broke down crying in my room. In that moment, I made a pact to myself that I would disengage. I didn’t need to be friends with the people at my school. In the years to come, I would resolve to become the hipster art kid—The hipster art kid that didn’t fit in with people at his school.
Maybe I felt like I was above them, maybe I felt like I was just too different from them. Maybe they just didn’t understand. Nevertheless, my life in school became a rejection of the norms that my peers so easily subscribed to. Thankfully, I grew up.
A New Season
As I moved on to college and began to understand who I was more clearly, I channeled my disinterested, outcast mentality into a mindset that would hopefully do something useful for society. I was able to grab hold of my immature rejection mentality and harness it to be someone that actually sought to change things.
I don’t desire to do what other people are doing and I’m not sure I ever have since that day in middle school. If I do see people doing something, I’m inclined to ask the obnoxious question: “Why?”
Over the years, I’m learning that outcast culture—this culture that challenges norms (in whatever sense)¬—can be one of the most transformative, creative cultures in society.
The truth is, people just don’t like to be challenged. However, people also don’t like to do the challenging. That’s where the outcasts come in. Challenging things is what we do best. The best part? Going against the grain usually intimidates people, but used correctly, the influence of those doing it can do so much more.
- The outcast dresses differently.
- The outcast’s wheels look different than most.
- The outcast is producing films.
- The outcast is making art.
- The outcast doesn’t conform like we would hope.
- The outcast wishes something different for society.
- The outcast creates.
- The outcast works harder than anyone else.
- The outcast never stops questioning.
- The outcast sees the world in ways that most just can’t.
- The outcast is immersed in their unique culture and they’re living the hell out of their lives.
Growing up, we somehow believe that fitting in is what leads to our success in life. However, as they get older, the lucky few recognize the paradox of life: The people on the outside are often the influencers.
To The Outcast,
Embrace the communities you're a part of. However, challenge them every day. Ask all the questions and seek to make sense of it all. Turn the community upside down in hopes that you can influence it for the better.
If you don’t feel like you’re a part of your community, then create the community that you want to be a part of. Trust me, people will follow that kind of passion.
Go and shirk a stereotype, make people scratch their heads, create something and discover who you are.
I think you just might find that you're capable of something you never saw possible as the outcast, rebellious kids that you and I are. Outcasts are the new in-crowd.
This was a post I wrote for the Board Blazers blog.