Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nothing weird about being weird

During the Oscars on Sunday night, screenwriter Graham Moore gave what I think was not just one of the best award speeches of the night (and that’s saying something), but of all time.

As quoted by the Chicago Tribune:

"When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong," he said, speaking without notes. "And now I'm standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along."

I had turned on the telecast only shortly before and had barely paid attention to it until that moment. But his words caught my attention and I pumped my fist in response.

Moore’s sentiment is very similar to that of the “It Gets Better” campaign, which assures ostracized gay youths not to give up on themselves even if life seems hopeless at the moment. I love that campaign, because in a way I understand the feelings it’s meant to counter.

Not because I’m gay; I’m not. But I know what it’s like to be taunted and threatened just for being who you are. (And also what it’s like to be harassed for being gay, because sometimes you’re picked on for what you aren’t.)

Similarly, Moore’s speech wasn’t specifically about being gay (he says he’s not), but about other, undisclosed experiences that made him feel as worthless as our LGBTQ brethren often feel due to homophobia. Moore’s speech came from a very heartfelt place and was intended for anyone (including gays) who needs a reason to feel like they matter. That’s a pretty massive swath of people, many of whom suffer in silence.

It sure would have been cool for me to hear in 7th grade, when I was told on a daily basis that I was “the nerdiest of all nerds” and “a waste of air” (the latter comment courtesy of a kid who the originator of the first comment said was “even more of a nerd than you are”) and when I went home from school many days convinced that even my family was ashamed of me. When every single thing I did was magnified in my mind as the act of a nerd, which was the worst thing you could be.

(Incidentally, the girl who said I was the “nerdiest” told me years later that she encountered bullying of her own at her same-sex high school, after realizing she liked girls. She considered that bullying karma for how she treated me. I assured her I didn’t see it that way at all and felt bad for her.)

If I could, I would visit every school in the country and spread Moore’s message student by student. Like him, I see the terms “weird” and “different” as positive qualities, the quirks and talents that make people stand out and could define who they are (and where they go) as adults.

I would say that those telling them they have no value are wrong and are insecure themselves.

I’d tell them that what seems like reality now will be completely different (and most likely better) years later.

I’d relate to them how I haven’t seen 90 percent of my tormentors since 7th grade, and the ones I have seen always apologize for their treatment.

I’d admit my own failings in this regard and impress the importance of making things right.

I’d share with them how I eventually shook the toxic thinking with which my bullies infected me, and vowed all that much more to let my freak flag fly.

Not that I need to spread the word, though, because Graham Moore did it much better in just a few seconds.

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