My Issue with Othering

This is an essay I wrote for my Humanities class three or four months ago. I’ve struggled with putting it out in the world because it does not paint me in a very complimentary light. That is both the reason I believe it is important to put out there, and the reason I don’t want to put it out there. After much internal debate I realized that the reason I am having so much trouble with it is because it discusses something I am still struggling with, rather that something I’ve come to grips with or have successfully left in my past. As I have stated previously, I am in progress, please let me remain unresolved.

I have been made the other due to a few of my different identities, some of which I have spoken about previously. Trans, Wiccan, etc. However, the identity which it is the most clear how being othered has impacted me is as a nerd.

While bullying hurt and getting beat up really hurt, those didn’t actually impact me as much as simply being excluded. Not being made welcome hurt far more than the teasing or beatings. To this day I have social anxiety around crowds that are just standing around talking. Lunch rooms are hell and every time a class goes on break or people are “just hanging out” it’s hard for me to figure out what I should do. I will often bring a book or some homework to work on during the break to distract myself from the “alone in a crowd” feeling.

This isolated feeling has made it difficult for me to ask for help, have casual acquaintances, or even be comfortable in a group that does not have a structured agenda.

This isolated feeling intersects with my mental health history and my transness. I developed a paranoia about trusting people with my secrets, thus when opportunities came up where I could have gotten help, I let them pass because I couldn’t bridge the trauma of my isolation in a a crowd of just one other person.

Just as many people of an othered identity have turned around and othered another group in turn, I took my damage of being othered as a nerd, then used an aspect of that identity to other, well, others. I internalized an elitist script regarding people who could not read and especially disliked people who chose not to read and thus never developed any proficiency at reading. At first I did this subconsciously. It was in middle school that I became aware that I had an intense dislike of illiterate people and because I wasn’t yet in a place of practicing compassion, I definitely acted in discriminatory ways and was bigoted towards illiterate people.

Nowadays, I intellectually understand there are many various and legitimate reasons for a person to have become someone who does not read, but because my own rabid love of reading I am unable to emotionally understand someone choosing not to read.
I have nothing but compassion and understanding for people that struggle with basic math, don’t understand science, or have learning disabilities. For people that cannot read I have come to a place where blaming them for not having the skill of reading feels like blaming the victim and I get angry about who/what kept them from, what I consider to be, literary heaven.

I have mild dyslexia, so one would think I would have more sympathy, but anytime someone tells me they don’t see any point in ever going to the library, or I’m in a class and people are called on to read and someone that has no problem speaking otherwise turns out to have a lot of difficulty reading I get angry and disgusted.

Before I identified this as a problem I would let this feeling run wild and that emotional reaction would affect my future interactions with that person. Now that I have identified this as an issue, I make a point to of grounding and centering to set that irrational emotional reaction aside and make space for the person who is struggling to work through what they are reading. If we are in conversation later, I’ll let them pick what we talk about because a vast majority of the topics I would pick center around something I have read. If they have questions for me (I am generally considered a repository of useless information), then I’ll answer them without going off into rabbit holes. Well, I try not to go off in to rabbit holes, but I really like going down rabbit holes, so that can be a problem too.

This issue honestly feels more like a cultural communication barrier to me that dealing with someone from a different country, subculture, social class, or who does not speak English. I am good at code switching and using nonverbal communication to talk, whether pantomime or drawings. To me, there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way readers and non-readers perceive the world that I simply do not understand.

Thankfully, I recently got to be witness to someone I know quite well make a major leap forward when it comes to public reading and in doing so he helped me deal with some of my internalized elitism. He specifically has a phobia of reading publicly. Good public speaker. Can read something quietly to himself and offer brilliant insight I to what he just read. Just struggled with the one thing. Actually, he kinda got over it in a major way. In fact, it’s even on video. Witnessing this in person, as well witnessing him tackle his phobia in other spaces helped me to challenge my own biases.

It’s still a problem, and I’m still working on it.

I’m hoping that in sharing this essay it will help people to be honest and accountable about what forms of privilege they are still caring around and need to address. Race, class, gender, nationality, all seem to be what people are focused on. While these things are important, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of all the different ways we as human beings like to cut ourselves off from each other. Some are over things rarely discussed, like illiteracy, others may not even have a name. They still need to be a part of the work.

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