For a long time, I wore my hair in a color that I referred to as F^*k-you Fuschia. Not Barbie pink – brighter and more obnoxious than that. Think pink highlighter-on-day-glo-post-it-note-pink. So bright that the dye was literally blacklight reactive. Couple that color with my usual head-to-toe black clothing and the effect was quite striking.
Reactions to my appearance were often entertaining but the ones I loved the most were those of children. Every now and then, a child or tweeny would lay eyes on me and the most amazing expression of wonder and joy would spread across their face. I’m guessing it was one of the few times they’d seen a visibly goth adult. And I totally get it, because I remember the first time I saw goths. On my first day of high school, I walked into an educational facility several times the size of the middle school I’d gone to. I remember heading toward an open area near the theater and seeing the group called “the freaks” for the first time. I instantly wanted nothing other than to be like them – to be that glamorous, edgy, provocative, and interesting. Like many smart, odd kids, I never really fit in with my peer group. Even when I tried hard to match the look and style of people around me, it somehow never worked. I always did, said, or wore the wrong thing. To suddenly discover a style based entirely on standing out and embracing the weird was amazing.
What’s funny is that little moments of excitement over my appearance still happen more than two decades later. It’s getting colder here in Western Maryland and I’ve begun wearing a coat outside. My favorite coat is a flared, black, lace-trimmed wonder from Verillas. It somehow gives Stevie Nicks and Vampire Queen at the same time, and I love it. I recently got stopped in the grocery store by a woman who I suspect was around my age (I’m in my 40s). She talked about how much she loved my coat, but that she “would never be brave enough to wear something like that.” I wear my hair mostly buzzed down with one section left a little long and receive almost constant compliments on it. When my tattoos are visible, I hear about how beautiful they are.
I realized years ago that by being visibly weird, I had unwittingly made myself a safe space for the other weirdos, including (and maybe especially) the ones that are trying to fly under the radar. Or, in the case of kids, the ones who were similar to me when I was a child: different, but without the ability to really express how either in words or manner of dress. By choosing a style and form of self-expression that stands out, I was giving others permission to break out of the social boxes they were chafing in.
Over the years, I’ve come to agree with Pagan teacher, author, and proprietress Laurie Cabot about “looking like a witch.” Witches, as I hope you know by now, look like pretty much everything under the sun. But our wider culture has a specific look ascribed to us, and Laurie Cabot took a vow many years ago now to be visible – to look like a witch. Once upon a time I rolled my eyes about it, but I now know that she’s a thousand percent right.
In video games and some tabletop roleplaying games, there’s a position called a Tank. Tanks are players with the ability to take fire. They act as a distraction or target while their teammates accomplish other tasks. Within the alternative world, we have Tanks too – they’re people who can tolerate the chafing that happens when they deliberately press against the status quo. And, by doing so, our Tanks are creating space for other people to grow, explore, or just have a moment of feeling less alone. Laurie Cabot is a hell of a Tank – she’s been taking fire for us for many decades now. I’m trying to do my part to be one too.
These days, I fly the weirdo flag deliberately. When I’m offering a sermon at a congregation, I consciously choose clothing that shows the tattoos on my arms. I wear jewelry that offers a nod to my Heathenry, or to Paganism in general. I choose to stand out so that others will feel empowered to as well. In the communities I serve, I want the message to be “you are safe to be yourself with me.” If I bring my entire self to community, perhaps others will feel empowered to do so as well.
Visible weirdos like me are also a reminder to the conformity police that their way is not the only way. I like being femme-presenting and also alternative. By choosing to dress and wear my hair as I do, I am demonstrating that the expression of femme gender can be a lot more expansive than the narrow set of traits our dominant culture offers us. I’m a walking, breathing reminder that the culture of the United States is diverse in many ways. For people who exist in a conservative or otherwise restrictive echo chamber, seeing an adult like me is a necessary reality check.
Representation is important. Seeing people like ourselves in shared spaces helps us feel like part of the greater tapestry of society. It’s a reminder that we matter, that we’re part of the community, too. And for people who struggle to dress and behave in a way that allows them to blend into mainstream culture, seeing a weirdo out and about can be like a breath of fresh air. There are alternatives available that still allow us to be part of the fabric of society even if it means getting odd looks from time to time. We don’t have to edit ourselves down to the barest outline of a personality just to get by.
Not everyone has the freedom to dress as they wish for a host of reasons – employers, family, neighborhood issues…there are many justifications for flying under the radar. But if you can afford to take a little fire, to roll with the odd looks and occasional rude questions or comments, to stand in your unique identity and telegraph that uniqueness to the wider world, I hope you do. Even when you don’t realize it’s happening, you’re giving other people hope that their uniqueness will be accepted. As within, so without, right? Let’s fire that weirdo beacon up a little brighter to help the others find us.
So, how do you like to show your weird to the world? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your idea is exactly what another witch needs to see.
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