We hear it all the time. "Everyone is different." "Just be yourself." When you're trying to sell makeup and clothes, you don't want to try to go into detail about how these statements affect the way you relate to the people around you.
"Wear Swanky-Swank product, and when you see someone else wearing Other Brand you can start talking about how your sister wore that brand one time and it made her face break out in hives and she went crazy, got fat, and DIED."
The flip side is, of course, you wear Other Brand and someone tells you about how their sister broke out in hives, went crazy, gained weight, and died. You suddenly get very defensive because you've used Other Brand for years and you love it! HAVE YOU EVER READ A COMMENT THREAD.
We do that. We project. We have valuable life experiences that help us grow and mature, but then we turn around and extrapolate them to the entire human population. All the while telling ourselves that every person is special and different (specifically, that I am special and different).
Apart from our own valuable life experiences, we'll hear a story. And then we'll hear that same story somewhere else. Pretty soon you have a stereotype, a common story that many people share. We heard several of them from people we know and trust and identify with, so it solidifies in our minds.
Then we hear a different story. A story with a different ending, with a different middle, with a different beginning. We feel that our selves, our friends, our loved ones, our intellects have been attacked. We run to defend what we KNOW is right. After all, I'm special and different, I'm the one who's going to explain my side because my special and different mind has all the right answers. HAVE YOU EVER READ A COMMENT THREAD.
I think the problem here is that we don't see stories as stories. We don't want stories, we want answers. We want to know what to do. We want to tell people what to do. But all the while saying, "Everyone is different. Be yourself. Express yourself."
But express yourself in the way that I understand you need to express yourself.
Here's a TED Talk. (Everybody loves a good TED Talk, right?)
The Danger of a Single Story
Some of you already understand why I'm writing this. My fiancé and I recently shared our story about our relationship and Ethan's same-sex attraction.
Here's that for you if you like:
Voices of Hope: Ethan and Allison
Comment threads happened. Albeit, more respectful than typical internet threads, people have heated opinions.
When I started writing this post, I was writing to address some of the concerns that people who think we're making a mistake had. Because my experiences and the stories I've heard lead to a different end than the experiences and stories others have. I quickly realized that explaining my side of things isn't the only problem. Everyone knows that no matter how much you explain yourself, people are not likely to change their opinion. But there's this pent-up energy to defend what you know is right for you.
Of course I want people to change their minds and agree with me. But I've realized that what I want and can actually have is for people to simply accept that my story is mine. My first step in that has been accepting that their stories are valid. That my story isn't the one and only reality.
Am I still going to write about my side of things? Absolutely, that's part of my story and there are people with sincere questions that I'd love to answer.
But why do that when my story isn't the one and only reality? Well, it's a part of reality. And while everyone is different and special, people have many things in common also. Just like there isn't one single story of a place or type of person, all the stories aren't unique, either. There are intersections and loops and turns and crashes and confusing Yahoo! Maps directions. People still need to hear the things that are similar. People need to know that they aren't alone.
We didn't do Voices of Hope to tell all gay men to marry women—that's absurd. We did Voices of Hope because we have made a decision and want to share our story. We did it to connect with other people who want something similar. Someone who listens to our story, sees one way it intersects with their story and knows that they aren't alone. So we can share ideas and build on each other and figure out what the heck it is we want out of this life.
I am sorry about the not-so-good stories that have been shared with us. Those are real, painful experiences that are completely valid. But I see the similarities, and I see the differences. Please don't try to shove it down my throat as the one reality for mixed-orientation marriages. It's a part of the reality of mixed-orientation marriages, but it's not the whole reality.
My story will keep going and not just about this one topic. I will keep exploring my relationship with a man who's into dudes. I'll keep trying (and probably failing) at cooking. I'll keep laughing and tripping and falling and hurting myself. And I'll keep sharing.