Let me tell you a story of when I was growing up. Imagine the warm sunshine of Spain, in the now-distant early 1990s, before the internet (culturally) shrunk the world. It was just as a happy childhood gave way to more complex teenage years. I spent hours in my room, feeling different, on my own and thinking too much, but isn’t that what most teenagers do?
Aged 22, while others were out having fun, I wrote a serious poem against consumerism in our society and discovered complex families with Eugene O’Neill. I felt like a fish out of water at big social gatherings. I hated buying shoes (never having owned a pair of high heels to this date) and putting on make up.
Growing up can be painful. It took me another decade to embrace my contradictions, so instead of wasting my energies longing for everything and nothing, I was able to move forward, towards becoming the person I am.
I realise now that I had a painful lack of role models of what was needed to grow up. I wanted to listen to stories about women in my family circle who didn’t conform to society’s expectations. This wouldn’t have been easy for my grandma, mum and aunties, in a society that constrained women. So as I grew up, I found those voices through books and films, and stored them in my head for later use. I imagined one day I would have a daughter and I wanted to be able to tell her what I had learnt: that non-conforming is fine, that it’s good to be the person you want to be, that nobody is better or worse than anyone else for being different.
So I learnt about Katharine Hepburn, who wore slacks, had a non-conventional love life and lots of talent (and after whom my daughter is named). She owed no little of her outlook in life to Kit, her amazing mum who was a social campaigner and birth control pioneer and who challenged the patriarchal views of the family guardian, so her orphan sisters could get the right education. Then I found Maya Angelou, and although I didn’t always agree with her, I was always in awe of her talent and her strength, as she survived child abuse, poverty and prostitution to reinvent herself a talented singer, dancer and writer, showing that life loves those who dare to live it.
Everyone has a role to play to make the world more inclusive, so that differences are valued and embraced instead of merely tolerated, so that the word ‘normal’ no longer will need to appear in the dictionary. Because it’s very OK to bend rules or break traditions.