Did you ever get the feeling that you don’t belong
Said, t-teacher in the classroom I think there’s something wrong
But your desks are too heavy and your walls are too white
Your rules are all wrong and it’s either run or fight
But I’m still running, I’m still running
Sleater-Kinney, “What’s Mine Is Yours”
My dad is an Episcopal priest, and I remember him telling me about attending an ordination of his peers while he was a seminarian in New York City in the early 1970s. When the Bishop asked the candidates for ordination to rise, not only the men who had recently graduated from seminary arose, but so did the women. At the time, only the men were officially allowed to be ordained, so the women’s rising was an act of protest. My dad told me that at the time, he was irritated that the women would disrupt such a sacred occasion to make their protest. How rude! However, as the years passed, he came to understand that this protest, however socially inappropriate it seemed at that time, was a great and necessary action that led to women becoming priests and bishops of the Church.
This past week, another brave woman, Jennicet Guttiérez, a trans woman of color, dared to be perceived as “rude,” to speak out about our own government’s human rights abuses of immigrant trans people, thereby disrupting President Obama’s remarks during a Pride celebration at the White House. President Obama’s response was to scold her at length about how she was not adhering to the expected social-behavioral norms of a guest “in my house,” whose purpose is, if I’m understanding correctly, to eat “the hors d’oeuvres,” drink “the booze,” just be grateful for the invitation, and shut up like a good girl. Meanwhile, with Vice President Biden at his side, grinning and backslapping gamely, enabling the scolding like some kind of frat boy, the President also had some other helpers in the crowd–white cis gay men shushing, or worse, booing at Ms. Guttiérez, and some even trying to take nonconsensual selfies with her as if she were a spectacle for their entertainment. President Obama did nothing to try to counter the actual rudeness–the racist-transmisogynistic cruelty–of his other guests, which would in fact have been a very appropriate use of his authority at that moment.
Expected behavior. “Suzy, you are not displaying expected behavior,” is a familiar kind of Umbridgian phrase to neurodivergent people. It is not uncommon for this phrase, or alternatively, “You are being socially inappropriate,” to be used abusively against neurodivergent kids, particularly in school settings. For example, an Autistic kid might be having yet another meltdown or shutdown because of continual sensory overload–because the school environment is crowded, has bad acoustics, and is thus inaccessible to them–and, instead of being offered gentle, calming support, be scolded for their meltdown in the name of “unexpected behavior.” Or an Autistic child might be stimming while at school–flapping their hands because it is both a joy and release of anxiety–and be scolded for that because “socially inappropriate.” In either case, neurotypical social norms are privileged over the well-being of the neurodivergent child, all because “the house” and its social-behavioral norms are assumed to belong only to the neurotypical. If your very being means you cannot play by the rules of the neurotypicals in charge, you may even be thrown out altogether (which actually does happen to neurodivergent people in our education system and in many other settings).
Getting thrown (or scolded or booed or “counseled”) out of a privileged institution for daring to honor your own and others’ marginalized humanity over questionable social rules, as Jennicet Guttiérez did, is not shameful. It may be deeply traumatizing, which is also important to consider before attempting a conscious act of rebellion, but honorable it is and shameful it is not. Honorable because it may well end up being one step towards your own and even towards your marginalized community’s liberation. What is deemed socially inappropriate today may be embraced as socially essential tomorrow.