A Good Name - pt 13
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woohooligan Jun 12, 2016
woohooligan NEW! Check out our best laughs from 2016!
George Eliot said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been." George was one of the most influential writers of the Victorian era, with novels including Middlemarch and Silas Marner. And I think George should know about reinventing yourself, since he was actually a woman by the name of Mary Ann Evans.

Before writing her first novel, Evans was already a well known editor and critic. Women writing novels was readily accepted in Victorian England, yet Evans chose the pen name "George" anyway. Why? Because at the time, anyone reading "Mary" on the cover would assume the book was a fluffy romance novel. Mary wanted to be taken seriously, and for that, she needed the man, "George Eliot". Or so she said. She also lived with a married man, George Henry Lewes, for over twenty years. Few people accept non-monogamous relationships even today, much less in Victorian England. If people found out you were writing seriously about morality while having "an affair", you'd be bidding your literary bona fides a fond farewell.

I've had plenty of run-ins over the years with preconceived notions. How many people on hearing that I'm autistic have said, "you don't seem autistic?" How many people on hearing that I identify as pansexual have assumed that means I'm a sex addict who's constantly prowling for anyone with a pulse? How many people on hearing that my wife, Tiffany and I identify as polyamorous assume that we must have a giant org-chart for our relationships? I break all those stereotypes. Yes, I have occasional fantasies about men, but sex is just one small part of my life. Yes we're poly and if we met the right people, Tiff and I would have more romantic partners, but we've been too busy with work and kids in several years to seek them out. Yes, I'm autistic, but I also work very hard at making friends and connecting.

To be honest, I don't think any of these things make me unique or even particularly unusual. We like to understand things, because things we don't understand are potentially dangerous. If you go hiking in a strange wilderness, you have no idea what kind of animals you're going to encounter. Certainly most of them will leave you to your own devices, but you can never be sure you won't run into the odd honey badger or spotted hyena (one of the few animals that eat without first killing their prey). And one of the great benefits of having an evolved brain like ours is that we can imagine scenarios we haven't yet seen. That's a key ingredient in our ability to solve problems. It can also be a key ingredient in causing problems when we rush to fill in the blanks for things we don't know. So we hear that autistic people have "flat expression" (my younger daughter, Calli has this in spades), and some of us then rush to assume that means they don't have emotions. We hear that a person is pansexual and some of us rush to assume that means they're an addict who sleeps with anyone with a pulse.

It's a popular bit of conventional wisdom that we shouldn't worry what other people think. "Hater's gonna hate," as they say, but while there's merit in that idea, I don't think any of us genuinely find it especially comforting. Unfortunately we can't always discount the rushed judgements of others or of the public at large. "Hater's gonna hate" only gets you so far. It's like saying to a skydiver, "gravity's gonna gravitate" -- yes, yes, that's true, but as I step out of the airplane for the first time, I'm probably still going to lose control of my bladder. Urine's gonna urinate as it were.

The opinions of others, especially public opinion, can have dramatic consequences on our lives. You probably know who Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stalone are. Did you know that both of them starred in porn films when they were much younger? Does knowing that change the way you think about them? If not, do you think it would change the way people you know would think about them? If you were in their place, would you want people to be generally aware that you had performed in a porn film? It's easy to say "well just don't make porn!" And while that might be good advice for most people, can you really say you've never made an honest mistake that might have earned you a bad reputation? How many people have been fired for stupid tweets? The last one in that article is a guy who got in a weird ego-battle with a TV star over a $3 tip at a restaurant. The actress obviously could afford to pay the bill and the tip, so it's likely it was just an honest mistake on her part. And while the waiter didn't have to rush to judgement and make a stink about it on Twitter, I'm not sure if I feel a little misunderstanding like this rises to the need for someone to be fired.

Or what about situations in which you did nothing at all and a bad reputation found you anyway? Is that so hard to imagine? In many circles all you have to do is smoke pot or admit that you're gay... or be black... or Asian or Latino or Muslim or Sikh. In theater there's a term for actors being pigeon-holed into particular roles, we call it "typecasting". And while there may not be a word to describe this in other contexts, it's no less prevalent. Nineteenth century slave-owners in the US insisted that black people couldn't be educated. There are some who say that because I'm autistic, I should just be happy to continue being a software engineer and not press my luck trying to be a comedian or cartoonist. And in George Eliot's day, there were plenty who believed that women couldn't write serious literature.

This is why it's so important for us to reserve judgement when we hear stories. It's important that we rein in our prejudices and allow people to be human and not only make mistakes, but also to simply do things that we might not personally like. When we lose the benefit of doubt, we can live to regret unjustly hurting someone else.

But in the long run, I think George Eliot was right. It's never too late to be what you might have been. Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stalone were able to overcome the stigma associated with some of their early work. I can overcome the challenge of not only being autistic, but writing about controversial subjects. And Trayvon Martin can still make the world a better place.

As always, thank you for reading! This year has been incredibly challenging for me. Speaking of becoming what you might have been, I'm working on changing careers and if you enjoyed this, if you want to see more, you can help! My goal is to replace my disability and become a full-time comedian/cartoonist by January. Every little bit helps, every dollar a month pledge, every share on Facebook or Twitter. And in addition to all the work, I'm also publishing monthly progress reports to keep me honest. :)

You are an important part of Laughter for a Better World!

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