Living and trying to be myself in a complicated world
Cards on table. I’m not one of the very clever, successful, people who write on this site. I have a bachelors’ degree in Communication Studies which I took in my late twenties at Coventry Polytechnic, as it then was (it’s a University now). I am now more or less retired after a very average career. I live in a three-bed semi with my wife of 31 years, who is as barking mad as I am. I have a step-daughter who I’ve raised since she was 18 months old and who officially changed her surname to mine on her 18th birthday, using her birthday money to pay the fees, and without prompting. She is currently a single mum with two little girls, the youngest of whom is a Type 1 diabetic and literal force of nature. I have a son who is married and has a little boy of his own. If I venture to make a fatherly/grandfatherly comment, they respond with identical, ice-blue, thousand-yard stares that tell me to stop being a plonker and be myself, their best mate!
I have a short beard and wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m probably at least three stone overweight. I eat red meat, smoke twenty cigarettes a day but don’t drink much alcohol on the grounds that it counteracts the effect of the coffee. Now I don’t have to go to an office every weekday, I live in joggers, chinos, cargo pants and t-shirts. I wear cardigans. I play video games and write fanfiction because I enjoy them both.
I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. I refuse to feel guilty about or to be apologetic for being any of those things. I don’t expect you to apologise or feel guilty about who you are, either. Nor do I expect you to care what I think of you, any more than I care what you think of me. It’s not a popularity contest, and none of us should be expected to put up with anyone we don’t like. People have a right to dislike and avoid me, as I do to dislike and avoid them. I won’t prejudge you, but if you want to prejudge me, go ahead — no skin off my nose.
I walk around with my shoulders back and my head up, as a person should. So I got ticked off for walking around the office “as if you own the place”. It was a Civil Service office, and I pay my taxes, so actually I do own the place, along with everybody else. I also own my own body, and how I move it from place to place is my business, providing I don’t physically push people out of my way.
In a ‘one-to-one’ with my team leader, she said she wanted to talk about my voice. “Oh!” I said. “Am I talking too loud, disturbing people? I’ll pay attention to that, thanks for letting me know.”
“Oh, no, it isn’t that.” Was the reply. “It’s just that…Well, your voice is quite deep, sort of baritone, bass, you know? I was wondering if you could lift your tone a bit? Be a bit more tenor? That deep tone is a bit masculine and threatening for your team-mates.
“Also, could you try to lose the Northern accent? Only Northern men are sexist and racist, so it doesn't give a good impression.”
No to both, of course. I am who I am, and I’m not going to pretend to be anything or anyone else. The team leader -a grown woman, mind - sulked at me for two weeks. Literally sulked, like a six-year-old deprived of an ice-cream.
Then the Section Head. “At the meeting today, you were a bit out of order, you know!”
“Why? I just pointed out that the new work-scheme was over-complicated and wouldn’t work.”
“That’s just it. That’s exactly what you said: ‘Sorry, but that’s too complicated and it won’t work’. You were right, but you could have been a bit less disrespectful!”
I was not being disrespectful, or even rude. What he meant was that I wasn’t being deferential. I don’t do deferential. You shouldn't do deferential, either, any of you. Nobody is that superior to you, whatever they might think of themselves.
“You’re too brusque.” I say what I need to say, in as few words as are necessary. Time is an issue at work. The Germans do more work in fewer hours than anyone else because when they get to work, they work. They don’t natter to each other. I’m not interested in the soccer, the soaps, the reality shows or the doings of your assorted offspring. Here’s what I need from you to do my job, what do you need from me? No waffle, please! And yes, I have walked out of meetings with the words “I don’t need to be here for this. Email me with instructions when you’ve got something for me to do!”
“You don’t engage with the team.” You mean I don’t tell them when my birthday is, I don’t sign birthday cards or contribute to presents, I don’t bring cake and I don’t eat the cake other people bring. I reply to emails abut team Xmas lunches with ‘Bah. Humbug.’ I don’t do Secret Santa. And I don’t hug. Ever. These are the people I work with. They are not my friends. They are not family. By and large, I don’t like them. Most of them have never read a book, and when one of them did, it was Fifty Shades of Grey. I have nothing in common with them except the job. I am courteous to them, I am considerate of their well-being, I do not make unnecessary demands of them or their time. What more is necessary?
My friends are elsewhere, and they have interests in common with me, things we can share and talk about. We don’t bridle when people speak their minds. We don’t cower or panic if someone isn’t quite politically correct. We are not racist, sexist or homophobic, but we’re not ‘woke’ either. We’re just a bunch of ordinary folk, trying to make our way on a path increasingly set with pitfalls and traps designed to catch those who dare think for themselves. Those who speak as they find, judge as they see, and are not compliant to the whims of this months’ zeitgeist. A curmudgeonly bunch, even the ladies, but honest at least, and all equally bewildered.
In todays’ world, how can a simple, ordinary, person like me, who wants nothing more than to get on with his life. who wants the best for everyone and wishes nobody ill, get by? I can’t even join a group or a movement, because I cannot and will not change who I am to be who they will expect me to be. Because nobody will believe that you can be anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia and so on without being a vegan non-smoker!