I like to tell people I was raised in the circus. I wasn’t really, but in this modern age where circuses are almost obsolete, and where no person can live solely off an artistic lifestyle, I was raised in the closest thing to it. We called ourselves “The Mystic Family Circus”, and that we were. Mad characters of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Some danced, some sang, some juggled, stilt-walked, did acrobatics; we covered the usual. We went from festival to concert to late night rave and provided entertainment to whoever felt like admiring the spectacle. We were a sideshow, in essence, but we could be whatever the people wanted us to be.
Growing up with fairy wings strapped to your back creates a wonderful sustained illusion. I was living in a fantasy world. I thought nothing of my eccentricities and would even boast them. Everyone around me lived as free as wild animals, and encouraged me to do the same.
I had a friend named Paradox who always wore huge, billowing pants and jewelry anywhere he could. He rarely wore shoes, and he was an expert in a kind of ritualistic performance called Monkey Chanting. He danced like he was a scarf being thrashed about in the wind. Him and another friend of mine, Moondoggie, were my proclaimed wrestling buddies, despite their half-hearted protests.
There was Jupiter, a loud and flamboyant character who changed costumes every hour and had no decided gender, Patrick, who was a Tai Chi master, Madilena who was a witch, Leighton who breathed fire, Tobias who swallowed swords, there were bellydancers, musicians of all kinds, acrobats, aerialists, and inventors. I never thought much of the significance it all, but I was so in love with life, so happy to be in a place where uniqueness was celebrated.
As I moved through my years of schooling, I saw that my preference for free expression was being tested. I went through a system of public schooling where everyone knew each other all through the years. Everyone lived in the same kind of neighborhood, everyone dressed the same, everyone spoke the same, and those who didn’t were ridiculed. And so, even though I had known these children since I was learning my ABC’s, it took them until the brink of puberty to recognize that I was different from them, and therefore less than.
I quickly began to feel that I was a freak, that I was out of place, and that I didn’t belong. In the years to come I questioned myself and whether or not living the way I wanted to was worth it. I became depressed and even suicidal. I look back on it now and feel stupid for these feelings emerging, but I was young and full of hormones, and I hadn’t yet known discrimination. I got shown clearly that I lived a lucky and unique lifestyle, which many could not understand. It took me a long time to rebuild myself, to become proud of who I am. I understand that my experience was miniscule compared to so many others, but I only needed a taste to see that the cruelties of children were more affecting than many realize.
When I was in 8th grade, a friend of mine took his life. No one really knew what the reason was, but everyone knew he was sad. In the end, the clearest explanation seemed to be the discrimination he faced in school. He was severely bullied, just for being a little different than everyone else. The fact that someone unique had taken their life because the world couldn’t handle them broke my heart.
One in four kids are bullied, or at least admit to being bullied. Children who are bullied are 2 to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than children who aren’t. Regardless, it is well known that public schooling creates an environment where people are encouraged to conform, to choose a category, to not show their true colors.
I am so happy to now be somewhere where that isn’t the case. I can now fly my freak flag high with no worries or reservations. It is important for us to encourage each other to be proud of who we are, and thus be proud ourselves. Being bold encourages others to do the same. We can’t be afraid to step out of the box. We’re harming more than ourselves by doing so.