I am waiting for the 4 train at Fulton station. Bodies surround me like a parade of run-on sentences. We are all experiencing this madness of human congestion together. I am pressed against the wall because there is nowhere else to lean. A human walks past me wearing legs longer than Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Another passes me by and if I were to press adjectives shaped as boxes into their skin, they’d all combat each other. Some humans just cannot be labeled. They are rare; they are unclassifiable.
Or. Maybe I am looking at this all wrong. All humans cannot be labeled. We are all rare; we are all unclassifiable.
In a recent article by Laura Haines about the complexity of gender, “Not as Simple as XX or XY”, she wrote, “…rare is not a reason to dismiss possibility or to dismiss a real person’s humanity. Rare still exists. Rare walks around and has feelings, faith, needs, and rights. If anything at all, rare should move us to expand our horizons along the planes of love, grace, and acceptance.”
I spread this quote onto the board at school and ask my students what this means to them. We break down the various meanings hidden inside rare: unique, different, other, special.
I ask them: Are you rare? Do you want to be rare?
This conversation comes out of one that arrived a few weeks ago when we were discussing the openness of identity. Can someone choose their identity? I asked. And can it change? Or must it be static?
When we are approached by something or someone we do not understand, it can be difficult to know what to say. It may feel like a challenge to learn them. Sometimes we just walk away or we make assumptions. This just creates a further gap between us.
A student answered, “It’s confusing when I don’t know how to approach someone.”
I said, “If we judged every book by its cover, we’d be severely disappointed. The best parts are the words. You miss out when you don’t even take a moment to peer inside.”
In an interview, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “You are your body” and in class we talked about all the ways we are pushed out of it. When we do not look like someone recognizable, we are isolated. Called names. Misunderstood.
In a world where we are replacing our tongues with loaded guns and speaking through them, I fear that we are forgetting the beauty of rarities. When I don’t understand something, I ask questions. A lot of them. I want to understand. I want to learn the language of as many identities as I can; in fact, I am still learning mine.
I want to be rare and I want to live in a world where oddities are celebrated, not removed.
Just think of every time you learned a new word and it brought you closer to seeing more clearly, to articulating yourself more and the world around you. People….especially the rare ones…can offer you that too.
Aimee Herman is the author of meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA, 2014)