the ugly duckling

ugly duckling

CAUTION: this post is angry. Read on at your own risk.

I’m sorry guys, but I have to rant. I’d love to be able to post positive things more often, but positivity is just not what I’m feeling right now. I’m working on it every day, so it’s not for lack of trying.

Every time I return to my hometown I feel less and less welcome, and the movement between Asheville and Augusta becomes more difficult. It’s not that I ever fit in well here – throughout high school I grew used to being almost always alone (unintentional alliteration) in my beliefs and at odds with others because of this. I was “that Jewish-tree hugging-hippie-feminist girl” (with big boobs). I couldn’t wait to leave the state of Georgia to go off to college. Then I got to Asheville. My college experience thus far has not been exactly what I expected/hoped, but being at UNCA has certainly made me feel more accepted than Greenbrier High School ever did. And no, it’s not because it’s a “hippie school.” While there are many liberal leaning folks in Asheville, what I love more than that is the way that students are encouraged to speak their mind and be who they are. We’re freaks and weirdos and it’s great. And our opinions are validated – that doesn’t mean that we are always told that we are right (clearly this couldn’t possibly be true). It simply means that our voices are heard, instead of silenced. My opinions have been challenged many times – inside class and outside of class, by professors and peers alike.

Many of my friends seem to think that I’m getting a “biased education,” as they call it. They think that I am only presented with one way to look at things and that I am somehow brainwashed into liberal thinking. News flash – I’ve always been a liberal. Now I’ve just learned how to argue my case more effectively. And do they really think that they are getting a less biased education than me going to college in the Deep South? I’m not saying that one set of beliefs is right or wrong – I just don’t see the harm in being open-minded. What is it they say? If you’re too open-minded your brains might fall out. Oh yeah, really convincing argument.

Unfortunately, now I fit their stereotypes more than ever before. I am a vegetarian and I am growing dreadlocks. I have also become a far more outspoken feminist than I was in high school. It would be an understatement to say that my evolving identity hasn’t been well-received. I have changed, yes. People change – it’s called growth. I have become more educated on certain issues and yes, I feel passionately about them. I’ve been asked if my feminism is “just a phase” that I’m going to get over…..…no. As long as I’m a women (and a human being, for that matter) I will be a feminist. Feminism is not all that I am (although I’m often reduced to just that), but it is a large part of me and where my beliefs find a home. I feel very strongly about certain movements within feminism and so naturally this is part of who I am as a person. I am an advocate, as my mom has always encouraged me to be. She continues to be my biggest advocate.

While this is empowering to me, it’s apparently outright obnoxious and unladylike to others. Even some of my closest friends have expressed annoyance at me for vocalizing my beliefs. I’m usually fine in social situations – as long as politics, international relations, social issues, gender, and the environment aren’t mentioned (so basically everything of importance to me). I often feel that I cannot express my opinions in fear of alienation. I can speak my mind with my family, although they sometimes disagree. But it really heightens my insecurity to feel that I can’t be honest in my views, especially around friends. Around those that are not my friends I often feel that I am not even taken seriously.  Just another dirty hippie, what’s she doing in Augusta? I ask myself the same question, my friend.

I don’t mean to whine, but I’m deeply upset by all of this. And actually, I don’t have to apologize for how I feel. Here’s the good news: my professors and friends at school have encouraged me to be passionate and get involved. They have supported me and praised me (when it is deserved), and provided constructive criticism (when I’m slacking). I’m not put up on a pedestal; I’m not rewarded for nothing. My professors see something in me that I don’t think most people see. One told me that he admired my social conscience and thought that my last essay in his class was “wise.” Another told me that I am a rock star and that he is glad to call me his friend. They speak not only to my academic performance but to my character as well, and their encouragement has gotten me through this past semester. I am very thankful for the professors and counselors at school that took the time to get to know me and went out of their way to provide support when I needed it most.

So I guess I’m a bit confused when I come home and I’m no longer wise, but obnoxious instead. No, I don’t need everyone to like me, much less agree with me all the time (that would be boring). But it would be nice if my opinions were given a chance to be expressed and I could be taken seriously intellectually. It is frustrating to say the least. I do grow tired of sticking out like a sore thumb in my own hometown.

I am thankful for a family that loves me no matter what, even if I am a dirty hippie.

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