Book 5 of 52: Denial by Jonathan Rauch – I’m…Part Three
Best Little Boy
I thought I was unique, but then I recently read an article in Basic and Applied Social Psychology called “The Social Development of Contingent Self-Worth in Sexual Minority Young Men: An Empirical Investigation of the ‘Best Little Boy in the World’ Hypothesis.” The hypothesis goes back to a book called “Best Little Boy in the World” that hypothesized that “young sexual minority men learn to deflect attention away from their concealed stigma through overcompensation in achievement-related domains.”
It is a strange position to be in where you want to fit in completely and just hide in the shadows, but at the same time, you want to excel to take any glare off of another part of your life that you don’t understand. In a recent New York Times editorial, Adam D. Chandler wrote about this article as a coming out of sorts to millions of readers. He described how he wanted to fit in. “I copied how the boys at school sat in their desks, with their knees apart. I observed how they wore their backpacks, using only one of the shoulder straps.” But he was also an overachiever – a Harvard law graduate who grew up trying to distract with good report cards and success.
Rauch made a similar point that I believe was even more true for me regarding being normal: “[l]ittle boys and teenagers want many things, but most of all they want to be normal. The desire not to be strange is not, I think, the callous invention of a capitalist or racist or sexist or whateverist culture which seeks to repress human beings’ explosively variegated diversity. It is, for people, an indivisible part of the socializing instinct.” I didn’t want to be abnormal in another form. Everyone told me I was smarter than the average bear. I was far weaker, shorter, thinner than most boys my age. I did not have a large circle of friends and I never felt normal socially. I felt like an outcast in almost every fashion of my life.
Chandler wrote at the end of his piece, “The flip slide of discovering you’re not alone is the melting of your presumed snowflake uniqueness. Now I’m a statistic, another data point, just an ordinary overachieving closet case.” He is right – that feels bad. There are fears that my drive will reduce. There are fears that I will still end up alone. But instead of having excuses, it does feel nice to be a statistic for once, where my actions and reactions were more normal than not. A little normalcy can go a long way.
Yeah, I wasn’t unique at all in my reaction. And strangely enough, that doesn’t bother me one bit now. It feels good to know that I am not unique or strange or abnormal – at least in how an adolescent reacted to figuring out his differences. I just wish I could go back in time and tell 11 year old Dan just that.
Continued in Part Four