RuPaul, the fabulous and renowned drag queen, is known for her philosophy “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else?” After I took some time to mull this idea over, I realized that there was a lesson that could be learned for everyone, even the most privileged and “normal” among us. As an anthropologist, I’ve become relatively comfortable unpacking the ways that culture, media, and society shape our behaviors, our desires, and how we see ourselves. Lose twenty pounds in two weeks! Man up—no pain, no gain! The Bible is against homosexuality! These are just a few messages that have permeated culture and have become a set of dominant ideologies. No matter who you are, the stories and messages that other people and society tell us every day have shaped us into who we are and what we want to be.
When you think about it, none of us really fit perfectly into the expectations and norms of society. Growing up in a conservative town, I learned very quickly that being gay meant that I was an outcast—an outlaw, living outside of the social expectations and dominant narrative that I was supposed to be straight. It also didn’t help that I was a nerdy little kid, who really enjoyed playing video games and watching fantasy shows on TV. Just as easily as being gay had made me an outcast, so did being the nerdy gamer kid. Many aspects of my childhood had positioned me as a “queer” child, both in the sense of being attracted to other boys as well as being weird and strange.
Looking back on that now, I have come to realize that there is a great transformative power in being able to recognize my own outcasted-ness, my outlawry. Being able to live outside the dominant social narrative and really embrace who I am has really made me grow to love myself and grow to love other people in my life who also live in outlawry. To some extent, there are aspects in all of us that make us fall outside of the norm; we’re all a little weird, a little strange, and a little “queer.” Our own quirks and oddities are what make the world beautifully diverse, and challenging society’s norms of what it means to be a “good individual” opens up the opportunity to embrace who we are as well as promote a sense of cultural transformation. Realizing that we all at some point in our lives occupy a position at the margins of society helps realize that none of us can completely conform to society’s mold. Instead, realizing our connectedness in a shared sense of outcast-ness, we can work together as outlaws across our differences to push social norms and truly build a world that thrives on our uniqueness, quirks, and diversity. Ultimately, if we fail to embrace the outlaw inside all of us, then we can never really love ourselves enough to build a world loving of others.