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On "weirdos" vs. "executives" - Baxil [bakh-HEEL'], n. My Sites [Tomorrowlands] [The TTU Wiki] [Photos]
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March 9th, 2007
12:44 am
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On "weirdos" vs. "executives"
I mentioned in my previous post that I try to personally steer clear of the "executive freak" vs. "weirdo freak" distinction. I wanted to take a moment to expand on that, because this dovetails very neatly with something I said over in lupagreenwolf's journal recently.

Now, there are going to be (to borrow Eddie Izzard's coinage) "weirdoes" in every movement. The people who just make you stop and stare. The ones with no apparent sense of community responsibility and a narrow focus on something that manages to make no sense to anyone but them. The infamous ones, who make you inwardly wince when someone outside the group inevitably recognizes them and paints the entire group with that brush.

I'm sympathetic to the common arguments for weirdo exclusion. People passionate about a subculture understandably don't want their public face to be obnoxious and out of control; fringe ideas have enough trouble getting taken seriously that a full-on embrace of the weirdoes can poison the rest of the group's efforts.

But too often, splitting a group out into "executives" and "weirdoes" has ... well, exactly the advertised effect: it shatters the community. Self-righteous battles over who's "really" a $group_member and who isn't welcome there produce a lot of splinters, sharp edges, and cause people of good faith to tiptoe around the whole area lest they find themselves impaled. (I'm sure any Otherkin or pagan can name some immediate examples of the phenomenon here.)

The groups that have dealt with this most successfully have taken a big-tent, small-platform approach: Invite the weirdoes in, but don't let them set the agenda.

Because the truth is, you can't keep the weirdoes out -- but you can, in any of a variety of ways, drive away the executives that legitimize you. Being too exclusive will generate confrontation and drama that makes your most down-to-earth members run away. Being too extremist-driven will do the same.  Either drives the executives underground, and once they're there, they can't provide the good public faces that earn you quiet respect.

So it's been my experience that actually trying to make the "executive"/"weirdo" distinction is counterproductive. Let the executives and weirdoes sort themselves out. To the extent that anyone can tell them apart, anyway. ]B=8)


(The original comment I made, slightly edited for clarity:)

One thing that I've also appreciated about the pagan and Otherkin communities ...

I like the fact that there's a place for virtually everyone. It's very rare to find such a diversity of beliefs within a group ostensibly united by common spiritual ground. I like the "ask ten pagans the same question, get eleven different answers" aspect of it.

I like the fact that it's a disorganized and fractured social group. I like the fact that it's broad and labyrinthine enough for everyone to find their own tiny little niche, and yet still claim the broader label.

And you know something? I like going to conventions, meets, rituals, etc., and finding people who will talk at me for ten minutes about the personal significance of the tattoo of The Watchers (from the "Highlanders" series) that they're getting on their wrist; or people who will ramble about how happy they are being someone's pet; or any of a hundred other things that fall into TMI territory.

In other words, I like the things that make a lot of folks run away screaming.

Not necessarily for their own merits -- but because they're the best metric I've found for an atmosphere where people feel safe in opening up, which is comforting and too damn rare. And also because I'm always inspired by the vast and incomprehensible range of human experience; understanding the personal worlds of people who have a wildly different framework for reality than I do enriches me.

... Yes, I do know that this makes me a weirdo. ;-)

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(6 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:March 9th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
A certain gather organizer (Thresholds! nag nag) friend of mine has been facing a lot of issues about What To Do With Problem Folk for the upcoming event and asking around for thoughts, and this is perfectly timed. Thank you, you've brought up relevant points with some perfect wording, in the same vein as what a lot of us are coming up with. If you don't mind, I'm going to throw this post at Rialian.
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Date:March 9th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)
See, my problem with letting only the executives show their faces to the public is that it reinforces the idea that only "normal" people are fit to show to the public eye, and that paganism is primarily made of executives. I see no reason why a transgendered person can't be as good a representative as a cisgendered person of the pagan community, or why a well-spoken person in Goth gear can't be as reliable as a well-spoken person in a suit.

And dammit, I like my weirdoes ;)
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Date:March 9th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
I think it's a pretty fine balancing act when one is bothering to present for people outsie the fringe group. Gone too far one way, a group fails as per your cookie-cutter comments, gone too far the other, no one is taken seriously at all. A really good example of this is the struggle the gay community has had for ages, where on one side outlandish Pride events have the surrounding city 'tsk'ing and associating the average well-mannered gay individual with the most outlandish TV coverage they'd seen, and on the other HRC gets condemned by a lot of the community for being "gay white republicans just like you" and not fairly representing anyone in a quest for acceptance.

This is why I really resonated with Baxil's let them in but don't let them set the agenda" comment. Don't pretend the weirder elements don't exist, don't fall into some conformity-for-respectability trap, but don't entirely derail what you're trying to accomplish, either. Also, I think a well-spoken person in Goth gear sort of counts as the more executive oddball we're talking about here. The well-spoken, knowledgeable friendly bit itself sometimes is the most important distinction, compared to most of the flakey whackjobs one finds in kin/pagan communities.
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Date:March 9th, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
True, I can see that. And I think that was part of what i was trying to get across with the TG vs. CG argument--while, to my perspective TG folk aren't "weird", by society's standards they still are. I don't want the pagan community being presented as something that is wholly white, cisgendered and middle-class suburbia.

Also, I think you've clarified the executive oddball thing for me--thank you.
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Date:March 9th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
To which I'll throw down in favor of diversity. Even at the cost of including freaks and flakes.

When I first started going to UM's Hillel services, I really enjoyed the commitment and level of interest in Judaism as a living tradition, exhibited by the Reform group. Unfortunately the group really fell apart after the really active people (guess that includes myself?) graduated. The rest of the people at Hillel, and a lot of what I've seen of Jews before and since... it was incredibly offputting! The community seemed to be largely well-off college educated types with roots in the northeast, a cookie cutter respectability which made me feel completely out of place.

Even though I'm not really a practicing Jew here in California, I do feel a lot more comfortable with the idea that I'm Jewish. I can credit this to the weird mix of Jews I've met while out here. Thanks to my buddies, I now feel that I, as a poor, blue-collar, tree-hugger, animist-leaning, possibly-Otherkin DOD brat from Georgia, has as much claim to being Jewish as the most staidly conservative Chicagoan who pulls down a good salary.

But you notice it took me forever, and being around a diverse group, to get there. It'd be a real shame if paganism as we know it went down the path of cookie-cutter, well-off respectability.
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Date:March 9th, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
I've noticed this myself with what I called the "whitebread" and "fringe" camps, at least in the pagan community.

I really hate anything splintering, especially as the group has so few members to begin with and needs all the numbers it can get.

Of course, most "mainstream" media does us no favors by immediately going for the most extreme elements of anything outside of itself.
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