On “Passing” and Sticking Out

When I first left home for college, I wasn’t afraid to stick out. I still shared my parents’ beliefs, and there was something satisfying about the shock on a person’s face when she learned that I had twelve siblings. I don’t think anyone could have known me for five minutes without knowing that I was homeschooled K-12, because I let them know proudly. I gladly defended creationism in class, and the incredulous stares didn’t bother me, because I knew I was right and they were wrong. I had been raised God’s way, and they had grown up in “worldly” families.

As my views changed, sticking out got old. REALLY old. I stopped broadcasting creationism or arguing that women’s place was at home, because I no longer believed those things. But some things were harder to change. Passing as normal is much more difficult than simply leaving the beliefs I was been raised with.

One sticking point is my lack of cultural knowledge. Someone mentions an actor or a personality everyone has heard of, and I get a blank. Some of that can be fixed by learning more about popular culture, but there’s so much I’m missing that it doesn’t always matter that I now know who Leonard DiCaprio or Justin Beiber are.

A second thing that makes me stick out is that I don’t have the educational experiences others have. Someone mentions something about band, everyone else jumps in with input and anecdotes, and I’ve got nothing. It doesn’t matter that I now know what high school pep rallies are, because the currency of the discussion is personal experiences not abstract knowledge.

A third factor that makes me seem different is the large number of siblings I have. I generally don’t mention it if I can help it, but sometimes I can’t get around it. Today, for example, I was sitting in the doctor’s office answering questions about my medical history, and you should have seen how high the nurse’s eyebrows went up when she heard the answer to her question about how many brothers and how many sisters I had. Having twelve siblings definitely makes me stick out.

So what does it mean to “pass”? It means nodding and pretending you know what someone is talking about when they mention Chaz Bono. It means trying to find some common experience, anything that seems normal, to share when people are talking about their experiences in public school or the teen years. It means not mentioning how many siblings I have if I can possibly help it. It means pretending to be normal.

Then there is the question of what to do if it doesn’t work, and if your attempt to “pass” fails. Do you explain, or just let it go? Sometimes I explain that I was raised Quiverfull, and what all that entails. Sometimes I just shrug, and change the topic or leave the conversation. It’s about picking your battles. When is it worth it to explain, and when is it simply not worth it?

It will also get easier to “pass” as time goes on. The longer I’m out in the normal world, the more cultural knowledge I’ll pick up, and as my daughter goes to public school I’ll gain even more understanding of the common experiences everyone else has. I’ll never live down having twelve siblings, but the older you get the less that comes up. Perhaps passing for normal will become easier with time because, as the years go by, I will become more normal.

If you were raised Quiverfull, fundamentalist, or what have you, what stories and tips do you have about trying to pass as normal?

Note: This post is not to say that it’s a problem to stick out, or that I’m ashamed of my past or feel that I need to do anything possible to fit in with the group. I would never try to “hide” where I come from from my friends, and it’s not that I have a problem sharing where I come from with total strangers or chance acquaintances. Sometimes those sorts of discussions can be really interesting, and very educational. It’s just that sometimes having to explain can get old. Sometimes the looks can get old. Sometimes I want people to see me for who I am now, not for who I was. For example, if you grew up in the Branch Davidarian cult but left during young adulthood, would you share that with everyone you met? Of course not! My past may affect me, but it doesn’t define me today, and it’s not something everyone needs to know about. It’s just that, with things like my lack of cultural knowledge or my dearth of common experiences or my mega sized family, it’s sometimes hard to keep my past under wraps even if I want to. And that, not a desire to hide who I am, is the point of this post.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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