Personal Experience Spotlight: Kristin Despina

Fringe Benefits

I was out at a club last night. Two groups of my friends who no longer interact with one another were also there, and there were a couple points during the evening when I was literally “in the middle” of the two aforementioned groups on the dance floor. Or, as an impartial third party who was there with one of my groups of friends and unaware of the dynamics of the situation observed, I was “always off to the edge of the group,” on the fringes of things. I responded that that was pretty much the story of my life, and it reminded me of my poor, neglected little website here and the way that – when I first set it up and began promoting it – I was encouraging people to share their own stories to be posted on the site, yet hadn’t shared my own.

The main reason why I started this site in the first place, and why an all-inclusive revolution of acceptance that provides a sense of belonging to anyone who’s ever lacked in that department is so vitally important to me is because I’ve personally never felt that I really “fit” anywhere. While I’m fortunate enough to be comfortable in my own skin, content with the physical body I was born into, any kind of “perfect fit” has ended there for me. And the thing is… I also don’t even really fit into a hard-knock life of serious struggle either. As I’ve told every therapist I’ve ever had (not a ton of ’em… I can count them on one hand), I really didn’t have it all that bad growing up: I wasn’t abused; nothing seriously traumatic ever happened to me; my siblings are awesome, I consider them to be two of my best friends, and we have each other’s backs unconditionally. As said therapists pointed out to me, however, I also grew up in an environment where my thoughts, opinions, and feelings weren’t always validated; even as a little kid, I remember my mother scoffing at me and nicknaming me “Sara Heartburn” whenever I would get upset over the silly little things that seem like such a big deal when you’re small. In addition – regardless of whether or not it was actually the case – I grew up feeling like the “black sheep” of the family, starting from a very young age when I couldn’t yet grasp the subtle nuances between black and white, good and bad. My mom always had this little thing she’d say about how – if she were to draw a literal line in the sand and tell all three of us that we had to stay behind said line – my sister would have been a foot behind it, my brother would have had his toes just touching the edge, and I would have been five feet away on the other side with my hands on my hips waiting to see what she was going to do about it. Between that and her fond ruffling of my sister’s hair coupled with explanations that my sister was “[her] compliant one,” I believed that my being strong-willed was a negative thing, when in reality, it was actually the primary thing I was born with that would help me to go beyond surviving to thriving; I came with what I needed already in hand in that department, stuffed it way down inside, and have been on my uphill climb to rediscover and retrieve it ever since… funny how life works out that way. And, probably like many children, I began my quest to do just that by rebelling in pretty much every way I could think of, proudly rocking the “black sheep” mantle I felt had been bestowed upon me, figuring – as I’m often apt to do – that if I was doing time anyway, I may as well at least commit the crime.

I began – according to my mother’s retelling – with displaying the black “X’s” from when I had missed days on my childhood “good behavior chart” to my grandmother as my “black stars” with every bit as much pride as that with which  I displayed the gold star stickers I had earned for the days I had behaved. I questioned everything, bucked the envelope in every way I could possibly think of, and it all came to a head where my mom was concerned when she found out about my having a serious girlfriend when I was in my early twenties. I wasn’t an innocent party in that scenario, mouthing off at her for being a hypocrite because she had criticized the parents of a friend of mine from church who had kicked him out upon discovering he was gay, saying, “How can they call themselves Christians and then turn around and treat their own child that way?” I pointed out all the ways in which I felt she was doing the exact same thing until she lost it, lunging across the room at me and escalating our verbal altercation to a physical one that resulted in our not speaking for almost a year, finally burying the hatchet when my grandmother’s then-in-remission breast cancer came back and metastasized, taking her from us in a matter of months. Truth be told, I don’t know how long reconciliation between us would have taken otherwise, and it was a good year and change after that before I started responding with more than an “uh huh” or “you too” again when my mom told me she loved me.

I didn’t really fit in with my peers either. Again, it wasn’t any kind of extreme level stuff like a lot of people experience, but I remember spending recess sitting on the playground by myself reading a book (I’ve never been the most athletically inclined) in elementary school. My mom home-schooled me through junior high, and when I went back to public school for high school – naively anticipating that it would be like high school on TV – I was in for the rudest of awakenings. This came in the form of a group of “mean girls” who adopted me and then turned on me to the point where I began hiding out in the bathroom during sophomore year lunch period. It was all very strategic; the night before I would freeze a McDonald’s soda cup, which I would leave to thaw in my locker during my morning classes. I had a Spanish class  where an alphabetical seating chart placed me next to the “mean girls'” ringleader right after lunch period, so I took to waltzing into class armed with that soda cup and an explanation that I had gone off campus for lunch so as not to raise suspicion or let her see that she was impacting me. I fared a little better when I transferred to a tiny private Christian high school for my junior and senior years; the school was so small that there wasn’t really any room for cliques, so it was all-inclusive in that respect, but the stereotypical staunchly religious and narrow viewpoints that were perpetuated there never really resonated with me.

And, in college, when I finally began exploring the notion that had cropped up during my senior year that maybe the reason I was never really here nor there with boyfriends in high school was because I was into girls, I found I didn’t really feel I “fit” in the gay community either. People knew me and liked me at the local stomping grounds, but even there, I was always on the fringes, never really finding any genuine connection or sense of community and belonging with any one particular group. I was everyone’s “go-to” when there were tensions and drama between various individuals and groups that required an objective, third party listening ear (and, in fact, I’m still that “go-to” when my friends are in need of advice).  Sometimes, yeah, I would get caught up in whatever was going on and that whole phenomenon of being unable to see the proverbial forest for the trees would take hold, but nine times out of ten, I would ultimately realize it really had nothing to do with me. So, in a way, I guess I was kind of a part of, yet separate at the same time. While it’s an entirely different level of experience, of course, I think this is one of the most primary things that has helped me relate to the transmen I’ve dated, several of whom have also expressed to me never really fully feeling a sense of belonging within the gay community. It’s also the reason why, last night, when one of my friends who was part of the falling out between my two groups of friends wasn’t sure if I’d want to talk to her as a show of loyalty to the other group, I made a point to inform her in no uncertain terms that that’s simply not how I roll: “I’m your friend, regardless of who may or may not be here,” I told her.

I guess, for me, that’s the real benefit of being on the fringes, of fitting in everywhere but nowhere at the same time. I’m not going to lie, there are definitely times when it can get a little lonely out on the edges, but  (at least when I’m able to regain my bearings in those moments when – being only human and all – I find myself getting momentarily swept away or drawn into things that I’m not completely a part of), I think it gives me a clearer overall picture in the long run. As firmly as I believe that everyone deserves that place to belong, I also believe that it would be so much easier to achieve that and that we would all be so much better off if we could only learn to see the forest for the trees.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2012

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