Now, I defiantly pride myself in being a womyn who's confident in her abilities and speaks up when necessary, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve always been this way. I've actually spent most of my life trying to be softer, quieter, and less visible to the world around me. Conformity is something I’ve struggled with in the past and continue to struggle with today, so lets get real about it.
There isn't an era of my life so far where I’ve really “fit in.” I mean, aside from the fact that I’ve been taller than most since early childhood, I’ve just always been one of those strange only kids, and growing up tall & strange had its fair share of disadvantages... During pre-school I remember caretakers expecting a certain level of maturity out of me, solely because I stood inches above my classmates. I was expected to be more obedient, borderline docile because I “should know better at my age.” (Ugh dude, I’m like, six-years-old... What do you want from me?) Essentially, they demanded I conform to the ideals of a child twice my age because I didn’t look like your typical six-year-old, and unfortunately, I had no choice but to go along with it.
Middle school was really no different. Everyone expected me to be something, so I did everything in my power to please them and blend in... None of it worked. Every sport under the sun? You name it, I played it. Clubs & associations? Yeah, I attempted them all. Volunteer work? HA, working for free as an early teen? I wasn’t having it, but I did enjoy art & music, because they were pastimes I could do all by myself. So, I spent my days hiding out in the art rooms of my schools… Until I started noticing some familiar patterns.
My 9th grade art teacher sent me to the principals office, on what seemed like a weekly basis. She expressed that my artwork was “far too dark” for her classroom and that the subject matter of my pieces was “wildly inappropriate” for the light hearted nature of her assignments. “Well known artists are aloud to offend people, because they are well known, Franceta. You are my 9th grade art student. Offend people on your own time, please!” *eyeroll* She meant well, but needless to say, she wasn’t with it. She asked that I re-do her assignments. To conform to her art norms, and I did.
Then there was my 11th grade music teacher. He started turning down my sheet music, claiming it was was “too difficult to decipher.” This was bullshit. I had played the tenor saxophone for three years prior to this class and I *knew* I was able to decipher it just fine. I remember requesting Maceo Parkers “Chicken” as my midterm selection, because it was badass but mainly because it was something I wasn’t going to get sick of playing for 5 months straight! “Now you’re just being obnoxious… Maceo Parker? Come on, Franceta…” This teacher… He didn’t mean well at all, he was just a guy who fell into teaching as a backup plan, so he *defiantly* wasn’t with it. Again, he asked that I pick a simpler piece of music. To conform to his guidelines, and I did.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2016. Thesis year of design school. We are given free rein, asked to create something that solves a problem. My mind immediately screamed, diversity! It was fool proof. I was going to craft blueprints for what would become a publication showcasing diversity & inclusivity within the creative community of Toronto. I thought the idea was genius... My professor? Not so much. “How is this necessary? What does this solve?” She couldn’t see it, at all! To her, there was“no obvious problem to be solved here.” *long annoyed sigh into the universe* So here I was, yet again, being asked to conform. This time I didn't. I went ahead with the original plan… only to pass the class with one of the lowest grades I've received in all 5 years of post secondary.
Now, I had been asked to conform before, yes... but this was different. This wasn’t some racially jarring 9th grade art piece I created to piss off my white classmates. It wasn’t some midterm music assignment I was trying to stunt on for shits and giggles either. This was a passion project. This was something that affects not only myself, but those around me. This was something I believed needed to exist and I was being told “No. Its useless. There is no need for this. You are wrong. You can’t do this. You need to conform”, and I wasn’t having it. This, was my breaking point. This, was the moment I realized that conformity, is not part of my brand.
One of my all-time favourite quotes is by activist Assata Shakur. It goes “Only the strong go crazy. The weak just go along”, and I must say, it sums up exactly how I feel about conformity when it comes to creativity. The strong go crazy in this industry. We go crazy because we dare to attempt things that are deemed “far too dark”, “wildly inappropriate” or “difficult to decipher” by our peers. We go crazy because we lose hours of sleep over our visions, yet somehow manage to find the time to dream about all those vivid little details. We go crazy because we have been told to tone it down our entire lives, and we just won't. The weak? Well... The weak create meek and mild substitutes for the masses. They begin to doubt themselves and as a result, pander to the needs of randoms, losing sight of the vision and reworking it to fit within the guidelines of societal norms. The weak go on to become… Oh, I don’t know… High school art & music teachers, because someone probably told them they weren’t good enough and that they should conform, and they did. The weak, they just go along.
I refuse to just going along. I believe that my ideas are important. That my point of view as a queer womyn of colour, is necessary. That my art is valid because I enjoy creating it, even when it makes those around me uncomfortable. That my designs are valid because they bring brilliant ideas into existence, even when they are seen as inessential. That my blog is important, even when I am being inconsistent, because I get to document this process and connect with those of you who choose to come and read about my journey. I believe that I myself, am strong and valid, even if those around me can’t seem understand the objective behind my actions. Who I am isn’t for everybody, but I will under no circumstance conform to please those who are unsatisfied with what it is I have to offer.
Most of my life I’ve had to conform. To the rules of my teachers, to the rules of my peers, to the rules of society. I'm done! I will not abide by rules that don’t exist, made up by people who aren’t contributing to my well-being. I hope that none of us ever feel the need to conform because the expectation of "the norm." I hope that we are able to take as much time as necessary to reassess our needs, compare them to our beliefs, and then make decisions for ourselves.
If you're ever feeling the pressure to conform, close your eyes for a moment, take a deep breath, remember who you are and remain strong; Because conformity? It's for the weak, and thats something you’re just not… Weak.