photo by youngjun koo for

photo by youngjun koo for

Recently, I was shocked to hear a new client tell me, “I don’t want to be gay, I want to be normal.”  I have heard other clients say things like: “Gay men are such a mess, I just want a normal guy” and “Where are all the healthy, normal women in this town?”

What  is “normal” anyway?  Here are some possible definitions I found on various Internet sites:  standard, usual, expected, regular; common, typical and conventional. As you read these definitions, don’t they sound incredibly boring? They sure do to me.

You might be surprised to know that, in general, psychology doesn’t put a lot of value in the concept of “normal”. It’s an awfully vague idea, you see. What is more useful is the concept of “healthy”. Psychological growth – the business I’m in – is all about finding YOUR OWN idea of healthy and happy.

My idea of “normal” probably isn’t the same as yours. Indeed, how could it be? I grew up on a farm in Ohio; you probably didn’t. My parents were conservative, Republican atheists; yours may not have been.  I never lived in a place with more than one stop light until I went in college, you may be a native New Yorker.

Since our ideas of “normal” come largely from our experience, the idea of “normal” is really a story we tell ourselves of how we think life should be.  And, often, that story brings us nothing but unhappiness.

If our life doesn’t appear to match up with the culture’s idea of happiness, then it’s tempting to think that we’re doing something wrong, and wrong = abnormal. Let’s get beyond simplistic ideas like right and wrong and instead ask more useful questions like, “Is this working for me?” and “Is my life, lover, home, job or social life bringing me what I want?” I think these are much more useful questions than wondering if we are “normal” or not.

And, really folks, do you want to be typical, average or “the usual”? Where is the creativity, the individualism, the fun in that? If you aspire to be some kind of LGBT “clone”, I’d bet it’s because you’re afraid to be yourself. You probably think no one would like or love you if they really knew you. The sad thing is that if you try to get people to like you, they never see the real you and may not like the façade you put on to try and appear “normal”. See how messed up that cycle is?

Fear is normal’s best friend. Confidence is its opposite. Fear tells us to fit in, don’t make waves, make other people happy. Confidence inspires us to be uniquely ourselves, even if others don’t like it.

Goethe said, “You get no points for consistency.” I think he’s saying that as life changes and gives us new information, consistency isn’t always the best approach. Change and flexibility, while difficult and uncomfortable, are the norm. Ooops, I mean, are helpful.

Often, when we come out of our closets, we have a fixed idea of what “normal” should be, and it’s usually chock full of stereotypes. Many people don’t want to come out of their closets because they’re afraid that they’ll never be “normal” if they’re LGBT. All the requirements for “straight-acting” men on Internet dating/sex sites are a continuing sign that ideas of “normal” for all too many of us remain rooted in heterosexist culture.

Holding onto someone else’s ideas of “normal” usually brings us only unhappiness.  And honestly, few of us will ever measure up to straight or LGBT culture’s ideas of “normal”. And if we do, we won’t measure up for long, because they change. One year normal looks this way, and next year it looks another. This can be crazymaking if you try to change yourself to follow the norms.

Instead, let’s move beyond ideas of conforming to the conventions of being average, standard, predictable, common or conventional. As LGBT people, we have a long and glorious history of breaking the molds and inventing new ways of living and loving. Let’s not settle for “normal”. We can do so much better than that.