Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

This post was inspired by an invitation to participate in a synchroblogging theme. So here goes…

First of all, it’s interesting that the topic is “seeing through the eyes of the marginalized,” because one of my dear friends and companions on the road is a blind woman. I cannot fully share in her journey, but sometimes I’m privileged to walk alongside of her. She, indeed, is marginalized.

My mom lost her sight prior to losing her vision. (She had a series of mini-strokes, or TIA‘s that caused blindness, then dementia caused by years of cigarettes. If you smoke, quit now.) Servers in restaurants would treat my mom like she was a rock or a pet, or maybe a pet rock, by addressing questions to me: “What would SHE like?” My mother invariably responded in anger: “SHE is blind, not deaf!”

That said, here we go:

Long before I knew I was queer, I grew up feeling … different. I couldn’t put a name on it. I couldn’t exactly touch it. I couldn’t even talk to any of my friends about it. I just knew I was somehow … different.

I finished high school early. I didn’t know what to do with myself. This was the late 1960s. The Vietnam War was going on, and had been going on for years and seemed like it would continue to go on forever. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated; others too — killed for their beliefs and trying to make the world a better place. Along with many of my friends (even the cheerleaders and jocks), I was a pot-smoker, which was a way of trying to self-medicate and to try to make a sad and brutal world “normal.”

But even if you were somehow able to strip off these layers (impossible, since this was so foundational to my being), you’d still find someone who felt … different.

So I decided to go on the road. After a few nights staying at the YWCA in Long Beach, I hitchhiked up the Pacific coast. I had grown up in a family with pretty much nothing so it wasn’t daunting to me, but I really learned how to be a survivor on this journey as I went. There were numbers of other young people on the road, and we talked and shared tips about places to get free food, places you could sleep for free (“crash,” in the lingo of the times). I spent a few weeks in Berkeley (of course). Then I took off for the unknowns of America.

Again, the social and political climate of the country was always Vietnam, always included counterculture and civil rights. Hitchhiking was a way of getting from one place to another, but there was a price: the fare that I paid was listening to the stories of those who chose to pick me up and give me a ride. Sometimes my ride would be a short one; other times it would be hours — even days — and the driver would open up and reveal his or her soul to this anonymous teen-aged stranger who was briefly sharing a time and space with him or her. I learned about difference. I learned that even people who looked very mainstream and conventional had stories to tell, stories that they had never or rarely been able to share — not because they couldn’t articulate these stories, but because they had never found someone they felt safe enough to be able to open up with. And so I had a long series of intimate encounters with strangers as a traveled around the country in search of myself.

My point in this is that we are all somehow marginalized. The football player on a scholarship who really wants to be in country music. The housewife and mom who wants to go with me. Sure. But mostly people who are mostly happy in their day-to-day lives, but have something deep in themselves that makes them somehow … different.

At some point I got tired of living on the road. I had worked a number of jobs along the way, but I got to the point where I was mostly tired of living off of the kindness of strangers. I headed back to Southern California. I got a job as a campus organizer for an anti-war organization, which led me to some folks working on the McGovern for President campaign who offered me a job. Guess what? Back on the road, working a number of state primaries.

Again, more good people helping out, and hearing more stories from these people.

After the general election — after we lost, the country lost, and Nixon was revealed to be Nixon — I went off to college in Northern California. I fell in love with a woman, and I discovered my identity as a sexually “different” person. (This can certainly be the source of another post or 1,000, because I really don’t believe that any two people have the same sexual identity or orientation, but that we’re all as unique in this as in all other aspects of our lives.)

But here’s the deal, here is what I learned from life on the road, from others’ stories, and from my own experiences: being marginalized is something that is imposed on us, not something that is a real status. It is an attempt by others to push me, and anyone else who somehow identifies as being … different, to the edges and beyond. It’s my mom saying that she wasn’t an object, a non-entity — but was a real someone to be reckoned with. So my strength, my own identity grows through my pushing back!

In that way, being “marginalized” is a good thing, and I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

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26 Comments on “Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized”

  1. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  2. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  3. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  4. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  5. Liz Says:

    Sonnie – Wonderful insight – I was totally captivated by your story.

    If you get a chance please add the links to the other synchroblog posts – you can find them at the end of my post “Step Away From The Keyhole”

  6. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  7. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  8. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  9. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  10. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  11. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  12. kathyescobar Says:

    sonnnie, thanks for sharing & being part of this synchroblog. what an interesting journey you have had & i love your thoughts…ps: my dad was a hippie in northern california & i have a letter he wrote to me when i was a little girl in whatever year that election was and it says “peace, love, and vote for mcgovern!” 🙂

    • heysonnie Says:

      Hi Kathy. That was in 1972. Wow, that was a long time ago! I read an article called something like “George McGovern: the Best President Who Never Was,” and I agree. He had this radical idea about spending money to feed people instead of killing them. The Prairie Populist. I still love him. The nation had a choice between good and evil that year. Evil prevailed.

  13. Sonnie, this is the first time I’ve read your blog, but I REALLY enjoyed your post here. Thank heavens for Synchroblog!!

    Thank you for your authenticity and transparency in sharing your journey. As someone who doesn’t feel like I’ve ever been marginalized, it’s critical to who I am and my own personal/spiritual development to be in relationship with folks who have experiences like your own.

    P.S. Have you ever contributed to You should, if you haven’t!

    • heysonnie Says:

      Hi Peter. Thanks. I haven’t contributed to Queermergent, although Adele and I have been friends for a long time — online and even in person. I guess I should say that I haven’t contributed there YET.

  14. Annie Says:

    I like this a lot. I used to try to make a distinction between being marginalized and being marginal. Being marginal suggests a real status–you really are on the edge of something. But marginalized is active–you’re actively being placed in a position at the periphery. That doesn’t mean marginal is the sum of who you are and it doesn’t even mean you really are marginal. It all depends on where the center is.

    • heysonnie Says:

      Hi Annie. Thanks for reading my post. I could have included Jesus in this. He spent his life and ministry both on the margins and among the marginalized, and it was only when he went to the center that he got in trouble. What does this say to us about our lives and how we should live them?

  15. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  16. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  17. […] Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized […]

  18. wmccaig Says:

    “So my strength, my own identity grows through my pushing back!” Love that statement. I work with the homeless and so many of them don’t know they can push back but over the years I have seen some discover that they have a voice and that they have power and when they do start to claim their own identity it is a beautiful thing. Thanks for sharing your journey. Great post.

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