Growing up Vanilla

     I remember the day I first realized I was a heterosexual.  Well, actually, I don’t remember that. I suppose one day I learned about homosexuals and decided I wasn’t one.  I was “normal,” with no need to adjust, adapt, or cope with anything.

     I remember the day my parents explained to me that I was white.  Well, actually, they never brought it up. Growing up in Vermont, it was years before I discovered there were non-white people. After I had moved to New Hampshire, during my high school years, two black students from Connecticut came to attend our school. I remember that the boy was good at athletics and was generally liked. The girl was a little outspoken and abrasive, and people used to wish she were more like the boy.  He was nice. On the whole, however, they were interruptions in the “regular.”

     It was the same thing with being a Protestant Christian. Though I heard about people who would “Jew you down” in a business transaction (talking you into a lower price), I had no idea that there was a religious reference involved--or that there were other religions. (I knew people might “gyp” you, but I had no idea that comment was related to gypsies--although I had some image of them.)

     When I was in elementary school, I knew one family who were “Catholic,” whatever that was, and they went to church in another town.  That seemed weird to me, although I had no idea what it meant.

     At some point, I learned that girls were “different.” They had special deficits and special needs. They were human but they weren’t exactly boys. They were missing some parts.

     Whereas many people have had to learn to deal with being “different,” typically in ways that cause them problems in our society, I grew up vanilla, with none of that. To be sure, I was poor, but so was nearly everyone I knew. The few rich people were different, too, but I suppose I would have been willing to cope with their marginal status. As far as I knew, I was absolutely ordinary.  Some other people might have special, different, unusual flavors.  But I was vanilla.

     Then one day I realized that vanilla ice cream was a FLAVOR. It wasn’t neutral or plain.  Similarly, my own vanilla status was also a special flavor; it wasn’t “just the way things are” or the way things are “supposed to be.” I grew up in a culture, with particular characteristics that had all the same elements and meanings as the cultures and characteristics of other people: gays, blacks, Jews, women, etc.

     Many, many years later, I was shocked to learn that my “vanilla” status was a distinct minority in the world at large.  Not only were there people different from me--I was outnumbered. There are more of “them” than “us.” 

     Hope they like vanilla.