I saw the Imitation Game yesterday. I had known how the story ended. Very few educated people with the same predilections as mine can’t have known it. It is one of those innumerable lessons that you learn, directly or indirectly, when you grow up liking something different, when you grow up into someone differing significantly from society’s expectations.
Life was difficult. I did not possess as a child the temperament which lent itself to the mores of my society. Nor was I particularly good at effectively faking societal moulds. The family environment was not conducive, to say the least, to learn anything useful from elders. I was told that growing up would make everything easier. My mother hoped for it. So I grew up, out-of-sorts with the world I was placed in, and learning to mask sensitivity with blankness (I took particular relish in marking X on the Karnaugh Maps), and learning to replace people with books.
Growing up made nothing easier. I hit puberty late, but long before that I had already known. I had seen beauty where only men were supposed to have noticed. I had not particularly felt drawn to any cricketeer, film-hero or heart-throb that my friends and acquaintances felt drawn to and raved about. I had no interest in teen romances, unless they were of a very different sort.
“Was it better in your home state?” someone asked me recently.
I suppose it had been. At least, I remember that it had been so (though nostalgia is a rose-tinted beast). My mother was supportive. Most of those who knew me well knew and let it be. My father is progressive, though I believe the limits were stretched by the time I had grown up into who I am now.
There had been harassment. There very often is, not just for predilections, but even for simply having a different opinion. Is bullying harassment? I have seen it all my life to the point where I don’t get affected by it any more when someone attempts it. It is rather difficult to say anything hurtful to me, because someone beat you to it years ago. There is still pain, of course. There is still pain in memories. There is still pain and surprise when someone intimate and trusted says something hurtful. That, though, is a human experience, and not punishment for daring to say something different, or do something different, or be something different (What if I can’t help it? I had asked that when I had been a child and still wanting to know, when I had still wanted there to be as many candles for Joseph as there had been for the Virgin).
My mother often says that I am better off here than where I had been. I ask why. She reminds me of all the occasions where she had to run interference (neighbours, acquaintances, teachers, friends, family – all asking the same question ‘Why doesn’t your daughter do this? All the other girls do.’, ‘Why can’t she adjust?’, ‘Why can’t she understand that boys will be boys?’, ‘She’s too arrogant – why doesn’t she mingle enough?’, ‘Why does she read so much?’, ‘Why doesn’t she talk with enough respect to elders?’). Nobody asked the chemical castration question. Of course, they didn’t know. Perhaps it is easier to not attract attention on the matter when you are already attracting negative attention over everything else.
It was a society that favoured men. It was a society that understood only heterosexuals. I was unfortunate enough to not fall into either category. I had no patience for the insipid courting techniques of the men of my age, or any tolerance for the women who tried to make me take interest in the institution of marriage. Despite trying sincerely, I did not get into a socially acceptable career for women. I loved my Kalman Filters and robots, I loved my unsystematic exploration of mathematics, I loved my pen and the writing that flowed, and I loved my hyacinth. It was then sadly inevitable that I grew up and away from the friends of my childhood, having little in common. I thought that I’d make new friends someday, friends who had more in common with me, and I hoped. I hoped for that until very recently.
It was a society that favoured groups. There were groups of people bullying a loner. I had never had anyone to hide behind. It was good training, in a way, preparing me for the industry I am in today. If you can’t have individual opinions, if you can’t defend your opinions by yourself, you hide behind the wall of groups. Most men and women I have had the misfortune to fall afoul of placed great value on groups coming to aid in petty quarrels. This proved to be difficult to deal with for the child I had been, when I had thought better of people (everyone is kind, inherently; why aren’t they acting so? why are they so cruel?).
It was a society that didn’t understand loyalty. The most difficult times of my life were brought about by defending someone I cared for. I can’t stop to think when rushing to help someone I love. I can’t stop giving chances to people I trust. It often brought me great grief. It was considered weakness (you are too emotional, you are too weak).
A great deal is made of ‘outing’ yourself. To me, it seems as if there is a societal expectation that everyone will be notified if you are different. ‘Tell us, tell us everything about you that we can judge,’ the crowds clamour. I don’t think that being a friend or being family gives anyone the right to demand (guilt-trip) someone into spilling information.
There’s the all-embracing, tolerant friend, who says ‘It is just a phase (and you have my support during the phase)’, ‘Now that you have tried the real stuff, you’ve grown out of the other thing’. How long can you justify calling it a phase?
“So they came up with the bright idea of using KNN for building tailored models.”
“Scipy + Apache Mahout. 52 hours for training.”
“We should maybe help.”
“No, we shouldn’t,” my very wise colleague tells me.
I still want to help. So I go to them. It is someone from India. It is a man from Bangalore. He looks at me with contempt and condescension. (I have seen this look very many times over the course of my life. How dare you be good at something you shouldn’t be good at?)
I try. I honestly try to draw him into conversation, so that we can speak about how to reduce the 52 hours (I know so many easier ways).
“That didn’t go well, did it?” my colleague asks later, when I return.
“When will you learn?”
It is a difficult lesson to learn, and a more difficult one to accept.
Chemical castration is not something most people have to worry about, today, regardless of what their predilections are. Still, there were at least 49000 who had definitely suffered in a country that is considered progressive.
And perhaps the next time you speak to someone who doesn’t fit in with your ideas or values, you’ll be kinder. They are usually very eager to help you if you are only a little kind, you know.
“So are you or aren’t you?”
“Some of us are qubits.”