The Grammar of Purple People

We hate some persons because we do not know them; and we will not know them because we hate them. –Charles Caleb Colton

When we envision a person we generally assume that, of course, the individual in question is:

And probably a few other things that I haven’t thought of, too. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define purple people as those of us who don’t fit one or more of these assumptions.

Much of my identity is somewhat to fairly easy to puzzle out for anyone who reads this blog regularly.  I’ve talked about the ways in which I differ in the past and will bring them up again in future posts.

For the Record

I am deeply unashamed of who I am as a human being. I also highly value privacy, though, and the idea that not everyone we meet needs to know everything about us right away (or even at all.) Knowing someone’s name, befriending them, even sharing the same ancestors, workplace, religious or political beliefs, hobbies, or hometown doesn’t give anyone the right to unfettered access to the life of anyone else. If we want to share – and  doing so is often a very good thing – we will share!


What responsibilities do those of us who live outside of the box have for thePeople That Don’t Get It(tm)?

Unfortunately too often we see labels, not people. That it is common doesn’t make it less dehumanizing. No one is just any one aspect of their lives so my modus operandi about certain things is to give people a chance to know Lydia-the-person before they learn about the labels and the nouns and verbs behind them that describe me. Sometimes labels stick anyway and the person I am still ends up hidden behind  the grammar of being whatever this new friend thinks I ought to represent after all. If they know me as a person first, though, they’re more likely to thereafter see Lydia before they stumble across the grammar of my identity.

Being purple also takes a great deal of energy because we  have to be exceptionally good examples. If someone from the mainstream says or does something hurtful, ridiculous or just plain dumb, it only reflects on them as individuals. If a purple person says or does the same thing it is often misunderstood to mean that all purple people agree with him or her. Sometimes I’m happy to expend extra energy by letting new people I meet know right away that I’m purple and proud of it, by answering questions and correcting stereotypes and reminding everyone I meet that labels were never supposed to be an exhaustive description of any of us. At other times, though, I just want to have a nice meal or read my book or go hiking or do anything other than listen to other people’s ideas of who I am, what I think, and what I do.

Is This Fair?

By not always mentioning my affiliations and identities upfront, am I perpetuating the very myths I want to break? How will other people shed their  ignorance if they don’t meet ordinary people who don’t fit the stereotypes of whatever group it is that they don’t understand?

On the other hand, how is it ok to expect one person to carry the weight of an entire group? Asking that seems to perpetuate the idea that, for lack of a better term, there are typical people and then there’s everyone else and that the rest of us must not hesitate to answer even the most repetitive, inane questions and should expect to hear “but you’re not like the rest of them! You’re different!” when someone says something offensive.

There’s also the issue of discrimination. Some people are wonderful when they learn more about my identities. They understand…or maybe they don’t quite understand yet, but they love and support me and ask questions instead of making assumptions about whatever it is that confuses them.

Others don’t understand and don’t want to listen. At this point I only give as much information as can be digested at the moment. When they absorb one fact, I’ll give them another. If they reject it our relationship will probably continue to be much more superficial than my relationships with those who do understand. The door between us remains ajar, though, and I never truly know when they may choose to walk through it after all!

The Bottom Line

People earnthe right to certain aspects of our lives. The breadcrumbs are out there; if asked I won’t lie (although I may change the topic if too many labels or assumptions crowd out the conversation). I simply don’t see the benefit in revealing such personal matters to anyone who genuinely doesn’t want to listen.


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6 Responses to The Grammar of Purple People

  1. On the other hand, how is it ok to expect one person to carry the weight of an entire group?

    I don’t think it’s ok. A person should get the choice as to whether they want to be a representative of a particular bent or not.

    However, I personally find it easier to be “out of the closet,” so to speak, in regards to my various differences, but I don’t think that my way is for everyone. I find it easier to just let everyone (friends, family, workmates, etc.) know that I’m polyamorous for a couple reasons: 1) I find it mentally annoying to hide any aspect of my life from the people I interact with, and 2) I prefer to have them know ahead of time that I’m not actually cheating on my wife if I happen to be flirting, or on a date, with someone else. 🙂 Likewise, I always make sure that the Christians I associate with know I’m a heretic (liberal, Universalist, etc.), as it means I don’t have to explain myself as much later.

    But, as I said, it’s not for everyone. 🙂

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  3. teresa

    What a great article, Lydia. I think you are a wise woman. It is wisdom to understand that some people aren’t ready to digest ‘all of who you are’. Giving them what they are able or ready to handle is such a wise decision. Too much up front, and it may tend to overwhelm them. I sometimes feel I ‘deserve’ to be understood and heard. Those are the times I may not hold back and the end result is not good.
    It may not always be easy to hold back part of who I am, but in the end, I think we are all happier…even if some of the people I know are living in ignorance about the ‘real’ me! Cultivating a peaceful life…it’s what I try to do!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Teresa.

      It can be a difficult balance to find. I’m sure there are people in my life who could handle more than what they know about me but it’s so hard to tell beforehand, you know? I’d rather err on the side of caution at least in certain situations.

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