This photo and its caption should come as a surprise to exactly no one. That’s me in the fall of 1992 with my pal Geoff*, accepting our honors after having been voted “Class Non-Conformists” by our peers. The shot appeared in the Rhinebeck High School yearbook the following spring, and to this day I consider my elected status one of my crowning achievements in life.
(Hmmm. Maybe we should’ve done like the Sex Pistols when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and not shown up for our photo. Rats. Opportunity to not conform missed!)
I suppose it’s more common to want to be elected to another Senior Superlative position—Most Likely to Succeed, Most Athletic, Best-Dressed, or even Class Clown—but Non-Conformist was the only spot I ever cared about claiming. The rest seemed to me to be popularity contests, but this? This was an unpopularity contest. Sign me up!
Of course, it’s easy to say that with my supposed non-conformity I was, at least outwardly, conforming quite a bit with what was at that time the exact aesthetic of the teenage “non-conformist”. But no matter. I’ve been a non-conformist since the day I was born. I blame Youngest Child Syndrome (in a family of non-conformists, no less) for my need to be “different” in order to be recognized, and that attitude has served me well over the years. There was a patch of time in Junior High (surprise, surprise) when I was determined to conform to a more mainstream ideal, but I quickly figured out that it wasn’t going to work. By the time I was 13 years old, I had begun to alter my outsides to reflect the fact that inside, I wasn’t one of them.
I know, I know—it’s all so transparent and expected and predictable (though I will offer up the excuse that small-town America in the early-’90s was decidedly less “worldly” than it is today, and I thought I was pretty darned radical with my dyed hair and my at-home ear-piercings), but looking outwardly unlike the rest of the crowd has always given me great comfort and confidence. After all, if I’m doing my own thing, I’m not failing at doing what everyone else is. Right?
In my mid-30s, I struggle with how to visually express my non-conformity in a way that is fashionable, “adult”, and forward-thinking. I worry sometimes that I look like the rest of the masses, and it’s especially tricky (if not impossible) in New York City to look like an outsider or a free-thinker. I’ve got the insides taken care of, but the outsides? I don’t know. The older I get, the harder it is. All I know is that I still want to belong to the Non-Conformist Club, even if accepting membership automatically makes me a hypocrite.
*Geoff, the huge guy standing next to me, is now a musician and stay-at-home-dad…and still a non-conformist.