Marloes van der Sommen
Now, “different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty
“Pretty” is what it’s about
I never met anyone who was “different”
Who couldn’t figure that out
So beautiful I’d never live to see
But it was clear
If not to her
Well, then to me
That… (At the ballet, Marvin Hamlish, Musical: A Chorus Line)
All my life I have been concerned with the 'concept' of being different and what that actually means. Certainly within my work to make archaeology on different levels more diverse and inclusive. At first sight I easily fit into the 'standard-compliant' picture, and yet I never fit in… And everyone around me felt it. And everyone around me made that known in a subtle, but also less subtle way. Relatives, classmates, mothers of classmates, teachers… It is not surprising that the song 'At the ballet' from the musical A Chorus Line resonated with me early on. It told me that even if you're different, once you find your place, you claim your space, it doesn't matter that you're different. And that you can still shine.
The final season of 'Pose' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pose_(TV_series) ) has launched and once again 'being different' resonates with me. I empathize with all the characters who have to fight hard to be who they are, because the world expects them to fit in a box, because they have to move in a space that is far too small for all that they are and what they can yet become and achieve. could be. And that got me thinking.
For a large part of my life my being different was not called 'different' but 'weird'. I was weird. And that hurt. As if there was no place for me in this world. Now I wonder: how long will our world find people who are different 'weird'? Has that always been the case? And how do we see that reflected in history, how does that also have an impact on our finds in archaeology?
When I think of people canonized by the Catholic Church, I suspect that being different has long been weighed differently. For example, hermits or hermits (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermit ) were not only accepted for a long time, but often admired or even canonized. Could it be that these people were looking for a stimulus-free environment, like many neurodiverse people in our time?
And then you have the saints who had visions or heard voices ( https://www.churchpop.com/2015/10/28/5-saints-who-had-terrifying-visions-of-hell/ and https://hearingthevoice.org/2011/01/14/test-blog-1/ ), nowadays you get a lot of medication prescribed for less than a few voices.
There have been several studies into the link between anorexia and saints (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anorexia_mirabilis ). Now I'm not saying 'be different, have an eating disorder, starve yourself to death', but it does show that we deal with people who are different in a different manner and so maybe we also have to look to the past of people who are different in a different manner. Maybe not use 'normal' glasses to really see them.
Ok, so we can get that from history, from texts. Could it be that 'being different' in the past did not lead to being excluded from society, but sometimes gave you a special position? That that gave you a position as an artist, inventor, sage or even saint? And how do you see that reflected in archaeology?
Well, you know, I think that the repercussion in artefacts is often only visible to someone who can look at them with those different glasses. Maybe it's not about having a special position, but about having a normal and very everyday position of people who were 'different'. And we don't pay much attention to that in archaeology either.
Because why do we assume that dents and bulges in the pottery found by us are intended to be decorative instead of, for example, an aid for people with a visual impairment? Why do we assume that if we find a grave with 2 people of the same sex in it that it is a man and his servant instead of a grave of two lovers, why do we often assume that when we make a reconstruction of a skeleton that the skin colour was white? Why do we never look at an adjustment for someone to be able to move more easily when finding irregularities in a house floor plan that we have never encountered before?
The term "weird" has long held me back from understanding who I was, who I could become. Now that I know it's different, and that's not the same as "weird," I embrace me being different. In my search for solutions, my thoughts often take different turns than is the case with many people, and that means that I can also claim space for others.
I have now acquired a position in which no one will call me 'weird' anymore, at least not to my face 😉. Now I am 'innovative, 'creative and even 'a freethinker'! No idea if I can live up to that last term, but it's an honour to even be associated with the term (https://www.amsterdammuseum.nl/en/exhibition/freethinkers/4951), and it gives me the freedom to be the bridge builder I want to be.
This morning someone asked on twitter what my dream is. It would be fantastic for me if we find room in archaeology for 'being different'. An exhibition space about being different in the past, in which we give people who are different the space to see our finds through their glasses, their points of view. Space in the curriculum of our educational institutes in which we give students the tools to enter into a dialogue about being different. Allow others to show us archaeologists what we don't see, what eludes us by wanting to see everything through 'norm-neutral' glasses.
Who will help me find that space and provide that space?