By Roan Farb – Opinion Staff Writer – [email protected]
Living in Asheville isn’t as easy a choice as it may seem.
Asheville, for as long as I can recall, has boasted acceptance of all walks of life, and it’s often been described to me as a “port in a storm” to alternative lifestyles.
I think that’s a beautiful thing, to know that I can be as weird as I’d like to be in this place.
After all, much of North Carolina shuns things like gender-neutrality, homosexuality and polyamory, to name a few. So it’s comforting to know I’m free to be myself, living in Asheville.
While this city offers a safe and open environment for those leading alternative lifestyles, what does that mean for those who choose to take the “roads more traveled by”?
When I first moved to Asheville in August 2014, I must admit I experienced about 10 times as much culture shock as I expected.
I moved from Waxhaw, North Carolina, a town 15 minutes outside Charlotte.
Moving three hours away, I didn’t expect much to be different up in the mountains.
At UNC Asheville’s freshman orientation, it had been stressed that discrimination on campus and around town was met with an astounding resistance.
I thought that was great, to hear just how safe the administration wanted you to feel on their campus.
As the fall semester kicked into gear, I started to meet an overwhelming, and I really do mean overwhelming amount, of talented and unique people.
Perhaps that’s just a part of integrating to a university atmosphere — getting used to a bunch of young talent around you.
It didn’t feel good.
It was exciting to meet so many amazing kids my age, especially after being surrounded by, well, less captivating peers for years beforehand.
But there was a sour taste to meeting all these new artists, musicians, poets, writers, drag performers, actors, skateboarders, professional gamers, athletes, kids on scholarships, hell, even kids particularly good at doing drugs.
Conversations around campus began to make me self-conscious of what I brought to the table in the big scheme of things, and that’s something I think a lot of students on our campus experience at one point or another.
In my opinion, a bit of self-criticism brought on by peers every once in a while is healthy for the soul, but this was more than that.
In a sense, the UNCA campus became more than just a place for weird talents to fester, it became a pissing match for who could appear most interesting at any given time.
I found myself in a weird and uncomfortable predicament, often feeling flung into situations not unlike a talent show, fighting one-by-one for attention of the crowd we first-year students so often felt the need to travel in.
I’m not saying every social encounter of my freshman year was essentially a competition, but quite a few left me feeling inadequate.
There seems to be an atmosphere of trading skill and abnormality for acceptance on this campus, to a much higher degree than others I’ve visited.
While that’s not necessarily a negative side effect of the general attitude here, it can make anyone here feel bad about being tied to generic hobbies, habits or passions.
I think living here can make you feel horrible about not being cultured enough. I don’t mean to paint myself as a dull or forgettable individual; my voice is unforgivably loud, I walk in quite the goofy manner, and I can often be caught wearing pajamas to serious obligations.
Though, as far as flashy skills go, I can (maybe) fix your computer and teach you how to frequently fall off a longboard.
Truly, I’m capable of a bit more than that, but I don’t have much to whip out at parties.
I identify as a cisgender male and lead a generally generic existence,
I have a few piercings, which on occasion earn me a compliment or two I would otherwise forego.
The same goes for the only tattoo I have, which I got seven months into living in Asheville, perhaps partially due to the subculture.
Other than that, I’m pretty unexciting.
I dyed the top of hair bright blonde recently, an action that’s netted me at least one compliment every time I walk downtown.
And perhaps that says something about the city I live in.
It seems the more time I spend in Asheville, the more I pick up on the attitude of breaking social norms these city streets stashes between its buskers.
This place always sings of accepting different styles of living, but what about the dull approaches?
What about mainstream culture in a place like this?
What can be said about the way cities like Asheville treat popular trends and fads?
Perhaps the way alternative lifestyles are welcomed and encouraged affect the way people perceive and interpret being boring, unexciting, predictable.
Has this city accidentally created an air of hostility towards the mundane?
Earlier I had said moving to Asheville entails confronting a certain “pressure” to be interesting, exciting, weird, different and most of all memorable.
I was incorrect in saying so; it’s not a pressure to be bizarre so much as it is an expectation to excite.
Asheville is a progressive place, and perhaps there’s not enough room for boring personalities in the mess of all the new creation happening in this city.
Living here teaches you that being different is something to strive for, and while I think that’s beautiful, there’s something to be said about how fearful I’ve become of being perceived as ordinary, this last year and a half.
In a place which praises non-conformity to the absolute highest degree, we’ve somehow managed to conform to not conforming.