Afternoon Inquisition

AI: The Outsiders

(Lester William Polsfuss of Waukesha, Wisconsin died today from complications of severe pneumonia. He was 94. Music will forever be in his debt.)

Despite that bit of sadness, however, this has been an exciting week. Carrie and Rebecca ignited a great discussion with an interview on the Novella Family Variety Hour podcast about gender in skepticism. The discussion subsequently spilled over to Skepchick, and for the past few days it’s been a great, very intelligent, mostly civil dialogue.

But hey, I’m a dude. Okay? I’m a guy, and I work here with all women. Don’t get me wrong. I love being the only guy here. Contributing to Skepchick is the epitome of awesome. It’s extra strength awesome. It’s awesome with cheese on it. But this topic can stop me in my tracks. Not because I don’t understand the issue. I think I do. But sometimes I hesitate.

I mean, I’ll offer my opinions, and my thinking is pretty much in line with the other contributors, but because I’m the only guy and because gender inequality hasn’t really affected me negatively, I still feel a bit like an outsider.

In what situation(s) do you feel like an outsider? Is it ever a problem or do you relish being different?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I had an interesting experience when I started college as an engineering student. The male:female ratio of students was about 5:1. I didn’t expect to have any problem making friends because I had had plenty of male friends throughout my life, so I was a little surprised to find myself with very few close friends at the end of my freshman year. I don’t think that my male classmates intended to exclude me; they either just didn’t even think of the possibility of becoming good friends with me, or they assumed that I wouldn’t want to be friends with them. Over time our class became a close group because suffering through something as tough as that can really bring people together. I made some very good friends; it just took longer than I expected. Oddly enough, I didn’t experience of the sexism that I half-expected to face. I chalk it up to the men (and women) in my class being smart enough to get past their prejudices if they need help to not fail a test or class.

  2. When my sister-in-law is talking (usually with other woo-believing relatives) about the wacko treatments they are getting from their alternative medicine “doctor” or about how they won’t eat food that’s been microwaved, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum, I do feel like somewhat of an outsider. I don’t feel bad about it, though; I just loudly stifle a snort and go to another room.

  3. I’m socially awkward. I have the attention span of a small rodent. I have random tangets most days, where I just think about one irrelevent thing all day-like if its possible to have a googal of anything. I’m not big on the “show your support of [INSERT CAUSE HERE] because I really question how useful it is (esp. awareness. who isn’t aware of the cause of the week?). I’m not down with pop culture, and am somewhat socially reserved. I try to be out and about, but I’m not really that comfortable.

    I feel like this list is a list (not necessarily definitive or complete) of my flaws. I wish I was normal.

  4. I’m the only (seriously involved) girl on my school’s academic team. Oddly enough, I rarely feel excluded. There are perks (sharing a room with only one person or none at all), and the guys are pretty cool about it. So that’s a situation in which gender doesn’t divide. :)

  5. I feel like an outsider in my own family, often at social gatherings and when it comes to me being the only single person in a group of couples. usually this is not a happy feeling, not that I can change all circumstances but there are times when I do wish I could.

  6. I am an outsider a lot of the time.

    Family: only non-Christian, only non-Republican.
    Same situation at work, but throw in only non-American Idol fan, non sitcom fan, non Twilight fan…..

    You get the idea.

    Sometimes it is fun, I rock the boat, I draw attention to things…

    … but sometimes it is lonely. Thankfully I have some great friends and a boyfriend who help balance things out.

  7. In what situation(s) do you feel like an outsider?

    Most situations.

    I should hang out with infinitemonkey.

    Is it ever a problem or do you relish being different?

    I ping pong on this one. Sometimes it’s fine – excellent even. Other times it pretty much stinks.
    It’s bad when you sometimes want to find a group where you just kind of fit in, but you can’t. For a little while, I thought that maybe the ‘skeptic’ group would be that for me. I think that’s mostly turned out not to be the case.

    I am a Hedge

  8. Even if I’m not actually an outsider, I tend to find a way to make myself into one, even if it just means focusing on the ways I’m different from people with whom I’m 90% similar. It’s a compulsion I have, I suppose, to never really fit in.

    If I felt like getting all deep and psychoanalytical I could say that it’s probably a defense mechanism to recast my isolation and loneliness as an active choice or (better yet) a condition imposed on me by dissembling nature as a way of preempting the rejection I fear would otherwise be inevitable.

    But I don’t feel like being all deep and psychoanalytical, so instead I’ll just say that I’m an outsider because I’m just THAT much sexier than everyone. It’s a tough life, folks!

  9. @Im a Hedge:

    It’s bad when you sometimes want to find a group where you just kind of fit in, but you can’t. For a little while, I thought that maybe the ’skeptic’ group would be that for me. I think that’s mostly turned out not to be the case.

    Well, you now fit in as a member of “The Outsiders”. Welcome, Pony “I am a Hedge” Boy.

  10. I always felt like an outsider around my family, so I stopped spending time with them problem solved.

    Mostly I feel like an outsider around other people unless I really know them. On many occasions it feels like I’m completely outside of what’s happening around me and I’m simply an observer.

    I love being different, to thine own self be true, if you’re happy with who you are what difference does it make what other people think.

  11. Having recently de-converted from Christianity, I hate that I really can’t enter into theological discussions with family, operating WITHIN scriptural boundaries. Because even though I don’t believe in it anymore, I always found it fascinating to discuss interpretations and posing questions about what this story could have meant, or why God said something this way as opposed to that way.

    Of course now that everyone knows I’m outside the fold, any argument I make is going to be filtered through the, “Yeah well he’s an atheist now” lens, even though it’s the exact same argument I would have made while inside the faith.

  12. Hi there!

    In college, I took a modern American Literature class. I was the only guy in a class with 19 women. For a while, it was great. I was accepted as “one of the girls”, and usually hung out with my gorgeous classmates right after class.

    But then the professor covered Sylvia Plath, that bastard.

    “In this poem, Sylvia speaks frankly about her abusive father and connects that to her relationship with her equally abusive husband, painting a picture of men as abusive, sexist, domineering thugs who subjugate women AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS IDEA, CRAIG?!”

    I barely made it out alive. -_-

    But normally, I have no problem being the “freak”, the “weirdo”, or the “outsider”. In some cases, I actually enjoy it. I almost feel like it’s a “part” of me. In high school, there were times that I’d get pushed around, or even had my ass kicked for being different, but it never occurred to me to just be “normal”. I couldn’t NOT be different. My “otherness” wasn’t anything distinctive, I just wasn’t into sports, and I had a passionate love for comic books, role-playing games, vampires, and quotation marks. I got called a “fag” a lot in high school, despite not being actually gay.

    Many of these things followed me into adulthood, except that now I’ve learned more about blending in and “playing normal” in my day-to-day work life. Except that I can’t help letting just a little bit of my freakiness slip out every so often. Just to keep people on their toes. :)

  13. I used to be blond, with longish hair (back when I had hair). I’m 6’3″

    I lived in South Korea for two years, working as an English Teacher after college. Feeling like an Outsider were good days. There were some days where I was actually an object of discrimination and racism (hair in food, being spit on while walking down the street). Luckily those were comparatively few and far between.

    So, um… yeah. It was often a problem, and culture shock plus being isolated like that led to occasional explosions of frustration. You wouldn’t believe how something simple can set you off in situations like that.

  14. As some others have said, I feel like an outsider in almost all social situations. I’m the guy who’ll sit on the edge of the group listening intently but not really part of it.

    But the time I really felt like I didn’t belong was my first trip in NYC for a job interview a couple of days after arriving in the country. I took the wrong train and wound up in Harlem/the South Bronx. As my brain gradually worked out that I was heading in the wrong direction it suddenly occurred to me that I was the only Caucasian in the carriage.

    I wasn’t scared or alarmed or even surprised, but the feeling of being out of place was almost over powering.


  15. Every moment of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider. I’m honestly to the point of wondering if it’s some kind of neurochemical imbalance, it’s so prevalent. Even if it is, though, I wouldn’t want to change anything: it may be lonely sometimes, but it rocks sometimes too.

  16. Though a closet atheist from my earliest memories (raised in a very strict Catholic household in the fifties), I did learn a very important lesson from the religion, that it is best not to put yourself in a guru role like Jesus did, or the end will not be pretty. Apparently, it is regarded that I have great leadership skills and many authority figures encouraged me to become a leader (whatever that means) which I strongly resisted. I want people to lead themselves, like I do for myself. There is just too much conformity in society for me to want to spend much time within it.

    Therefore, I tend to skirt around society, like a garbage feeder (lots of surprise goodies in garbage cans, I just would not like to spend much time inside one). I prefer to go back to chez moi, and put into effect the info and stuff I foraged on the outside. I don’t have a very high opinion of most social activities (however democratic society and its technology is fantastic). Though I have had many very affectionate and intimate one-to-one relationships throughout the decades, I am not loyal. If I move (and I have lived in about 50 different places), most likely you will never hear from me again unless you hunt me down. Yeah, I am a relisher also. But, when I need emotional support I will ask for it, from strangers if necessary. If I find myself completely alone, I will just feel the aloneness. If it becomes a problem, then I will do something about it.

    I do feel better connected to European society. But even in that society, I am still pretty much an outsider, because I am a foreigner, and an American to boot. But I do enjoy their ‘garbage cans’ more. At the height of anti-Americanism, during the Bush Era, I would get some flack, and I would say that their negative opinion of my holding an American passport does not matter to me, because I am a human being who happens to have been born in America by chance. If you relate to me primarily on that basis, you can go screw yourself.

    I was definitely an outsider in my catholic schools which I really relished bigtime with pickles and chutney on the side. The nuns did not get it, that their ostracizing me did not hurt, it was a relief.

  17. Here’s one I’m sure many others can relate to: I got talked into going to my High School Reunion (25th). Not only did I feel like an outsider there, but it reminded me of how much of an outsider I was back then.

    The amazing thing is that I got talked into going to a previous reunion (10th or 15th or something), had exactly the same feeling, but still got talked into going to another one.

    Bottom line: The people that I knew in High School that I have an interest in staying in touch with, I stay in touch with. The rest? No thanks.

  18. @jeffreyellis:
    Yeah, it’s the same for me.

    I feel particularly like an outsider when my grandmother, a reverend doctor and extremely smart woman, waxes poetic about how she thinks future discoveries in quantum physics will bolster her religious beliefs.

  19. My mom would always say that I march to the beat of my own drummer. I could never figure out why she associated my marching with those drums.

    Now that I am older, I understand that most people use more inductive logic than I do. This isolates me from many irrational interactions. Grr.

  20. Similar to SicPreFix, JBlumenfeld, Hedge, Austin, I’d say.

    Partly due to how I was raised (lots of moves due to father’s job, unstable family, etc.) and partly (perhaps) biochemical.

    I don’t have a hometown, for example. I have some preferred places that I’ve lived, though. Try to imagine not having a hometown, if you can. It’s a lonely feeling. That’s why I frequently tell people who ask me where I’m “from” that I’m from Earth or North America.

    I was always the outsider at school, the quiet, different one. Thought I was dumb, turns out I’ve a 90th percentile IQ. Almost everyone else was looking at me and the world wrong, not me. I’m also culturally half-US and half-Puerto Rican. I fit in no culture well, though I was welcomed in PR. I feel like an alien. I see things very differently than most people, and my take seems odd at times but has a wierd way of being accurate.

    As you might imagine, when I graduated from High School, I essentially disappeared to them. I’ve never even heard of reunions, much less been invited to one.

    And some wonder why I identify so well with Spock, multi-racial/cultural people.

  21. This topic is pretty close to my heart. I wrote book of short stories that all have to do with people trying to connect to one another, to escape from beig the outsider. Sometimes they make the connection (or link) sometimes they don’t. But, they keep trying… which is, I think, the whole point.

  22. My grade three teacher once told me that I was “a strange little boy” and that it was something I should take great pride in. Although I often feel out of place in a group of strangers, I see it as an opportunity to work on small talk. Otherwise, I took Mr. Close’s advice to heart.

  23. I have Asperger’s, so I feel like an outsider everywhere and every place. This completely crystallized for me a few years ago when I went to Italy to present at a Gordon Conference. I felt no different in Pisa, in a city where I knew no one and couldn’t speak the language, than I did in Boston or Cambridge. Even at the Gordon Conference (it was about nitric oxide, so that is what everyone was talking about), I felt like an outsider. Feeling like an outsider had nothing to do with anything external, it was in me.

  24. Hmm… I’ve done my best to try to get along with as many people as possible.. but I can say I definitely feel like an outsider in any type of neo-conservative Republican talk.

    Also, as a still new atheist, I feel outside of the religious movement.. but ironically, if I were in a Methodist Church and heard the Nicene Creed, I’d be a Pavlovian dog and start muttering right along.

    I do feel strange at gatherings when people bow their heads to pray. I don’t; I usually look for others doing the same.

    I guess in all this rambling is, there are situations where I most definitely don’t feel a part of them, but I keep my head down – not because I fear rejection for my non- or contrasting beliefs, but because I find the group mentality of others interesting to watch. Introvert at work..

  25. This will be a very strange answer, but bare with me.

    About 12 years ago, I lost a 3 year old to a form of acute respiratory failure. To paraphrase a line from the show ER, which is always totally inadequate, “despite our best efforts the patient died.” The child was admited to the hospital by her family practice doc and I was consulted after the little girl started to fail on the fateful night, as I was the pediatrician on call. This was a sudden and very sad death. We even were able to recruit the help of a pediatric intensivist from the major hospital a few miles away, but it did not matter. There is nothing more earthshattering than losing your own child. Though it does not, in any way, compare to that degree of loss, as a physician, nothing is more tragic than losing a child under your care.

    Under these intensely tragic circumstances this family and I forever bonded. The mother and father transfered themselves and their surviving children into my practice. I have cherished this trust ever since.

    I was invited to that little girl’s funeral.

    I sat in the back row of the church and felt as if I were in a Fellini-esque, surreal, movie. I will never forget the tiny coffin. I completely disassociated myself from everyone else, including several other members of the hospital staff who attended the funeral. Even more bizzarely, I was , at the house afterwards, welcomed as a hero. None of this made sense. None of this seemed real. All I felt was profound guilt. Never, ever, have I felt as much as an outsider as I did that day.

  26. As a regular church-goer, I often feel like quite an outsider here.

    And as a skeptic I often feel like an outsider at church, even though I am clearly welcomed there. Doubts and all!

    In the end, I have chosen not to belong anywhere in the outside world. Fortunately, I have a good marriage and two loving children, so in a sense the four of us are all outsiders together.

  27. After halincoh’s contribution I feel that anything I could conceivably say here would seem utterly trivial and pointless.

    But since that’s never stopped me yet … I feel pretty out of place whenever we have any kind of street-party or or other neighbourhood event. The other guys are always standing in little groups discussing cars or house-prices or something else I know nothing about and I feel I have nothing whatsoever to contribute, and not much interest either (The language barrier doesn’t help.)

    I did think about “in synagogue” as answer to this question but it’s not as simple as that. On the incredibly rare occasions I’m in a shul these days (weddings and barmitzvahs only, as a rule) I manage to feel at home (because I’m in familiar surroundings with my family and friends) and totally alienated (because I really can’t get into the spirit of what’s going on) at the same time.

    I think I’ve had this ambivalent attitude to shul-going for a very long time. When I used to be a fairly-regular attender at a conservative congregation in the States I enjoyed being a member of a community. But as time went on I began to feel more and more acutely that I was there under false pretences. It seemed that I was really cheating all my new friends (including the Rabbi) by pretending to feel or believe the same as them, and that disturbed me enough that eventually I just drifted away.

    I also feel like an outsider _right now_ because the other guys at my office are playing some racing game on the Wii (at (8:50 am, jeez!). It’s not that I don’t want to play video games. I just can’t see the point of any video game where you don’t get to shoot aliens.

  28. @Kaylia_Marie:

    I wrote book of short stories that all have to do with people trying to connect to one another, to escape from beig the outsider.

    Nice. Are these short stories available to the public anywhere?

    My writer’s group dissolved some time ago. You and I need to critique each others work. (You like how I volunteer you for things?)


    I do feel strange at gatherings when people bow their heads to pray. I don’t; I usually look for others doing the same.

    Me, too. Or if it’s before a big meal, like Thanksgiving, while everyone else is praying, I’m spotting the piece of turkey I’m going to grab, or trying to decide if I can eat a whole pumkin pie before they open their eyes.

    About a month ago, my ex-girlfriend’s father passed away, and I attended his military funeral. At the grave site, the chaplain conducted a prayer, and while everyone bowed their heads, I looked around like I always do. I realized the commanding officer presiding over the ceremony, while remaining steady and dignified, was looking in my direction. We exchanged a knowing look, and then he winked at me. I assumed he and I were on the same page at that moment.


    I always feel a little odd.

    Hey, I dig your oddness. And I know the Chicks do, too. Don’t ever change.


    Wow. Dude, that’s tragic and heartwarming and encouraging and devestating all at the same time. Thanks for sharing that.


    As a regular church-goer, I often feel like quite an outsider here.

    Don’t sweat it, man. You’ll never get any flack from me. I’m sure we’re more the same than we are different.


    You get to play video games at work????

  29. I suppose I’ve always been an outsider, and in the 4th grade I realized how pronounced it was. I’ve always been interested in Sci-Fi and that was the year Star Wars came out. Overnight I went from being the dorky freak to being the expert on all the cool stuff in the world. I suppose that the normal thing would have been to feel like part of the crowd again, but it just made me realize how broken most of those people (kids and adults) were when I go from untouchable to cool without having to do anything. It was extremely annoying at the time. That was all it took for me to notice I was different, and that I liked it.

    The only time it was awkward or weird for me was when I was in college and I realized my whole family was Conservative, but for some reason I had failed to follow them. I still loved them all, but it was shortly after that that I moved from LA to Madison, Wisconsin. I try to tell myself it was that the cost of living was way better here, but the truth was that I wanted to be far enough away that none of them could drop by because they were “in the neighborhood”

    Okay, so I might have overdid it a little :) I still go back for regular visits though. Since I moved, my older brother has come to his senses (of maybe he just hid it well) and I’ve been on his case to get out of SoCal.

    I love being an outsider. I don’t go out of my way to stay that way, but every time I see 90% of the world doing something extremely stupid and I feel no urge to follow them, I understand how lucky I am, or maybe I’m just smart… or lucky I’m smart. Whatever the reason, it obviously doesn’t happen to very many people.

  30. @swordbane: You couldn’t have picked a better place to go. Madtown is a wonderful place for the educated, the rebel, the anti-authoritarian, the just plain wierd… :-) If I had to pick a list of places I’d like to live, that would be in the top five.

    @SamOgden, KayliaMarie: Sounds like you’re starting a Skepchicks writing group…if so, count me in. :-)

  31. QA: My official reason is that I had a friend living here and she was cool and found me a job. By the time I realized I didn’t really want to marry her, I was hooked on the place.

    Of course most of the time, all I have to say was “Well, there was this girl” and everyone understands :)

    “@SamOgden, KayliaMarie: Sounds like you’re starting a Skepchicks writing group…if so, count me in. :-)”

    I’d say me too, but I usually only write fantasy and Science Fiction… you know… aliens, magic, smart Republicans, etc…

    I’m sorry. That last one was very wrong… I don’t write about smart Republicans…

  32. I’m an outsider at any family function: my family is full of self-described rednecks who love NASCAR, guns, their own view of Jesus, the Republican party, and talking loudly. They forward one another emails about President Obama’s death squads and how Pepsi will kill you. I, on the other hand, grew up listening to NPR by myself.

  33. So, when I decided to change my name I looked for something that would fit me – and decided on a play on the Gaelic words for “foreign woman”. Obviously, because I’ve felt like a stranger in a strange land all of my life.

    @swordsbane: That’s hysterical, I moved from Michigan to L.A. to get someplace my family couldn’t just drop by.

  34. Danarra: Whatever works :).. although I couldn’t get a loft apartment in LA for what I’m paying for a full mortgage here.

    My Mom keeps threatening to visit me without warning. I keep threatening to move and not tell her. We used to have a regular tradition before I went to college. Every morning, we would…. for some reason…. get into some political discussion over coffee and by the time I had to go to school, each of us starting to think the other was nuts.

    The weird thing is that I kind of miss that sometimes…… sometimes.

    Occasionally my older brother and I would do the same thing. That ended up in shouting matches.

    I don’t miss that at all.

    If I was still living there, I’m sure I would have disowned the whole lot of them.

    “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” – George Burns

  35. @Sam Ogden: Nice S.E Hinton reference! I was a big fan as a kid. Loved “The Outsiders”, but my all-time favorite was “That Was Then, This Is Now.”

    As a teen, I always felt like I was “different.” Maybe, it was because I played in the orchestra and was on the chess team.


    Strange thing was, I was (and am) a huge sports fan and played little-league baseball for years. Never fit in with the popular kids, or the jocks, tho. Maybe that’s why I loathe HS reunions.

    Recently, I felt like an outsider with my ex-girlfriend’s circle of friends. She is a PICU attending physician, and when we’d have a party they (all physicians or nurses) would discuss their cases and the latest surgical techniques in detail. I’m a part-time psychology prof., and tho I have great respect and fascination for what they do, I tend to get nauseous at even the mention of blood. So I would just try to drink enough alcohol to block out the images.

    Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we broke up.

  36. I’m an outsider in my own family. I’ve always been a bit different but we enjoyed some good times together. However when I needed them most, they distanced themselves gradually until I now have no contect with them. I know it has more to do with them struggling with the legal questions my fight has raised regarding their own vices and behavior.

    Strangely enough, I work in an extremely Christian environment and I’ve felt much more included there than in my mostly athiest left-leaning family. Sometimes the whole situation current situation in my life seems surreal… like the fact that DPS troopers have me parking miles away in an undisclosed location and escort me to and from work daily, and christians providing most of the non-judgemental moral support for an athiest who’s family can’t stomach reality. If you’d asked me a couple years ago about the probability of these events coming to pass, I would have said it was much more likely that I would turn into a pot of petunias.

  37. As a guitar player, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the enormous contributions of Mr. Polsfuss (you missed an ‘s’ Sam). Better known as “Les Paul.”

    He will be missed.

  38. I’m an accountant in state gvt but the protection is because of the mentally ill ex who flipped out in court during a protective order hearing on Tuesday. Spooked the bailiff big time.

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