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Thursday, October 27, 2016

I am not normal.

This, I learned from a news story 35 years ago. The details have faded with the passage of time, but the gist of it remains clear. Some expert had crunched a bunch of numbers in search of the “average” human being, the planetary norm, and found that she was an 8-year-old Japanese girl, living in Tokyo. I don’t fit that profile; I’m willing to bet you don’t, either. So as a matter of statistical fact, I’m not “normal” and neither are you.

I’ve always found that story a useful corrective whenever I am tempted to declaim too haughtily on what is or isn’t normal. I offer it now to Rush Limbaugh in the vain hope it will help him rethink his assault last week on the woman who used to be Bruce Jenner. Granted, the story was about planetary norms and Limbaugh was ranting about American social norms, but the principle still applies.

As you doubtless know, Jenner’s transformation into a woman named Caitlyn has been quite controversial. She has been praised for her “courage” by President Obama and called “brave” by Ellen DeGeneres. At the other extreme, one David French, blogging for the National Review, dismissed her as a “surgically damaged man,” while a Matt Walsh on Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, called her a “mentally disordered man.”

And we have recently learned that, back in February, Mike Huckabee cracked about wishing he could have identified as female when he was in school so he could have showered with the girls. As inadvertently revealing as that “joke” feels, it is Limbaugh’s response that really helps us understand why those who are threatened by, and viscerally angry about, Jenner’s transformation, feel as they do.

As Caitlyn made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, the talk-show host fumed that Republicans should reject her, even though she identifies with the, ahem, big tent party. Liberals, he complained, are trying to “redefine normalcy.” He went on to say that nowadays, “conservatives and Republicans are the new weirdos, the new kooks, and that is part of the political objective here, in normalizing all of this really marginal behavior. I mean, if less than 1 percent of the population is engaging in it, it’s marginalized behavior; it isn’t normal.”

One might argue, citing Miles Davis, Steve Jobs, Rosa Parks, Stan Lee, Sally Ride, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, and a thousand other rule breakers and innovators, that “normal” is overrated. But put that aside, take Limbaugh at his word, and the fear undergirding his complaint becomes plain. He and those like him look at Caitlyn Jenner and wonder: “If this is normal, what does that make me?”

It’s worth noting, in light of Limbaugh’s fears, that the country’s opinions on social issues like this are shifting, and not in his direction. Gallup recently reported that America is moving sharply left on the moral acceptability of everything from gay rights to stem cell research. I’m aware of no polling on Jenner’s transformation, but who would be surprised to find that there is widespread approval?

Not that freedom should be a popularity contest (most of us agree now that Jim Crow is wrong, but it was also wrong back when much of the country thought it was right), but it is better to have the wind behind you than against you. Ask Limbaugh, who now finds himself pushing against that wind and finding that the only “marginal behavior” here is his. That must be chilling to a man so obsessed with defining and defending “normalcy.” He should get used to it.

Because these days, what isn’t normal is the small minded need to stigmatize those who walk a different path through life. What isn’t normal is the bigot’s siren call to our basest and most baseless fears. What isn’t normal is hatred and terror of the new.

Poor Rush. It turns out that what isn’t “normal,” is him.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]


  • Daniel Jones

    The politics of fear are, of course, traditionally normal, accepted, an undertone to the national conventionality. But it was over-hyped and laid bare in recent years, and the blow-back is underway.

    Will the politics of fear truly go away?

    No. It won’t. But if we push back hard now, it may be decades until we get a suitable set of scapegoats for their return.

  • anothertoothpick

    Those drugs he is taking seem to have some negative effects.

    • johninPCFL

      Yes. Viagra seems to have shifted some blood flow away from his brain…

  • charleo1

    It seems what some like Limbaugh and others of his ilk on the Right are searching for,
    beyond something, or someone with which to smear the Left. “Normalcy,” doesn’t exist. Save for the fact all of us are basically, “flawed.” That is to say, abnormal in some way. So isn’t it better that we, instead of searching in vain for some loosely defined. “normal,” that doesn’t exist anyway. What we should be more appreciative of, the reason it seems so many are being so supportive of Caitlyn, formerly Bruce Jenner now. Is for the personal courage, and honesty it takes for any of us to be at once different, in Jenner’s case, very far out of the mainstream. And then to be so declarative, and so publicly oneself to our spouses, families, friends, employers, the World. Some people, in fact a lot of people, are still just not all that comfortable with that much honesty. But we’re getting there. It’s been a while since I heard someone say it would have have been better if Gay people had just stayed in the closet. Or Rosa Parks had taken her assigned seat that morning. Or Mildred and James Loving had quietly, and without fanfare or fuss, left Virginia forever. What we must realize, and embrace is the idea that conformists usually don’t achieve much. And that diversity is absolutely indispensable for growth as both a society, and as a Country. After all, normal at one time was to support the Crown, to stay in the East, or accept the very common perception that the stars revolved around the Earth. Ot that if man were meant to fly…

  • Carl Sdano

    Rush Limbaugh is a psychopath, who doesn’t care about the damage his words inflict on others, as long as the money keeps flowing in. If he is the definition of normal, God help us all.

    • wjca

      I think maybe the term you are looking for is sociopath, rather than psychopath.

      But even so, there is the distinct possibility that Limbaugh is merely an enormously successful con man: he doesn’t actually believe much of what he spouts, but he knows what sells and brings in the big bucks. Certainly possible.

  • FireBaron

    I have a very hard time giving any sympathy to a man who has built his career out of defaming and insulting anyone who has the audacity to disagree with what he thinks is proper. I do, however, have sympathy for the people who fervently listen to him and believe every word he speaks. Most of them are individuals who are easily led, and Rush and his Sponsors will lead them on right into their pockets.

  • FT66

    Yes Limbaugh I agree with you, you are not normal. If you were, how come at your age, not a teenager anymore, you are wearing all kinds of t-shirts every now and then while you have massive of money to buy nice clothes and look normal and decent? You are not normal Rush, as you do what others don’t do at your age.

  • The lucky one

    Rush is very normal. There have always been unscrupulous predators willing to prey on the stupid. Some are entertained by cockfights, bear baiting and such and Rush serves that group. Stupidity is also normal, so all of Rush’s fans are normal too.


    Until achieving success at shooting his mouth off on the radio, Limbaugh had a resume’ that resembled that of your average bar room loud mouth. The most horrifying thing about this man, is the number of people who willingly let him do their thinking for them.

  • Lucretzia

    where’s his cigar? he’s always seen sucking on a cigar like its a big brown dick.

  • itsfun

    Why does anyone care about what Mr or Ms Jenner does?

  • Insinnergy

    If any of the current crop of Republicans in the media from Rush, to Hastert, to Perry can be considered “normal”… we’re all f*****d.