"Halloween's over. What's up with the green hair?"
I thought it, but didn't say it. A woman with bright green streaks through her hair had just passed me on a footpath in my neighbourhood.
The hair wasn't hurting anyone. It might not be my colour but it didn't have to be. Her hair. Not mine.
It got me thinking about conformity. And why even those of us who profess or pretend to be someone with an open mind, and even embody that trait, still cling to the idea of fitting in with the group.
Social psychologists say conformity is a powerful force in human decision-making and a product of evolution.
An article in Frontiers in Neuroscience says humans are characterised "by an extreme dependence on culturally transmitted information".
The authors say humans survive by copying each other when it comes to learning and decision-making. We're hard-wired to follow the herd.
Conformity can help save lives when it contributes to obeying laws and norms such as wearing a seatbelt, wearing a mask, vaccinating ourselves and our children, and contributing to society by working and volunteering.
Conformity can also kill when we decide someone is not worthy of our attention or worse, deserves to be mistreated, bullied, assaulted or murdered because they're different.
Is it overly reductive to say our relationship with conformity is complicated?
We absorb conformist cultural ideas like a plant absorbs sunlight. This is how an otherwise progressive teenage male can say things like, "I'd disown my son if he were gay."
It's how, in studies, young black children indicate a preference for white faces. We conform to prevailing ideas, even if they contradict our own interests.
There has been a massive shift the past decade in our understanding of people who don't conform to gender and sexuality norms.
An article in The Guardian reported the proportion of 16- to 44-year-old women who agree that "same-sex relationships are not wrong at all" rose from 28 per cent in 1990 to 66 per cent in 2010.
Agreement for men has more than doubled, from 23 to 50 per cent.
And yet - the past week, Radio NZ reported an Auckland woman was evicted from her flat with three hours' notice for being transgender.
We're presented with new vocabulary words, such as intersex, cis-gender, binary, and non-binary. So many ways to define what used to be either/or. Either you're female. Or you're male. But we now know it's not so simple.
Some people are born with male and female genitalia.
Others are born with sex characteristics announcing them as female, but their brain tells them they're male.
I don't claim to be an expert on any of this, but I am willing to learn from people who are.
I'm also learning about gender fluidity from other parents. One friend's son-in-law is now a daughter-in-law.
The couple, who used to be man and wife still love each other, have a young child, and remain married as woman and woman.
Another friend's teenager struggled with depression for years before telling his/their family that he/they is really a she (how we use pronouns is changing, too).
This makes many of us squirm. Or get angry. "There are only two genders!" you rail. "It's always been that way and always will be!"
To this, I'd ask, what's in it for you? Why must everyone conform to your idea of gender and sexuality?
If it's rooted in religion, not everyone shares your faith. If it's rooted in traditions, those change, too. As GK Chesterton said, "tradition is democracy of the dead."
And so, some of our neighbours and friends do not conform to the last generation's ideas of sexuality and gender.
This fact is being highlighted with a transgender pride event today, believed to be the first of its kind in Tauranga.
Trans Pride in the Park this afternoon is being held the day after the annual global Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20.
The day honours the memory of those killed because of anti-transgender violence.
Twenty-seven people who were transgender or gender non-conforming were killed by hate violence in the United States, according to a 2017 report.
A survey of 8500 New Zealand secondary school students in 2012 showed about four in 100 students were either transgender (1.2 per cent) or were unsure of their gender (2.5 per cent).
Nearly one in five had experienced weekly bullying, nearly five times higher than others who were not transgender. More than half of transgender students were afraid someone at school would hurt or bother them.
One in five had attempted suicide in the past year.
These are more than numbers when someone you love is hurting because their child no longer identifies with the gender attached to his/her genitals. Imagine a father's pain when his precious daughter announces she wants to be called "he".
The parent might hope it was a phase, but psychologists say de-transitioning is rare.
Why would we say hurtful things about people who don't conform to gender norms? Is it an easy joke? A way to feel superior?
I'm no better or worse than the woman with green hair. Whether or not she conforms to society's idea of beauty has no bearing on my life.
I don't have answers about why we're hearing so much more these days about gender, identity and change.
But I'm willing to listen and learn. Are you?