Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cyber-bullying

Yes, I know, another blog on that played-out theme … cyberbullying. The difference here, though, is that I have personally experienced the brutal effects of cyber-bullying, as opposed to many of these ‘experts’ who are on the outside looking in.

A few years back (2009, I think it was), I was friends with a gay couple. P was the older of the two, and had schizo-affective disorder. C, the younger, was a little hyper-protective of P. I myself had been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder at that time, the latest in a long list of ‘diagnoses’ that had been given to me to try and pinpoint what my exact problem was (the current, and most fitting so far, being BiPolar).

I was friends with these two for about two years, I think. I shared a lot of personal details with them, and they did likewise. And then one day P ended up in hospital due to an episode of his illness. I was one of a small group that C took into confidence about this event, and I respected that confidence.

Earlier that year, I had written about my experiences with mental health problems in response to a challenge in a creative writing group I was part of. At that time, I had had several requests for more information, and so I promised that at some point in the near future I would write about it. Well, not long after P ended up in hospital, and completely coincidentaly, two friends asked in the same day for me to tell them more about my experiences. Neither of these two knew about P’s current struggles, and I personally didn’t link the timing of his struggles to the timing of these requests for information. So I wrote about my experiences. I made no reference to P whatsoever.

And then hell broke loose.

C decided I was ‘grandstanding’ P’s illness, and proceeded to harrass me. He told mutual friends about “what I’d done”, and I received harrassment from them also. Attempts to explain the actual circumstances of the blog were met with hostility and accusations, and I began to receive nasty messages about how I was “stealing P’s story” and how I was a nasty person. Several mutual friends turned their back on me, and the stress of the situation landed me in hospital myself, having triggered an episode of suicidal depression and psychotic delusions.

Upon my release from hospital, I was again attacked, this time via a publicly-available blog entry from C claiming that I had never been in hospital, that I had made it up, and that there were “more holes” in my “story” than swiss cheese. A friend of mine stood up for me and was attacked for her efforts. I ended up abandoning that blog and hiding behind a new, private persona. My trust was deeply affected, both online and offline, and it was close to a year before I began to venture out again.

Cyber-bullying is every bit as real as any other kind of bullying, and has much the same effect.

I heard one ‘genius’ quip: “if you’re being bullied on the computer, duh! Just turn the computer off!” That’s over-simplistic and fails to take into account the psychological effect of bullying. ANY bullying. For many people who are bullied online, they’re online in the first place because they have trouble being accepted in the “real world”. Fat kids, awkward kids, kids with zits, kids with glasses, kids who stutter … all find refuge in the internet, because nobody can see their “imperfections” online, the only thing that shows is their personality. These kids (and adults!) can find acceptance online because that first visible barrier is taken down.

That said, telling someone to “just turn the computer off” if they’re being bullied is the same as saying “if you’re being bullied at school, duh! Don’t go to school!” or “if people bully you at work, duh! Don’t go to work!” or “if people bully you when you play sport, duh! Don’t play sport!” It’s telling people to let the bullies chase you away from whatever it is you’re doing.

That’s not the answer. The internet, for all its flaws, has opened up a world of friendship and opportunity to people who previously couldn’t access them. It’s a place where being a ‘nerd’ is something to be proud of. So why should people just walk away from it because someone gets off on being nasty?

Nope. The answer, like the answer to any other kind of bullying, is to stand up to/ignore the bullies. Just like the kid in the playground who steals lunch money, cyber-bullies get a kick out of getting a rise and having people fear them. So don’t give them that kick. Ignore them, and just enjoy the online experience elsewhere. Report the bullies to admins where possible, use the block feature where available, and just don’t give them that kick. Whatever you do, don’t let them get to you, because then they’ve won.

I took a long time to learn this. I hid for years after I was cyber-bullied. I feared venturing away from my own little page where I’d built a fort made of privacy controls. I even went to the extent of trying to justify myself by posting copies of psychologist/psychiatrist reports to prove I wasn’t lying. All I had to do, though, was simply block them and move on to better people. It’s the online equivalent of walking away from a schoolyard bully, and denying them that power. You haven’t left the schoolyard, you’ve only left the bully.

A final thought for those who know someone who is being cyber-bullied; stand up for your mates! Let them know they’re not alone, even if it labels you “uncool”. What a bullied person needs most is support, and with that support, they’ll survive. And if enough people stand up to support the victim, the bully ends up with egg on their face. What got me through, in the end, was friends.

Gay Pride?

All of what I’m about to write is purely from my own perspective; I can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf, and I wouldn’t try to. No matter what ‘group’ we’re in (and we’re all part of any number of groups, there is no one group that completely defines up), we’re all individuals within that group. The group in question for this entry is the ‘gay’ group, but that is by no means an exhaustive description.

There’s this belief in the existence of ‘gay pride’. Parades are held in the name of gay pride. People wave rainbow-coloured flags to show their pride. I always just accepted that that meant “proud to be gay”.

In light of recent events, though, I have to wonder about that. I was sitting here tonight, beading a dongle for my bag, and I picked up a rainbow-coloured bead to head the row of beads and show my ‘gay pride’. That got me to wondering … what exactly am I proud of?

Am I proud of the fact that I’m attracted to women? No, I really don’t think so. I really don’t see a need to advertise my same-gender attraction, and attraction to a particular gender is not brag-worthy, it just is. Some people are attracted to the same sex, some to the opposite sex, and some to neither sex (it’s true; there are some people that are just not interested in pursuing a relationship of any kind, they’re happy to be single and they have no sex drive to speak of. And that is fine, that’s who they are).

So what am I proud of?

Well, my ‘gay pride’ lies in the courage it took to stand up and be myself in the face of much opposition. Being gay is not a popular thing, there is a whole world full of people who will pursue, condemn, hurt, and even kill people just for being gay. It takes guts to be yourself in the face of that. I take pride in the fact that I was able to come out to my parents in the end. I take pride in the fact that they have accepted me as I am, and have placed no conditions on that acceptance.

For me, at least, gay pride means being proud of the courage to stand up and stop living a lie. Gay pride is about being honest with yourself, and honest with others. And demonstrations of gay pride, even a simple bead dongle, show other people that they can be true to themselves as well. It extends beyond being gay; showing pride for the courage to be openly gay means that others can find courage to come out about the secrets they’ve been hiding. Maybe it gives them courage to stand up to their peers who pressure them to take drugs they don’t want. Maybe it gives them courage to say no, I won’t drive like an idiot, I want to be safe. Maybe it gives them courage to say yes, I will wait until I’m married before I have sex.

Gay pride is about so much more than who we’re attracted to. Gay pride is about personal integrity. At least, that’s what it means to me.

So I’ll go back to making that dongle now, and I shall wear it with pride!

Defining Moments

There are some moments in our lives that define us. For better or worse, that moment is permanently etched on our life, and there is no going back.

I had one of these on Thursday.

First, a little background; when I was 17, I came to realise I was more interested in women than in men. It wasn’t really talked about back then, although the climate was beginning to change and the taboo was beginning to lift. My mate Chris had come out not long before, and when I told him, he said he could introduce me to some women I might be interested in.

But I got scared and backed away from my feelings.

This set the pattern for the next 14 years; every time I would begin to come to terms with who I was, something would happen to scare me off admitting it, often even to myself. When I joined the church at 19, it was made perfectly clear that ‘gay is not okay’. So when I caught myself admiring a woman, I’d force myself to “admire” a man instead. As such, I had a series of shallow and empty relationships with men, never achieving the fulfilment that should come from unity with another person.

I spent the past two years single and soul-searching, and when I was absolutely sure that it was women I was interested in, I began to send out feelers. I would ask questions of openly gay friends, asking how they came to terms with it, how they told their families, what kind of response they got, etc. A few of these friends apparently cottoned on, but I never really came out and said it.

About six months back, I decided to take a leap of faith, and told a very small circle of my closest friends that I was gay. They were cool, took it in their stride. After a week or two, when I saw that it hadn’t affected our friendship at all, I told a wider circle of friends, including some I knew were anti-gay. Those that responded were cool with it. Those that didn’t respond have remained friends anyway. That’s fine, it wasn’t rejection.

So I decided to tell my family. That was the hard part.

I had decided to tell Mum first, since I view her as the head of the family. The only trouble was, every time I got up the nerve to tell her, she would talk about TV or some person she’d met at random or something, anything else besides what I wanted to say. I doubt she was doing it on purpose, but it hurt all the same, and we’d end up fighting.

After one such fight, I got home and was sobbing and went up to my brother and blurted it out, saying “I’ve been trying to tell Mum but she keeps changing the subject and I know you won’t change the subject and I need to get it out and I’m gay!”

He simply said,
“since when?”

That was about three months back, and he’s been cool since then. My friends have been cool since then. It’s like nothing has changed. So I regained my courage to tell Mum (which had wavered, along with my resolve). I again tried to tell her, with about the same success as before.

So back to this defining moment.

Mum and I were out for a drive on Thursday. I was behind the wheel, Mum was my supervising driver (I’m on my learner license), and she got talking about Ellen DeGeneres. I used the opportunity to sniff out her feelings about gay folk, and then I said “do you remember the conversation we had in that cafe in Adelaide, about two or three years back?” This was the closest I’d come, and the conversation in question referred to the hypothetical situation of me bringing a woman home. She said she didn’t remember the conversation, and I lost my nerve. I changed the subject.

When we got to the part of the road where we swap drivers, I got out, took my L plates off, and walked around to her side of the car.

“That conversation was about the hypothetical situation of me bringing a woman home. Well,” and I blurted it out before I could lose my nerve again … “the next time I’m in a relationship, it’ll be with a woman.” I held my breath. Her face went blank for a moment, and then she spoke. I can’t remember the precise words, I was too nervous about what her reaction would be, but she accepted me.

I told Dad the next day, over coffee, with Mum’s support. I couldn’t quite get the words out, so Mum told him for me. I burst into tears, and he came over and hugged me and said it’s okay, it’s fine. And they’ve both been cool since.

But yeah, that was one of those defining moments. I’m no longer “Kitty, who is secretly gay but terrified to admit it”. I’m now “Kitty, who is openly gay, no big deal.”

So much can change in a moment.

Sunset

She sat with one leg either side of the pipe, the pup curled between her knees, and it suddenly occurred to her that this was the best part of the day.  This was the time, she mused as she reached down to scratch his ears, that the world disappeared and it was just her, the pup, and the sunset.

She calmly thought of the past week, with all it’s trouble and stress, and all of that seemed a world away.  How could anyone be upset, sitting on this pipe with their dog at sunset.  She admired him as she absently picked prickles out of his fur, and he looked up at her with a mixture of love and admiration.  The love of a dog is a wonderful thing, she thought to herself.  Dogs don’t care if you’re irrational, and they certainly don’t care if the world hates you.

She raised her sunglasses; they weren’t needed now.  The sun wasn’t bright enough to hurt her delicate eyes any more today, and she could view the naked world without worrying about a headache.  Even that seemed far away, the small flaws that placed rules on her life.  When she was sitting here with the pup, she could do anything, be anything.  She picked up his paws one by one, and noted with detached amusement that he didn’t fear her at all.  She could do anything to him, and he would just watch curiously and admiringly.  Even if the whole world hated her, he loved her.

She found no prickles to irritate the young pads, and her gaze again wandered to the sunset.  The pup, bored, rested his head on her knee and closed his eyes lazily.  She pondered that sunset, so like the others, and yet so very different.  Sunsets are very profound things, she mused to herself.  You can learn a lot from a sunset.

She started as the pup barked a greeting to some passers-by, who cooed and commented about the pretty puppy.  She found that amusing; everyone saw his beauty, yet how many of those same people would cluck over the “pity” of his imperfection if they knew it?  People were like that, quick to admire beauty, and quick to judge perceived faults.  It was the very fault that made him unacceptable that endeared him to her though.  He had first appealed to her mostly because he was rejected as “faulty”.  It hadn’t taken long for endearment to turn to love.  She noted that it was mutual.

The sun was behind the clouds now, and she gathered her things.  With a gentle word, she got the puppy down, and dropped down after him.  Together they walked across the yard, toward home, two halves of a whole.

© 2012 Caghs

%d bloggers like this: