Monday, October 24, 2011

It Gets Better...Not Always Easier.

It gets better!
But it doesn’t always get easier.
Confused? Welcome to life.

With more and more media coverage extending to those who have committed suicide as a result of being bullied, every day the message is being extended. “It gets better!” And you know what? It does. It does get better. But it doesn’t get easier.  I’m living proof. It gets better.

I volunteer my time (when I’m able) with a LGBT Youth Group, and I want them to know this. It does and will get better. But it isn’t easy. It’s tiring. It’s emotionally exhausting and draining. But the reward is worth it. The reward for enduring it all is a simple one. You get to live. But really, life is what you make of it. My life is beautiful, and elegant in its complex simplicity. And I enjoy every minute of it, whether they are moments where I am laughing from the bottom of my heart, or crying from the depths of my soul.

And while I’ve never been suicidal, that doesn’t mean I was never bullied. Lord almighty how I was bullied. I was picked on for the friends I had, or didn’t have. The clothes I wore, or didn’t (make that WOULDN’T) wear. I was picked on because I’m gay, and you know what…that shit still happens. We’ve made great strides in equality, but there are still some very negative opinions out there surrounding my orientation. I was picked on for my choice of extracurricular activities, for where I worked, for the courses I took in school. I was even picked on for where my parents worked.

Yes, I am serious. I was picked on for where my parents worked…as if I had any choice in the matter. But I’ll get back to that in a bit.

And it was stressful. By the gods it was, and there were times I would have such a stress headache, and feel so sick to my stomach about it, and the exhaustion I felt. Yet I never felt the need to harm myself. Because if I did, then that would be me, letting “Them” win. So day after day, I would square my shoulders and harden my gaze. I would walk through my little high school, and listen to the taunts and roll my eyes at the repetition. I would look at the source of these taunts, the snide remarks, and the cruel words, and think, “How small you must be, if you have to attack me, to feel better about yourself.”

Yes. I pitied them. Because, well, let’s face it. I’m fucking fantastic, and anyone who would argue, well. That’s your opinion and you are welcome to it. I sleep well every night knowing I am exactly who I am because of the people who would put me down. It isn’t easy, and I still get overwhelmed sometimes. But I have my support structure I can fall back to, and if I have to fall apart for a little bit to pull myself together, then I know I’m surrounded by those who would protect me.

But who am I that came up in a small town, with some small people, and survived the barbs, slings and arrows thrown and cast in my direction? What was my secret? How did I do it? Sure, it’s easy for me who is surrounded by friends and family who supported me to say it gets better, but where am I coming from.

Well, alright then. I guess it’s exposĂ© time.

My name is Robert Dakin. I was born October 2, 1982 to Robert and Patricia. I have one older sibling named Jean. I have a dozen or so cousins, and a handful of Aunts and Uncles. I am married to a wonderful man named Matthew. I have two sisters-in-law, Irene and Alyson. I have a handful of very close friends, and am surrounded with a good many people whom I love and trust.

But it wasn’t always like this.

When it was the worst of the worst for me, I was a teenager. I had my mother, father, and sister. I had even fewer friends, but a good number of trust issues, and nothing but contempt for the bulk and majority of the people I went to school with. I felt like I was the only person going through…well…all of it. But again. I was a teenager. I look back on those days where my wardrobe consisted of black cords, black cable knits sweaters and…SHOCK…black shoes.

And yet…I was involved in the high school musical theatre, the town theatre, I volunteered my time at the local swimming pool until I got hired there, and would pitch a hand at my church when the occasion called for it. I would help in the chemistry lab when I was in my senior years in high school, and I lifeguarded at camp and for the school board as well. I managed honour roll grades (for the most part. I missed a couple at mid terms, but pulled it up at the end of the year.) and I did all this because it gave me something to do.

The grades were also part of an agreement with my parents. They wouldn’t ‘restrict’ my activities as long as I kept my grades up in the realm of respectable. I did it all. I was busy as sin, and involved to a degree that some people get tired just hearing about my average week when I was in school.

And yet, for all of this, I was often treated like an outsider, because. Well. Let’s face it. It was a small town. My parents both moved there around the time my sister was born and the only prior connection we had to that place was the fact that, as my memory serves, my great grandparents got married there. Who then ended up in Winnipeg. We weren’t one of “THE” families there, so it wouldn’t matter how involved in things we were, the kids who grew up knowing they were from some of the “original” families in the town just never quite got along with us. Well. Never quite accepted us would probably be more accurate. Not all of them mind you. I’m generalizing here. But what really pissed them off was the fact that we REALLY didn’t care.

It was tough, I think on all of us. But there’s something that my Dad told me once. Well. More than once. But I remember the first time he sat down and talked to me about this sort of thing. I was about 6 or so years old. It summarized down to the fact that everything we did in that town, and every impact we made, was because we did it ourselves. We didn’t have to fall back on the family name. Which is also one of the reasons he and Mom were ADAMENT that I was NOT “Bob Jr.” (Though that became a nickname I never quite shook). They were determine for my sister and I to feel a sense of accomplishment because we EARNED it…not because our parents pulled strings for us. Our victories were to be our own, and Mom and Dad’s victory came from knowing that they taught us the skills to stand on our own and earn our own places in the world. It was harder than some of my peers could imagine. Carving out a niche in a town like Fort Frances. But we did it…kicking and screaming with more than a few clashes…but we did it.

The lessons of my parents will follow me forever, and I hope they are lessons I can share with my own children, or at the very least my nieces and nephews. Mom and Dad would let me trip and fall and bloody my nose. It wasn’t easy for them to see me, or my sister do that. I know it wasn’t. But it also gave them a sense of pride watching us pull ourselves up and dust ourselves off. With this lesson also came the wisdom of knowing when to ask for help, because sometimes, we need that hand up.

See Mom? Dad? I was paying attention.

But with all of this, there was always only limited assistance they could give us when dealing with bullying. Some battles, you have to fight on your own. They’re there as a support, but at the end of the day, only you can slay your demons.

There are never any perfect answers. No one answer fits every situation and circumstance. The answer that worked for me may not work for everyone, which is why I find myself so reluctant to offer advice on some details. I’m going to give it a shot though. I think “Open Letter” form may be easiest.

“Dear Person;

Because that’s what you are. A person. You’re not a “faggot” or a “dyke” or a loser. A faggot is traditional food served in the UK. It is also a word used to describe a bundle of sticks and twigs. A dyke (or dike) is the same as a structure used for avoiding flooding. And as far as being a loser, that adjective is only applicable really when you’re playing a game, and I assure you, life isn’t a game.

Right now, things are tough. Times are tough. It seems like there isn’t really a place for you to fit in and call home. You feel like you’re the only one out there, going through what you’re going through, and that no-one can possibly understand how hard it is.

It isn’t easy, growing up in this culture of manicured perfection, and ‘reality’ television pandering a certain image. Stereotypes are all around us, and the pressure to conform to them or break the mold can be overwhelming. Everyone around you seems like they have their stuff together, and yet, you feel like an awkward mess, wondering why you can’t look like them. But the truth is, they walk around like they’re on eggshells, hoping you don’t notice their shortcomings. They laugh and point at you to deflect from their own awkwardness. But to laugh at them is to become them. And while that may seem appealing, it will leave you empty. You have to do that hardest thing in your life to this point, and take the high ground. It isn’t easy, and it will take a strength you didn’t know you had. Giving up is easy. Giving in is easy.

So forge your own trail! Do the possible and prove them wrong. And talk about it. You aren’t as alone as you may think. Those crazy old people that you know? The ones you call “Mom and Dad” or the ones at the school? They aren’t as disconnected as you may think. Times have changed, but over the years, bullies haven’t. Same old story, just told in a different generation. The hot button topics are a bit different, but those Old People CAN help.

It does get better! Find someone you trust and tell them who and what is bothering you. Give yourself permission to be angry about it. Give yourself permission to cry about it. You CAN scream that it isn’t fair. Because it isn’t fair. You never asked to be tall/short/thin/fat/gay/lesbian/minority and for someone to single you out because of it? That is SERIOUSLY unfair that someone should use what makes you UNIQUE and twist it to make it seem ugly.

Hang in there. You can do it. You’ve made it this far. Just take your next step. Take your next breath. And just keep doing it.

All my love and support to you.


Well. It was an honest effort. Probably not as eloquent as it could have been, but I’m not one for re-writes unless I totally mess up the message and so far, things are looking pretty good.

Then again, I may to a repost of the letter just on it’s own and submit it…somewhere. Don’t know. We’ll see.

Now. For the other half of this.

It doesn’t always get easier.

I’m a living and breathing example that things do indeed get better if you move past your torments of youth. Sadly, being an adult is far from glamorous. Work sucks. Your boss sucks. You work too many hours for not nearly enough pay. You have house bills, utility bills, student loan bills. You try and sock away a little extra, then your car craps out, and let’s not even get into the cost of preventative maintenance, replacement tires, or having to come up with a down payment for a new vehicle altogether. Vacations become a thing of the past, and your idea of time off is somehow getting a three day weekend at work.

Okay. Maybe I’m over dramatizing things a little bit. It’s also the freedom to stay up late, ignore the nay-sayers, indulge in the occasional unhealthy meal of beer and potato chips while watching trash movies, and saving up and buying that ridiculously expensive pair of jeans that you know you don’t need, but look fantastic on you.

The point is, there will always be someone out there that just grates on your nerves. There will always be people who instantly decide they’re better than you (for those of us who work retail, we call them ‘customers’) and that you’re worth barely a speck of their time. And the truth is, they’re doing you a favour. These are the hollow people who you do not need in your life. These are the fools who, at most deserve your pity, and at the least, deserve not one iota of your attention. The favour I mentioned? You don’t have to waste your time figuring out what they are or should be to you.

But the benefits far out weigh anything else. Friends you can laugh with until you’re sick. Dining out, or dining in, with enough of everything that no matter how low you were when you met up, you end up bouncing on your way. Drinking responsibly and knowing your limit if you are so inclined, and finding the simple joys of sitting around a dining room table, and telling stories that are ribald, or heartwarming…or if you are particularly talented…a blend of the two. Growing at home with yourself, and realizing that your parents weren’t just talking out of their ass. These are the things that define you as an adult. When it all comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter what you wore to school, or what you did. Most of the people you knew in high school, if you move on and away, you lose touch with in the first year you’re gone. Those who survive are the ones who are true friends. The ones you can go long periods of time without talking to, and they understand because life gets in the way? Those are the ones with whom it was meant to be. Those types of friends are the ones who were on the fringes, like you were once upon a time.

Believe me. I know. I still have a small handful of friends from those days.

My friends from those days were just as much on the outside as I was. We were united against the assholes who would shit on us back then, and we learned from each other. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for them I don’t think. They helped me become the person I am today. We watched out for each other, and sometimes we fought, but what’s important is that we made up, and patched up, and to this day are still friends. And if you remember what the argument is, please keep it to yourself. I chose to forget. J

 And to get back to one last thing.

I mentioned much earlier that one of the things that bullies loved to pick on was where my parents worked.

Here’s the thing. My Father worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources. He was, among (many) other things, a Forrester. My Mom? First she was an unwed-mother/para-teen counselor. Then she was, well actually she still is, a substitute teacher. Neither job was as lucrative as some of the jobs in the paper mill that dominated the town’s skyline…okay that’s a stretch. Fort Frances doesn’t really have a skyline per se. But it was DEFINITELY the defining landmark. Anyway. Dad worked in a relatively small office, and Mom bounced around to wherever the work was, as one would assume an on call teacher would do. But the thing that really helped me not feel bad about this? I was incredibly proud of both my parents. Mom and Dad worked their jobs day in, day out to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs. They endured verbally abusive co-workers, bosses who make my stapler look like a Rhode Scholar, long hours, missed holidays, and crappy pay all in the name of the family. We weren’t financially rich. That’s not something we could ever be described as. But we were a Family. They lead by an example that I WILL impart on anyone I can. Sacrifices have to be made sometimes. We have to work jobs we hate sometimes. Because sometimes, it doesn’t matter whether we like what we’re doing or now. There are people who count on us. Depend on us. Directly or indirectly. Lead by example, always. Remember. There is no job that is ever beneath your dignity. Everything has to be done by someone. And the shittier the job…well…the more respect that person should receive because unless you’re willing to trade places with that person immediately? You have no right to comment on them at all.

Not that you ever have the right to come down on anyone.

And now, I leave you all. I’m not sure where I was going with this to be quite honest, but I feel better for having written it. It has been far too long since I’ve sat down to let the words flow out. And as always, feel free to leave a comment. Constructive comments welcomed! Destructive comments deleted!

Just over 3000 words too. Man I wish it was that easy when I was in high school.

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