To This Day Project
Today is Pink Shirt Day. When I was growing up I was often the butt of many jokes. I wasn’t your typical kind of kid, and I was obviously very gay. I was called “faggot”, “fairy”, “queer” on a daily basis. My favourite insult was when the kids would call me “girl.” I didn’t understand why that was considered an insult for them. I consistently replied with the question, “What’s wrong with being a girl?” It wasn’t until later that I learned of our societal animosity towards women.
But my predicament wasn’t limited to school. At home I was bullied further, and there were many dark days in my life. There were thoughts of suicide. There was no refuge for a young man, like myself. I don’t have a relationship with my family. I’ve written about that before. It’s my choice. I am not a victim. I am a survivor.
You see, bullying has a profound and lasting effect on an individual. In my twenties I didn’t quite realize how damaged I was. I believed that I was worthless, devoid of value because that’s what I had been told about myself my entire life, by the people whom I entrusted to love me the most. To this day I struggle with confidence.
A few years ago my parents threatened to sue me because I wrote about an incident from my youth on my blog. The email my mother sent me was something no parent should ever send to their child. But it wasn’t the first time she had done such a thing.
That’s what bullies do, they insult, and continue to bully until they get their way. I felt it was best to move on with my life, yet it’s challenging to be parentless, at any age. We all want our parents to be proud of who we are, and to love us unconditionally, and when they don’t, it’s understandable to take it personally. But it really has nothing to do with me, though it took me a long time to get that.
When I look back at what I experienced in my childhood, I recognize that many people had it much worse, but that does not diminish what I went through. Because I was gay I was shamed, treated like rubbish on the bottom of everyone’s shoe. I wallowed in a lot of internalized homophobia for a long time, and in fear of being caught — discovered!
I felt powerless. Even the teachers, who were witness to many incidences of my abhorrent treatment, did nothing. One teacher, Mr. Lee, joined in on the fun, and hated me, for reasons that I never fully comprehended. I mean, I was a kid.
Then I went to university and I met people who were open-minded, free-spirited, compassionate and kind. People who held the capacity for introspection, self-awareness and self-improvement. Individuals who embraced diversity, and were not threatened by it. They changed my life, but I had many years of recovery ahead of me. For a long time, I had to learn to cope with the treatment I received when I was in my formative years.
Now, at 33 I know that I have value. I have worth. I am loved. It took a long time to realize this for myself, but eventually I did. And even though I observe bullying almost every day, whether it’s at my job, or on the street waiting for the bus, or standing in line ordering my coffee, I am no longer traumatized by it. I have come to accept that adults are the worst kind of bullies.
And so, I try my best to defend those who feel powerless from predators, because that’s what I should do. That includes animals, who are voiceless. The way I combated my experiences was to help others, and my career has been dedicated to working for charities, and I worked with children with special educational needs for a few years prior. I have travelled and volunteered on a few community service projects, in Tanzania for example, and next week I am visiting Panama. I have taken my pain, and have tried my best to ensure that others have less of their own.
I know that this a personal revelation for some of my readers, and it might make you uncomfortable; I don’t apologize for that. I share only a small part of my story to anyone who may relate. I hope that they discover that they are not alone, and that one day life will improve.
You can learn to love yourself, and when you do, your heart opens to the world.
The video above is a project based on a spoken word poem written by Shane Koyczan called “To This Day“.
The goal is to provide schools and families with the tools to confront bullying. I think it’s a powerful video and I encourage you to watch it.
Now that we’re comfortable talking about bullying, we are making progress to protect vulnerable children. Let’s make a real difference and improve lives.