Tuesday, January 24, 2012



This is one of a continuing series. You may read Part One, “A ‘VICTIM’ IMPACT STATEMENT,” here. To read Part Two, “UNDERSTANDING THE MINDSET OF THE ‘VICTIM’,”click here. Subsequent posts will deal with the bullies and the bystanders.

If we really want to make growing up more tolerable for gay and lesbian teens, we have to start years before that. There are books about two mommies and two daddies that teachers still shy away from. I can take a reasonable guess at what they’re thinking: Why stir up a fuss and get a church-affiliated parent group going to the media saying that I am promoting the homosexual agenda? Realistically, these books are rarely ordered for school libraries let alone used as part of classroom instruction. Right or wrong, we’re not there yet.

Nonetheless, the foundation of acceptance can be laid in elementary school. There are many books on differences and atypical friendships. There is a picture book about a squirrel with OCD and a classic from 1934 about a bull that would rather sniff flowers than fight. Unusual friendships can be found in a wordless book about a fox that loves a chicken as a companion not a main course, a series about a cat that is best buds with a mouse, a story about a tractor’s love for a cow and yet another cow story about befriending a pig. There is a princess who seems to do things backwards. There is a big wolf that discovers he likes the companionship of a little wolf. A favorite of mine involves a straight guy—literally, he’s drawn with all straight lines—who struggles for acceptance in a town where everyone and everything consists of scribbles.

I could go on. Children’s authors and publishers love the themes of differences and accepting yourself for who you are. Teachers do read these books to classes and use them as wonderful discussion starters. All that needs to happen is these discussion starters need to be used as comfortable springboards for dealing with the “That’s so gay” comments that children blurt at young ages. Gay describes two teen boys or two teen girls who love each other. It also describes two men or two women who love each other. Keep it simple. Talk about how the putdown would offend these people. Kids get it. Each time a gay putdown is uttered, deal with it. Teachers establish the climate of a classroom and a playground. How we deal with one another in respectful ways should take priority over the area of a circle. Let’s put things in perspective: I’ve never had to use that math formula as an adult, but I deal with differences every day.

Starting in grade five, the gay putdowns increase, particularly in the change room after gym and on the sports field. Many who taunt learn to whisper their insults, but teachers need to continue to create an environment where putdowns can be reported and addressed. Some of the most impulsive boys never learn how to speak quietly. Their whispers would wake a hibernating bear. More teachers now address comments that are brought to them, but that is not enough. You don’t have to be an eavesdropper to pick up on inappropriate language and gay putdowns. Teachers and coaches need to consistently address what they hear, not just what is reported. Any leeway will only snowball into something bigger. How a teacher deals with what is heard makes all the difference. If talks lead to punishment, the person who reports is deemed a tattletale or a rat. If the issue is dealt with in a way to foster understanding rather than to impose punishment, then there is no resentment (or wrath) imposed on the person who reports the putdowns.

In British Columbia, teachers and other adults can cite the law to support their talks about homophobia. The B.C. Human Rights Code states that it is illegal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation. Having legal protection against homophobia is vital. Sexual orientation must be expressly included in any laws designed to prevent discrimination. Express mention gives tentative teachers something very clear to rely upon. Laws bring validation but they also provide vital support. Parents cannot successfully accuse schools of “promoting the homosexual agenda” when laws clearly state that discrimination is not allowed.

To recap, there is literature to support meaningful discussions about accepting people with differences. Fictional accounts can be safe springboards for meaningful discussion. Many picture books contain messages that can be applied to a wide range of situations. As well, in many jurisdictions, protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation is enshrined in legislation or through court rulings. The legal language provides clear support for creating an environment that disallows homophobia. More than anything, adults need to take the lead. They need to address putdowns in order to foster an atmosphere of acceptance where all children can thrive without fear of bullying. No more turning the other way. No more pretending not to hear or see. No more saying, “Just ignore it.” No more responses that are the equivalent to “Buck up.” Our young people deserve more from the adults entrusted with leading them and shaping them into respectful, responsible citizens.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Or something like that.

I heard the song “High Hopes” while watching an episode of THE MIDDLE this week. It felt like a knockoff of (or a tribute to) LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. The song, famously sung by both Doris Day and Frank Sinatra has endured. Despite all the dips I’ve come across in dating—“dips” may refer to my own feelings or to the other guy across the table, depending on my level of bitterness—I need to endure just like the song.

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant...can't
Move a rubber tree plant

But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes.

My latest high hope ended abruptly after two outings. Egad! How is it that my “relationships” are getting shorter?! At 47, it is easy for me to feel defeatist. Could it be that the good ones are all taken? Is there something about me that is genuinely repulsive? (Who told you about my BACKSTREET BOYS 4EVER tattoo?!)

Even with reasonable evidence that I am not at fault, it is hard to keep hoping. When I went on the Plenty of Fish online dating site this morning to change a photo, I noticed that my two-date guy had deleted our messages. Not only that, he had deleted his entire profile. I can conclude that I truly icked him out or that he realized he signed back onto a dating site too soon after a recent breakup. Yes, the latter option is what I’ll go with, but the frustration lingers. It’s all too déjà-vu. I am ready—heck, OVERDUE!—for my happy ending.

So any time you're gettin' low
'stead of lettin' go
Just remember that ant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.

I did a quick search of profiles and found one or two possibilities. I even clicked to begin a message to one but bored myself by staring at the blinking cursor. I could not write a thing. My heart’s not there right now. A shame, really. How does one guy not being ready have such an influence my own behavior?

I’m not ready to meet another guy who discovers he’s not ready. I can’t bear for another man to decide I live too far from his tiny urban playground. And, worse, I do not want to go for another coffee where neither one of us feels a darn thing. I used to feel that every bad date crossed off another guy, bringing me one step closer. Nowadays, each blow takes me one step farther.

Maybe I’ll feel different tomorrow. I was once filled with hope. It can come back. I’ll move that rubber tree plant someday.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I have had three long(er) term relationships. In two of them, the guy fell reluctantly into things with me. In both situations, the spiel went something like this: “I’ve got a lot of changes going on in my life right now. You just need to know that I’m not sure how much I want in dating right now.” I ignored the yellow caution light (or the red flag) and continued on. Love did bloom. In both scenarios, I was the one who chose to end the relationships. Ironically, both guys would have stayed the course.

But things were flawed from the outset. They didn’t hide things from me. I, due to a genuine interest and perhaps a blind determination to be in a relationship, didn’t allow a vague “no thank you” to lead to an early exit.

Here I am in a similar situation yet again. During a promising first date and a second date over dinner tonight, conversation ran smoothly. Both of us shared freely, going into greater depth than I typically encounter with the interview-styled surface dating. Tonight’s date was cut short due to the fact I have to catch the last ferry home which departs at a night-owl-unfriendly 9:15 p.m. I had to leave at 8:30 to ensure that I would make it. As we walked back to my car, things got quiet.

Awkwardly so.

For me, I worried about my dog sitting in the car for two and a half hours on one of the coldest nights of the year. (Yes, I’d wrapped him in blankets, but what if that wasn’t enough?) I also fretted about whether the breath mints I discreetly popped would cover up the Thai curry aftertaste from dinner in the event we shared a goodbye kiss.

My concerns were for naught. My dog remained nestled amongst the blankets, a distinct smell permeating the car as I opened the door. He’d found my overripe banana, pierced it and feasted on the tropical treat. His birthday is tomorrow. I’ll consider that an early present. And the kiss? Alas. I got a standard hug and a “Drive safely.”

Ouch. I think the banana fared better.

The car radio taunted me as I drove to the ferry terminal as Lady Antebellum sang “Just a Kiss”:

Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No, I don’t wanna mess this thing up.
I don’t wanna push too far.
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
So, baby, I’m all right
With just a kiss goodnight.

If only.

Why didn’t I switch to the all-news station?

Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” immediately followed. Not as relatable but the kissing theme highlighted something glaringly missing from a second date.

As there were no road-closing accidents en route to the terminal, I arrived with a few too many minutes to spare. I had too much idle time sitting in my dark vehicle to allow me to wonder, Uh,...what happened? He had said, “We’ll talk during the week”, but was that simply a polite substitute for “Have a nice life”?

Yes, I think I knew the answer, but why spend the next five days wondering and entertaining the remote possibility that we would indeed talk? If things were going down, sooner would be better. Forget the dating rules. (I’m too old to bother with them.) I wanted clarity. I called him.

To his credit, he wasn’t creeped out...or he didn’t let it show. He even answered on the first ring. (Isn’t there a two-ring minimum? Seems he is not a rule follower either.) “I told you that I’m just starting back into dating,” he explained. Yes, his two-year relationship ended less than two months ago even though he knew it wouldn’t work three months into it. “I don’t know what I’m thinking. I don’t know what I’m feeling. I just want to go really slowly.”

Et tu? Déjà-vu? “I understand,” I said. “No pressure at all.” Seems the only place kiss fits in this evening is in the kiss-off.

I have no tears like the castoffs on “The Bachelor”. I could go into one of their classic Woe Is Me speeches: Why does this always happen to me? I put myself out there. I showed I am ready for love. And he didn’t want it. He didn’t want me. What’s wrong with me? I wonder if implants will make a difference next time around. Again, not all parts of “Bachelor” talk are relatable, but I understand the gist of things. (I’m thinking of getting my teeth whitened. Okay, maybe not a full procedure, but I could pick up a packet of those Crest Whitestrips.)

I know that five days from now I’ll still entertain the possibility that he might call, just like I will gullibly fork over a couple of dollars tomorrow for a lottery ticket. But I also know that no call is an honest, merciful (in)action. I cannot continue to be the dating coach for another tentative man.

A shame really. I saw potential. Intelligent, empathic, attractive, artistic,...even a quasi-vegetarian. (Sorry, but sushi is not a vegetable.) On the bright side, there are no snags in my future plans. I can continue to dream about taking a peon day job and writing during my free time when I move to California. I will be leaving nothing behind. My life needn’t be so complicated.

And yet I wouldn’t have minded.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Yes, something. What exactly? Who knows in the beginning. I knew when he sat down with his tea that this would go somewhere.

The biographical interview question-and-answer felt like a lingering conversation. No need to rush each answer. Add details.

We’ve got time.

After downing our drinks, we went for a walk in West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park as a mist fell. I was so involved in the conversation, I did not realize that the mist had turned to rain. “We can turn around any time,” I finally offered. “Now’s good,” he responded, no longer feeling the need to be a polite walker. Something very refreshing about that! By the time we reached my bus stop, water dripped steadily from my hair to my face. Not a picture perfect look, but I felt confident that that didn’t matter.

“I’ll wait till your bus comes,” he said. It wasn’t an empty gesture. I knew he’d wait, even as three of the wrong buses drove by. In between, he gave me a goodbye hug. Long. Tight. Meaningful.

As with any first date, I could pick it apart and point out all sorts of red flags. I’m a master at that. But I’m tossing that mindset aside for now. All I know is that things felt right. We genuinely related to one another. We talked about next time.

After so many one-afternoon coffees, I am just going to appreciate the real possibility that there will indeed be a next time. That really is something!


Okay, maybe it should be tequila. Here I am, hopping on the ferry again to meet someone for coffee. (I kept things a bit cryptic with my talented but gossipy hairstylist this morning. “We have coffee in town, you know,” she said. Yes, I thought. We just don’t have the gay men.)

It has been almost four months since my last meet-and-greet over a grande dark. That one didn’t go well. It didn’t even really register. I didn’t blog about it. In truth, I suspect I was the one who blew the date, too tired after a hectic day at work, too closed in my answers to his questions, too disinterested to get him to talk about himself. Actually, it was the opposite of disinterest, but that’s how it came across. I clam up when I am really attracted to a guy. Yep, that might have something to do with me being single.

I am not sure if it is the gap in time or if it is a gut feeling that the guy I am meeting might be a quality individual, but I am feeling nervous for the first time in ages. When coffee dates were coming once or twice a month, it became routine. Did I get blasé? Not sure, but I think a little nervousness can be a good thing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I’ve just finished reading Jay Asher’s debut young adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why (Penguin, 2007). Not exactly a happy holiday read. I chose to read it because of this blog and the continuing media focus on bullying. The book is about a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of cassette tapes with messages for the thirteen people she claims contributed to her life-ending decision. The story neither glorifies suicide nor does it condemn the act. It is simply one character’s decision. Books should not be preachy, but given the topic, I hoped this one would provide a clear message against suicide.

I do not think teen suicides are on the rise, but they are garnering more publicity. The internet and social media also make the circumstances of suicides more widely reported. As I read Thirteen Reasons, I got the sense that any positive impact stemming from the book would come from class and peer discussions about the thirteen characters’ actions. Perhaps someone will rethink his or her ways of navigating through high school. Perhaps someone will show more compassion toward a peer. Perhaps he or she will overlook or even quash a rumor...if that is indeed possible. Maybe a teenager will actually recognize an action leading up to suicide and get the requisite intervention to support the individual. For these reasons, the book may resonate with the contributors or the bystanders. Change may happen.

Still, I wonder about the “victims” of bullying and the teenagers who feel so utterly alone and desperate that they cannot see a way to carry on. Does this book offer someone contemplating suicide a vengeful idea of how to inflict pain in others after one’s own life? While it may not be the author’s duty to deliver a message against suicide, I cannot in good conscience move on without posting my own thoughts. Here is my message for teens and twentysomethings who think suicide may be an option, particularly when they are faced with homophobia and cannot see a way to accept their own sexual identity.

Thirteen Reasons Why Not

1) This is not your time. In the now, you may feel that this is not your time to thrive, but it is also not your time to end life. I am older, but I thought of suicide many times when day after day I looked over my shoulder, bracing for a putdown and I looked ahead of me with a mindset that things would never improve. I often thought, So what? I don’t matter. My life doesn’t matter. Before my teens, however, I saw a twelve-year-old classmate succumb to cancer. During my years of greatest angst, I learned that the most vibrant girl I ever knew died in a car accident. I attended the memorial for my best friend’s roommate who failed to navigate a curve in the road after he celebrated the end of final exams by going on a drug binge. I saw the place in the school office where an eighteen-year-old student with Down’s Syndrome threw up and died before the ambulance arrived. In the last month, I’ve heard of two work colleagues who died suddenly, years before reaching the age of retirement.

Was it their time?

None of these people had a choice. You do. Life is precious. It may suck now. It may have sucked for as long as you can remember. But somewhere down the line, it can change.

2) The people you think will regret their actions won’t. A few may feel guilty for a brief period. A day, a week. They will move on. You, of course, won’t. Most won’t feel any guilt at all. If they tormented you, they did so because they enjoyed the power. They perceived that you were weak. Your suicide will only affirm their assessment. It was your action, not theirs. They are masters at deflecting. You will not change that.

3) You do not get the satisfaction of attending your funeral. Funerals are for those left behind, not for the supposed guest of honor. Back when I regularly thought about killing myself, I imagined who would attend my funeral and how they would react. Maybe those visions helped me cope with the people who disrespected me or failed to appreciate me. Whether I were cremated or lying in a casket, I would not be able to look down upon those in attendance. The ideas about the funeral proceedings are fantasy and will never be reality. When you are gone, you have no say in how things play out.

4) Suicide is not an act of control. People talk of the person committing suicide making the decision to end his or her life. I can see that when a person is seventy- or eighty-something and facing the daily pain of a terminal illness, but it doesn’t fit with regard to a person in the prime of life. A younger person attempts to take his life when he feels he cannot control the circumstances that perplex and burden him each day. Life seems out of his control. Suicide comes as a reaction to the emotional chaos. A resolution does not seem possible, at least not in the near future. To give up now means those who have tormented you and brought you to this low exert the ultimate control. Game over? They win.

5) Pets miss out. Not everyone will relate to this reason. I am a vegetarian because I believe animals think and feel far more than most of us give them credit. We had a family dog while I was in high school. Sure, he was closer to my sister, but still he wagged his tail, jumped up and down and barked a greeting whenever I returned home. If I ended my life, he would have had one-fifth fewer moments of excitement during his day, one-fifth fewer tummy rubs and other indulgences. Would he have sensed my permanent disappearance? Maybe, maybe not. But his own life experiences would have been less. Even after he died when I was in university, there were other people’s pets with whom I interacted sporadically. Some seemed to recognize me, others didn’t. Regardless, I gave them extra moments of attention. And they returned the attention, even if primarily for a treat. Even when you feel you cannot contribute in a positive way to the lives of other people, you can make a difference with animals. These moments, whether infrequent or regular, matter.

6) Younger people do not understand. You may have younger children in your neighborhood and in your family. If you take your life, people will only whisper about you when they are present. The younger ones will eventually find out the truth. But they will wonder why more than most adults. They will have no frame of reference to understand what you have done. Some of the young are not even born yet. They are the future children of siblings and relatives with whom you may have fractious relationships. But when these children are five years old, they will love you unconditionally. You are Uncle Bob or Aunt Sally, the cool person who bought them an ice cream cone or gave them a teddy bear. If you go now, they will never know you. They will always wonder about their uncle or aunt. And, during their own years of teen angst, they will look to your precedent. Is this something that runs in the family? Is this how they are like you? Your actions impact a future generation.

7) Somebody loves you. I have watched my share of soap operas on television. One key component of the drawn out story lines is that the characters fail to communicate how they really feel. Misunderstandings occur. During the teens and the twenties, many people fear revealing their true feelings. To be rejected is to hurt...achingly so! Right now you mean more to someone than he or she can tell you. That person may not even fully realize it. If you check out for good, he or she may finally figure it out, but there will only be an aching emptiness since you will never be able to fill that void. This is not one of the people whom you may want to feel pain and regret after your death. This is someone who never hurt you. Your decision will hurt people you did not intend to harm.

8) Somebody still needs to meet you. Maybe it is a future love. Maybe it is another person who feels alone and needs the validation that his or her thoughts and feelings matter. You will matter. I know this. You may not even know your personal strengths right now when a cloud of darkness hinders your vision. Clouds do pass. In a clearing, months or years from now, you will connect with someone. There is an interconnectivity among humans. That someone will need you. You cannot be replaced.

9) The future offers possibility. Yep. Everything seems impossible in the darkest moments. You may feel certain about how tomorrow will go. Next week, next month, next year may be more of the same. However, change happens. You change, others change. Tiny shifts can have a great impact. It is possible for next year or the next year to be different. Suicide is the only response to today’s misery that makes the future possibilities impossible.

10) Working through this will help you offer support to others who feel this low. There is that cliché statement: What doesn’t kill(hurt) me only makes me stronger. Clichés arise because so many people see truth in the statement. When you are overcome with despair, it may seem like no one else has gone through what you’re experiencing. But someone has. Not the exact same thing, but someone knows that low. And someone worked through it. If you stick around and slog through this time, you can be there for someone else. Your personal testimonial, your online statements, your creative product arising from that time will offer comfort to someone else who will use your experience to offer hope and an ounce of strength to survive the lowest low. A counsellor, a teacher, a parent’s words may feel hollow if that person has had a relatively pampered life. They don’t understand! By contrast, your words will mean more because you lived it. Your experience may make the difference.

11) You deserve to laugh again. There is nothing better than laughter. I used to laugh hysterically on a regular basis. I am talking about falling-out-of-my-seat-and-snorting-uncontrollably laughter. The kind that goes on until my sides cramp up and I am gasping for air. My laugh has changed in the past year. It is muted. I have a hard time getting it out. I recognize funny things but often only an odd wheeze comes out. And yet I had the good fortune of riding The Tower of Terror at Disneyland this past week. I had an idea of how the ride would go, but when it actually started, I was so startled that I either had to laugh or cry. The laughter took over. It was a guttural laugh that grew with each shift on the ride. When the ride ended and I finally regained my composure, I felt restored, even if only temporarily. Forty-eight hours later, I can still feel the effect of that laugh as I inhale deeply. I do not know when I will have my next good laugh—it doesn’t have to be nearly as wild—but I do know that I want another such moment. Another laugh will come. Best medicine? Yes, indeed.

12) In time, you will be able to get away from the people and the demons that torment you now. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the people who bring you misery do not change. You can, however, change. You do not have to stay in their presence. For now, there may be no other options. In time, you will be able to leave. Start saving small amounts. Think about new places to live. There is a reason why my family lives in a different country than I do. There is also a reason why our visits are limited to three days or less. We all recognize what is best. You will be able to set limits and to create healthier distances from the prickliest of relationships. I finished high school twenty-six years ago. I have not seen any of the people who taunted me. In fact, I only have sporadic contact with one person from high school. While I can still remember, those experiences are far behind me. Keep planning. Keep dreaming.

13) You have the right to hope for better. Nobody beats me up better than I do. I am my biggest critic. I can dwell on gloom and doom. Sometimes I cannot stop it. I just have to hold on and ride through the cycle of negativity. But then something calms and I feel hope. The gloom may quickly return, but by then I have been reminded of something hopeful, something positive. Hope is not a naive emotion. It is not a mere coping mechanism. It is a basic part of human nature. Do not fight it. Everything around you may feel hopeless, but wait things out and a hopeful glimmer will surface, however fleetingly. I cannot guarantee that it will get better. (If you are feeling you’ve hit an all-time low, it stands to reason that things have to get better at some point.) But there IS a chance. Let hope in. With positive thoughts, positive results may happen. I’m not a pie-in-the-sky guy who believes change will be quick, but being hopeful is almost as satisfying as laughter. Almost.

So hang in there. You have been given this life. There is still time to get things right and to get away from what isn’t. These are my own thirteen reasons why NOT. I’ll bet you can pick apart many of them. I am sure, however, in a moment of peace, you can add to the list. Still, one reason why NOT is reason enough. Keep going! And don’t let a young adult work of fiction give you the wrong idea.

Follow-up: Shortly after I posted this, @KeoWhittaker thoughtfully tweeted that I should add the following: "the Trevor Project is available 24/7 for those needing support - 1.866.488.7386." Thanks, Keola!