Why We Need To Teach, Rather Than Bully

I recently heard about a young boy who took to Twitter and wrote something that I, personally, disagree with. “There are only two genders,” this boy wrote, and nothing more than that. No threats. No elaboration. Just a short sentence that disregards the existence of transgender, non-binary, and gender queer individuals. Now, I happen to believe that there are more than two genders. In fact, I believe that gender is a societal construct to begin with. But that is not what I want to focus on. What I want to focus on is the reaction that people had to this boy.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that this boy was an eighteen year old teenager who was just about to graduate from high school. And when people read his tweet that was, admittedly, unnecessary and bullying, they responded by bullying him. They messaged him with personal insults, telling him that he was cruel and ugly. They sent messages to the universities that he applied to, telling them not to accept him because he was a transphobic piece of shit. And, yes, what this boy said was not okay. Any transgender, non-binary, or gender queer person who happened to be following him on Twitter could have seen that tweet and felt a punch to the gut, a realization that there was just another person out there saying that they didn’t exist, that the ways that they feel and think aren’t valid, and that is never okay. But the reaction that people had to this boy was not morally better.

In this specific situation, the boy was very young – still a teenager. And teenagers tend to say stupid things – not because they’re teenagers, but because they’re young, they’re still learning about their place in society and the place of others in society. And more than that, it is a fact that men and boys have a harder time accepting more than two genders than women and girls do. This is not because men are inherently transphobic, but because men are taught from a young age that they have to “be a man”, that their masculinity is important and needs to be maintained, and so when they see something that they perceive to be an insult to the accepted way that things are, such as a transgender, non-binary, or gender queer person, they react with offence or anger.

And so in this specific situation, what we had was a young boy, still capable of learning, but stuck in his idea of what is right or wrong and having a hard time moving passed that. He reacted by insulting a group of people who are already persecuted regularly, yes, but that is what he was nonetheless. And when he did that, nobody tried to teach him anything. Nobody tried to help him move passed where he is stuck. They just insulted him, belittled him, and tried to ruin his life by limiting his access to the education that he actually needed.

And that’s just what this boy needed: education. He needed someone to reach out to him and say, “I get that you believe that there are only two genders, but this is why I disagree”, and he needed that person to say it politely and with an open mind. Had someone done that to this boy, then he might have seen why his tweet could be considered offensive. He might have changed his mind about what gender can be. Or, at the very least, he might have been more respectful toward transgender, non-binary, and gender queer people in the future. None of that will happen if people respond to him with nothing with hostility. In fact, there is a good chance that it will only increase his hostility toward them, because he will begin to feel like that community hates him.

I am proud to call myself an intersectional feminist. I want to do my best to learn about the experiences of other people, to spread awareness of the issues faced by women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour, disabled people, people dealing with mental illness, whatever the case may be. But there are many people who feel the same way as me about this who respond to people with differing opinions with hostility.

And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand where the hostility comes from, because it comes from a few places. It comes from the belief that all people need is more education and they would change their minds about the matter. It comes from the belief that it isn’t as simple as saying that they have “different opinions”, because these are opinions that involve the very existence of certain people, or the very basic human rights that they deserve. It comes from the frustration that inevitably occurs when you are trying to get your government to recognize that you deserve to be acknowledged and treated equally, but others refuse to allow it when they don’t even know your experience. And it comes from the belief that it is not the life purpose of a person of colour to teach white people about what their experience is, or a transgender person to teach cisgendered people – it is something that you should go out and learn about yourself.

And I get it, I do – as a bisexual woman, sometimes I get tired about talking about the experience of being a bisexual woman. Sometimes, I’d really rather people didn’t see me as just a bisexual woman, but as a person, more than a representative of my community. But I also understand that, if you are not a part of this community, then there is also a good chance that you are too busy dealing with your own dumb life to go out and learn about mine. And it is very easy when society constantly tells you “this is right, and this is what people are” to just accept that message without thinking twice about it.

But more than that, regardless of a person’s reasons for believing something different from me, I love my cause too much to let it earn the hostility that it will inevitably get if I am too dismissive of other people. Personally insulting other people and calling them stupid and wrong makes them upset. It makes them hate the person who called them that, and whether you care about that or not is your deal, but you should care about the fact that it will also make them hate the subject that you are arguing about. It will close them off from ever hearing anything more from you. It will keep them from learning more, from becoming educated, from understanding why it is you feel the way you do.

And I understand that it is sometimes hurtful to hear the sort of comments that are made. It is hurtful to be told that you don’t exist, that your perspective doesn’t matter, that you don’t deserve basic human rights – I understand that completely. And sometimes, when people are hurtful, your instinct is to be hurtful back. But in many cases, even when these people are being harmful, they are not doing it because they want to be – they are doing it because society has made them believe that they are in the right. They believe in what they are saying. And so getting mad at them will get them no where, but talking to them, having a rational discussion where you explain your perspective and you listen to theirs, might. And maybe you won’t turn them into an ally overnight, but you will have introduced something to them that they can think on. Maybe they won’t think on it. Maybe you change nothing. But isn’t it better to be the bigger person and try to make them understand your side, than it is to bully people for not being on it?

The Door to the Rest of My Life

I found the door to the rest of my life, and it is open.

Now, I am expected to walk through it.

Now I have no choice but to walk through it. It doesn’t matter that I never thought I would get this far. It doesn’t matter that my life was supposed to end several years ago, in a bathtub, in a pool of my own blood. It doesn’t matter that I was born to be a sad story stuffed into the smallest corner of the newspaper: TEENAGE SUICIDE, it was supposed to read, and people were supposed to hear about me and shake their heads and say “what a shame” before moving on, forgetting me.

It doesn’t matter, because it didn’t happen. I’m here. I’m alive. And I will never be a teenage suicide, because I will never be a teenager again.

I’m an adult.

I’m a possibility.

I’m alive. And there’s so much that I can do so long as that remains true.

Because death is so final, and life is ever changing.

I can walk through that door. I can follow the plan that I didn’t have until recently, the plan that I never made when I was young because I was never supposed to get this far. The simple plan: job, move, school, career, maybe get married, maybe be happy, run into problems along the way but always push through them. I can do that now. I can live a life.

And what a strange party it is that I hold for myself, alone, in private. No invitations can be sent out because no one can know the reason why life overwhelms me and thrills me all at once. No one can know why I think it’s a miracle to be alive. If they knew they would worry, but they really shouldn’t because I survived. I made it through. I didn’t kill myself and I won’t kill myself. Instead of cutting into my skin, I fortified it with armour so that when the feeling comes back, I’ll know what to do. I’ll have prepared for this.

And for now, I found the door to the rest of my life, the door that was never supposed to exist in the first place. And I am walking through it.

Why Nudity Can Be Empowering

The relationship that women have with their own bodies is a very odd one in our society. And by that, I am specifically referring to the fact that whether or not women should be clothed and in what situations it is appropriate is actually a very controversial and passionate conversation that our society holds.

Some people say that women should be conservatively dressed at all times, because if they’re going to ‘dress like a whore’ then they deserve to be treated ‘like a whore’.

Some people say that nudity is empowering, and that women should be allowed to wear what they want when they want.

And more recently, I’ve heard the argument that nudity is actually oppressive toward women – not because of that whole ‘whore’ thing that I discussed earlier, but because we live in a patriarchal society. This argument states that women should not dress provocatively, and they should not present themselves in a sexual manner publicly, because that is what society expects from us. Society sees us as sexual objects, and thus we are fulfilling that role for them. We turn ourselves into sexual objects because that is what we are expected to be.

But, personally, I take issue with this third argument. I take issue with the first argument too, but that isn’t my focus now – what I want to talk about is how nudity can, yes, be objectifying, but it can also be extremely liberating. It all depends on the context.

This third argument, in my opinion, is taking a very specific situation and using it to disregard nudity and open sexuality altogether. This argument focuses on the typical model on the cover of a magazine, dressed in as few clothes as possible and tipping her head back, full lips parted, passivity in her eyes. This argument focuses on women like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears, women who are traditionally beautiful and who frequently pose provocatively, but they do so for a male gaze. This is the age-old argument against pornography: it’s all about the man’s pleasure, and never the woman’s. She can be sexy, but she must also be pure, faithful, silent. And, yes, this is an objectifying and oppressive situation. But it is just one side of the story.

Because as much as there are women who pose provocatively specifically for a male gaze, there are also women who can be openly sexual and be doing it for themselves, for their own pleasure. The pop singer P!nk, for example, who has vocally taken issue with the way that Kim Kardashian uses her own sexuality, has frequently sang songs about sex, posed provocatively for photographs and appeared scantily clad in her music videos, and has in fact been either publicly nude or close to. And yet, the difference between these two celebrities is that one never gets the feeling that P!nk is not in control of her own sexuality and her own body. She is not dressed that way because some male advisor told her that it would be the best move for her career; she is dressed that way because she wants to be dressed that way (or so her public image would suggest). And that creates a world of difference. No longer is the woman in question a sexual object, there to be looked upon by a man. All of a sudden, she becomes an actual person, someone with a body and a sexuality all her own, that she commands. She is in complete control.

And more than that, ‘nudity’ and ‘sexuality’ are not always the same thing. We always assume that, if a person is scantily clad or naked, that must mean that they are inherently doing so for someone’s attention, right? Well, not necessarily.

There are a lot of people in our society who are routinely told by society that their bodies are ugly. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of people are told that their bodies are ugly. This message is given to overweight people, scarred people, people with stretch marks, disabled people, transgender people, people with extra skin, people who are older or wrinkled – the list goes on. And when people are told that their bodies are ugly, they are told that they should cover it. So the simple act of not doing that, of forcing people to look at your body when society has made it so easy for them to forget that it even exists, is a liberating one.

And to return to the issue of women and their bodies, women are told even more frequently than men are that their bodies are wrong, disgusting, and simultaneously, sexual objects. Women have been reprimanded for breastfeeding in public, because the act involves uncovering a breast, and people do not want to see that. Instead, the woman must segregate herself from society, feeding her baby in a dirty and busy bathroom. Women are told that they must maintain their bodies in ways that men find sexually appealing, and so if a woman goes into public with uncovered and unshaven legs or armpits, they run the risk of being told that that is disgusting. But the thing about these two examples is that they are not disgusting; they are naturally occurring parts of a woman’s body, but society has made it all to easy to forget that.

One good example of this sort of nudity that we’ve seen in the media recently would Amber Rose’s bottomless photograph that she added to Instagram, proudly showing off her pubic hair – something that women are often told that they should shave if they want to be considered sexy. If Amber Rose was playing into society’s expectation that she be a sexual object, then she would have also played into society’s expectation that she be completely hairless to make it easier for the average man to objectify her, but she didn’t. She wanted people to see her pubic hair because she wanted people to remember that women have pubic hair and that that’s okay. There should be no shame attached to it. It’s just a part of her body.

So while nudity can be empowering in the scenario where it is used to foreground the woman’s control over her own sexuality, it can also be empowering when it is used to deny the belief that something about the woman’s body is disgusting or not right. And both of these types of empowerment are incredibly important. We as a society tend to ignore female sexuality, to focus almost entirely on the man and his pleasure, and so it is important to see women who are willing to say, “yes, I am a woman, and yes, I have my own desires”. Women need to know that it is okay for them to explore their own sexuality. And furthermore, women need to know that their bodies are okay the way that they are. When we do see nude or scantily clad bodies, too often they are all very similar – airbrushed, photoshopped, perfected into what the typical man would think of as ‘sexy’, but there are so many different kinds of bodies to have. Women with stretch marks need to know that they aren’t alone. Women with extra body fat need to know that they aren’t disgusting. And women with disabilities need to know that they are still beautiful. And one good way that we can prove this is by showing them examples. And these examples most certainly exist – they’re just told that they need to keep themselves hidden beneath clothing.

And yes, there are situations where nudity can be used as more oppressive than liberating. And yes, there are more ways to empower women than just nudity, and in some cases, some women would prefer modesty. These women are perfectly valid, but so are the women who are empowered by nudity or skimpy clothing. We as a society cannot ignore their experiences, and we cannot assume that every time that a woman dresses herself, she is doing so for the approval or disapproval of men.

Why Positive Thinking is Important

The idea of being positive is not always an easy one.

For people who are clinically depressed, for example, it can seem damn near impossible. Depression is a disease, quite literally – it creeps into your brain and infects it with negative thoughts, stealing away your motivation. Telling a person with depression to ‘just think positive’, and that will make their depression go away, is not as simple as all that. Depression doesn’t just go away because you tell it to.

And more than that, even if you aren’t clinically depressed, negative thoughts can become a pattern, a rut that you fall into, and the only way out of it is a steep, laborious climb. Every time something happens, you assume the worst, over, and over, and over, until it just becomes automatic. Of course the worst is going to happen. That’s what it does. That’s what you assume, every time.

But that being said, just because positive thoughts are difficult to think, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. In fact, quite the opposite: we need to try.

Many of us have heard of the experiment involving two plants: both of which are kept in the same environment, watered the same, treated the same, except that one plant is spoken to with negative words, and the other plant is spoken to with positive words. The plant that is praised grows tall and strong and beautiful, while the plant that is insulted grows stunted and ugly. There is no doubt that words have an immense amount of power; the words that people speak to us, the words that we use toward ourselves. Words have the power to shape our own self-image, the way that others see us. If we say that we are stupid and ugly, then it doesn’t matter if it is true or not; we believe it’s true, and that makes it true. So doesn’t it make sense to say that our thoughts hold the same power? Our thoughts hold the power to shape the world as we know it?

The world is neither good nor bad; it exists with aspects of both, and to each individual person, it becomes characterized by the way that we see it. If we see war, death, division, famine, hatred, then of course the world is a negative place – how could it be anything but? If we see love, joy, peace, innocence, hope, then the world is a positive place. It all depends on what we choose to focus on. And as much as it can be dangerous to accept naiveté and ignore the negative aspects of life, it is also very dangerous to dwell solely on that negative. If we dwell solely on the negative, we become like that plant – twisted and ugly, not necessarily externally but internally. We make ourselves depressed. We strip ourselves of our will to fight, our motivation. We take from ourselves things that we need to live our lives in a full and fulfilling way.

So as much as thinking positively is not always easy, it is something that we need to do. It is not something that is dependant on our situation, not something that time will eventually give to us. We will not stumble upon it when all the planets align and our life becomes perfect, because that will never happen. Your life will never be perfect, but all of our troubles, whether they be great or small, will seem easier to deal with when we teach ourselves to think positively, because that is what we need to do. Positive thinking is something that we need to train ourselves to do, even if we do it gradually. Even if it takes us years to get into the habit. Start by recognizing when your thoughts are unnecessarily negative and telling yourself something positive instead, even if you don’t believe it at first. Because eventually, if you do it enough, you might start to believe it. And eventually, the positive thoughts might even become automatic. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a long while and with some difficulty, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we try.

What You Decorate Your Beautiful Body With

A while back, I was scrolling through Facebook, bored, not really looking for anything in particular, when I came across a picture of a woman. She was a little bit older, a little bit larger, but she was wearing a great, beaming smile and a small dress covered in Disney characters. “I finally got it!” read the caption. “I’ve been eyeing this dress for so long, and I’m so glad that I finally got it! It’s just a shame that it’s on my fat body.”

When I read this last part, my heart sunk. I left the obligatory “you look awesome in that dress, rock what you got!” comment, but I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since.

Because, really, I don’t think that it’s all too rare a comment to make.

When it comes to clothing and style, people feel a need to conform to a certain set of expectations. People who are bigger in size are mocked and made fun of if they wear anything that shows off their body. People who are older are mocked if they dress “too young”. And when it comes to alternative styles, like funky hair colours, obvious tattoos, or facial piercings, many people behave as though the act of getting them is a courageous one, telling people who have them, “oh, you’re so brave! I could never do that!”

And there are a lot of ways that society enforces these beliefs. For example, certain employers will refuse to hire someone who is dressed completely clean and professional, and yet they have a tattoo of a flower on their arm. But these beliefs are man-made. They do not reflect any sacred truth, and the only thing they reflect is the way that we as a society see people who do not conform to what is deemed the ‘appropriate’ way to dress.

But restricting what a person can and can’t wear, bullying an overweight person until they feel ashamed to so much as wear a dress, is a strange and cruel thing for society to do. Because, really, what does a person’s style really do to offend those around them?

How do inoffensive tattoos get in the way of a person’s ability to do their job?

How does an older woman wearing black lipstick and a mini skirt affect your day?

Why would a cis-gendered man wearing a dress offend you?

And when you actually ask these questions to those who enforce these beliefs, often times they’ll come up with the same responses: because it looks silly. But why does it look silly? The only reason that I can think of is because we don’t see it very often. And the reason why we don’t see it very often is because society bullies people out of doing it – they tell them that if they do it, then they’re wrong, they’re ugly, they’re ridiculous, none of which is at all true.

There is nothing ugly about your body. Your body is a magnificent thing, whether it is overweight, wrinkled, disabled, tattooed, covered in stretch marks, or whatever the case may be. It is a human body, and it is capable of sustaining you, of bringing you through life. And of course it isn’t perfect – nobody’s body is, and neither should they be. They should be scarred and marked and calloused, because these are the things that life does to us. These are the signs that you have lived.

So whatever you want to wear, whether that be sweatpants or a small dress covered in Disney characters, please wear it! Some people might laugh and mock you, sure, but those people are wrong to do so. Those people are too stuck in the idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not that they haven’t bothered to ask themselves why they feel that way. And as far as the ways that society enforces these rules, the issue of employment and what not, there are always ways around it. Some employers might take issue, but others won’t. Others will look passed the things that you choose to decorate your beautiful body with and see you for what you truly are: a remarkable, open-minded person who can’t be defined as easily as society says you can.