Children Who Might Commit School Shootings Are Not “Potential Sickos”

The issues of gun control and school shootings have been heavily conversed in the United States lately, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that Donald Trump weighed in with a number of tweets. The one that I want to focus on right now, however, reads as follows:

Now, there is a lot in this tweet that is concerning. The very concept of teachers being forced to carry guns is terrifying, and I genuinely hope that that never becomes a reality. But, at the same time, I think that this is the issue that the majority of people who read this tweet will focus on, and it is the issue that will be discussed more prominently. And there is something else in this tweet that I find terrifying, and worth discussion.

Namely, I want to talk about Trump’s repeated reference to shooters as ‘sickos’.

Now, before I get into this, I want to clarify something: anyone who commits a shooting has committed a terrible, sick act. They have taken innocent lives out of this world, and a very strong argument can be made that that is unforgivable. I am not trying to defend their choice to murder people, because that choice is indefensible.

What I am trying to say is that, especially lately, we have been talking more and more often about what causes people to commit shootings. And the general consensus seems to be that mental health tends to be to blame. Heck, even Donald Trump seems to be aware that mental health is involved in a person’s choice to take up a gun and murder others.

Now, the degree to which mental health is involved in gun violence is debatable. Only 14.8 percent of mass shooters in the United States are diagnosed as psychotic. People with mental illness contribute to roughly three to five percent of all violent crimes (most of which do not even involve guns), and when people with mental illness do use guns in a violent fashion, that violence is typically turned on themselves (in 2013, nearly two-thirds of gun-related deaths were suicides). So when we say that “gun violence is a mental health problem”, we need to remember that mentally ill people are not one gun away from murdering a whole bunch of people.

But there is a video that has been circulating around social media in the wake of this discussion that I would love to draw to your attention now.

This video is an open letter from Aaron Stark, and it bears the very intriguing title, “I was almost a school shooter”. In it, Stark talks about his experience in school, and how he had a “very chaotic and violent childhood”. He describes being bullied, and he describes how, as a result, “I got angry, and I started hiding weapons everywhere”. He states that, the only reason why he did not commit a shooting at his school was because he did not have access to a gun.

“People say mental health is the issue, and that’s true. My mental health was in sad shape. I was severely depressed and suicidal. I felt like I had nothing at all in life to look forward to, and so I literally had nothing to lose. When someone has nothing to lose, they can do anything, and that thought should be terrifying. So, yes, mental health was an issue. A bigger issue was love. I had a severe lack of love,” Stark says.

Mental health is not the only reason why gun violence happens. However, anyone who would be willing to take a human life is not a healthy person. These are people who are deeply pained, deeply rejected by their society, and, as Stark says, severely lacking in love.

These are the people who Trump is referring to as ‘sickos’.

And I’m not necessarily concerned for the men who have already committed shootings; that is an issue far too complicated for me to comment on. What I am concerned about is the young boy who is in pain, who is angry, who is in need of support and love so that he can avoid doing the terrible thing that he has been considering, and yet he is further alienated by his own president, who dismisses him as a potential sicko.

The language that we use when referring to people matters. And ‘sicko’ is a very dismissive word. ‘Sicko’ does not create room for discussion, and yet discussion is absolutely necessary for any young person who is considering this. ‘Sicko’ does not create room for love, and yet love is vital in avoiding this exact problem. ‘Sicko’ is the sort of word that discourages a young man from coming forward and talking about his feelings, because he doesn’t want to be dismissed as a ‘sicko’. So he doesn’t come forward. He just sits with it, and lets it fester. He allows it to progress, until the absolute unthinkable happens.

The truth is, it does not take a monster to do this sort of thing. All it takes is one lost, hurting, loveless child.

It bothers me to see the leader of a country use this sort of terminology, because it gives the rest of us an excuse to follow his lead. And we cannot do this. We cannot think in dismissive terms when it comes to other human beings. We cannot allow our horror of what might be to further doom other children who have not done it yet. These are children who need love and compassion and understanding, and if the president of the United States isn’t going to give it to them, then we need to make sure to give it to them. We need to be there to listen to people who need it. We need to be open-minded and non-judgemental when it comes to what they’re saying. We need to watch our language, and make sure that we are not alienating them further. Because that is so easy to do, when we are so used to doing it.

I am firmly of the opinion that creating stricter gun laws will help to fix this issue. This is something that we need to do; but at the same time, it will not make children stop feeling this way. It will only make them stop killing each other in such great numbers. This anger and this pain and this loneliness is not alright, and it leads to so many other problems – more than just school shootings. So we need to do something to fix it.


Is the #MeToo Movement Leading to Vigilante Justice?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, best known for her novel the Handmaid’s Tale, has recently gotten herself in trouble for comments that she made opposing the #metoo movement.

Primarily, Atwood’s concerns focused on where the #metoo movement is going, and how the accused will be treated by the general public. She cites a recent incident, involving professor and fellow author Steve Galloway, as a reason for her concern.

In 2015, Galloway was accused bullying and sexual harassment. This prompted members of the Canadian literary community, including Margaret Atwood, to stand behind him in support. Many then retracted this support, however, when further allegations came out – including bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Galloway was dismissed from the University of British Columbia, where he taught, but is facing no criminal charges.

Margaret Atwood claims that Galloway’s dismissal was unfair, and she fears that the #metoo movement will lead to vigilante justice.

Galloway, however, is not the only man to be dismissed from his job due to claims of sexual assault. In the media, we have seen this happen time and time again. Harvey Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company following allegations of sexual assault. Kevin Spacey was fired from television series House of Cards following similar allegations, and Louis C.K. was fired from Secret Life of Pets 2. So is this also unfair? Is this also an example of vigilante justice?

There have been some who would say so; who would say that, yes, these are bad men, but they are good at their job. They are talented artists (or, in Galloway’s case, professors), and they should be allowed to continue doing their jobs.

I disagree.

In Weinstein’s case, I feel the reason why he should be let go is fairly obvious; Weinstein’s job put him in a position of power, and a sexual predator can and will abuse that power – as Weinstein did again and again. His job is directly connected to his being a sexual predator – he wasn’t the right one for the role. He wasn’t the sort of person who would do that job without abusing it. He was, quite frankly, bad at his job.

And in the case of Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey, who were similarly put in a place of power and adoration and then abused that power, they are both part of industries that have no shortage of competition. There are hundreds of talented comedians and actors in this world who deserve their shot at the job – comedians and actors who don’t happen to be sexual predators.

But let’s talk about Galloway for a moment, because the thing that I find interesting about this particular story is that this is a profession that isn’t part of the media. This is a more everyday profession, and while Galloway most certainly does have a system of support and adoring fans, this is to a lesser extent than what a Hollywood celebrity has. This is moving more into the mundane.

And was Galloway’s dismissal from his job unfair? Was this an instance of vigilante justice?

Well, quite frankly, no. I don’t think it is. I think that, if a person is poorly qualified for their job, then they should not have their job. And a bullying sexual predator is not the right candidate for a professor.

There is another story that came out of Canada recently, this one focusing on George Brown college in Toronto, where several former students of the acting program have come forward to discuss suffering abuse, humiliation, and harassment from the faculty of the school. These are people who wanted nothing more than to pursue their dreams, to become qualified in the job that they so desperately wanted, and instead, they were belittled, picked apart, and abused to such an extent that it affected both their mental and physical health – and all of this was caused by the very people who were supposed to help them. This was caused by their professors.

Professors have a huge task to fulfill – as all teachers do. Professors are there to teach people. They are in control of their students’ grades and education and, yes, even their lives, to a certain extent. A bad professor can very easily hurt a person’s chance at getting the job that they are working so hard to get, or they can kill a person’s self-esteem and motivation.

And, yes, Galloway’s first victim to break her silence was, in fact, a former student.

But what about the fact that Galloway faced no criminal charges? Is he being punished for a crime that the law hasn’t recognized that he committed? Well, this is where the argument gets complicated.

Just because Galloway hasn’t been charged with anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t guilty. Out of every 1000 rape cases, after all, only 7 will lead to a felony conviction, and this is not because the majority of allegations are false. It is estimated that somewhere between 2% and 6% of allegations are false. So, yes, that does mean that the majority of sexual predators will go without any legal punishment for their crime.

Does that mean that we should turn to vigilante justice to fix this problem? No, that isn’t what I am trying to say here (although we do desperately need to fix a legal system that allows the vast majority of sexual predators to walk free and go unpunished). What I am trying to say is that the University of British Columbia is under no obligation to keep a man under their employ when all evidence points to the fact that he is not good at his job and should not be allowed to keep it – especially not when allowing him to keep his job would send a message to his victims that what he did to them was okay. And sexual assault is already a rampant problem in colleges and universities.

So, no, from what I have observed thus far, the #metoo movement is not leading toward vigilante justice. What the #metoo movement is creating is a society where sexual assault and sexual harassment is taken more seriously and discussed more prominently. There was once a time when a man like Galloway might have been allowed to keep his job, and continue to harass, assault, and bully students that are simply seeking an education. But times are changing, and we are no longer willing to accept these things. We are creating a world where a woman might be allowed to seek an education without fear of being treated differently or unfairly by her teacher.

And, hopefully, this influence can continue to spread to all industries.

What is Sex Positivity?

As a society, we have pretty complicated opinions when it comes to sex.

We want to see it constantly – in our advertising, in our movies, in our music – but we want to see it subtle, full of euphemisms, and on our own terms. We don’t like it when it’s too explicit. We don’t like it when it challenges our preconceived notions of heteronormativity. And we don’t like it when it forces us to think of people who we do not personally find sexually attractive as sexual beings.

In other words, we like to find individuals sexy, but we do not necessarily like to think of them as sexual.

Is it any wonder that we have a difficult time understanding the concept of sex positivity?

I’ve often seen sex positive individuals mocked as being aggressively sexual nymphomaniacs who just want to have non-monogamous, kinky, pansexual sex with everything that moves. I’ve heard it said that, not only do sex positive individuals fall into this stereotype, but they want you to fall into this stereotype as well; if you aren’t comfortable having sex with everyone, if you aren’t comfortable talking about sex in great, almost disgusting detail with every individual you ever come across, then you aren’t sex positive enough.

Oddly enough, I’ve only ever heard this opinion raised by people who do not identify as sex positive.

So what does it mean to be sex positive? I mean, it’s totally possible in our hush-hush-wink-wink society of closed doors and whispered euphemisms that you might have heard this word before, but were too embarrassed to ask what it meant.

Well, acting as a sex positive individual looks different for everybody, but what this essentially boils down to is a few common beliefs.

Sex positivity is a subsection of feminism. That isn’t to say that every feminist is sex positive. That isn’t to say that feminism is only about sex positivity. But, generally speaking, sex positivity tends to be regarded as falling under that same umbrella of liberating women or other marginalized people.

Because, historically speaking, it’s been women who are both uncomfortably sexualized and denied the opportunity to so much as speak about sex (I mean, 66% of women aged 18 to 24 don’t even feel comfortable saying the word ‘vagina’, even to a doctor; whereas the ‘penis game’ is fun for the whole family).

But that isn’t to say that women are the only people who would benefit from a sex positive society. In fact, we all would.

What sex positivity essentially means is that we, as a society, need to get more comfortable with the idea of sex – in all of its forms.

We need to become comfortable talking about sex. We need to become comfortable teaching our children about sex – because too few children are. 71% of Americans will have sex by the time that they are 19 years of age, but only twenty states require sex education to be taught at all. And, hell, even when it is taught, the actual information tends to be lacking. Only thirteen states require the sex ed that is taught to be medically accurate, meaning that in thirty-seven American states, people are walking around with either no education in sexuality, or medically inaccurate education in sexuality.

What I remember most from my own sex ed class is my teacher laughing uncomfortably until she was red in the face (I got an A in that class).

This means that children are going out and having sex without fully understanding what they are doing or the possible repercussions that could come from it (like STIs or pregnancy).

In fact, education on sexuality is so poor that, to this day, there are many people who are still confused about what consent is, or how to ask for it from a partner. And this is a huge problem.

But sex positivity is about more than simply educating children. It’s about allowing people to express their sexuality in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Do you want your every sexual experience to be a kinky, pansexual orgy? That’s totally fine; go out and do that.

Do you want to have vanilla sex with one individual for your entire life? Cool. Do that.

Do you want to never, ever, ever have sex because the very thought makes your stomach curl? Great. Don’t feel pressured to have sex. You’re cool the way you are.

As I mentioned before, in our current climate, we are weird about sex. We don’t want to hear about it, but we at least want to know that you’re doing it, and doing it ‘correctly’. If you’re sleeping with multiple partners, then you run the risk of being labelled a ‘slut’, a ‘whore’, ‘cheap’, ‘easy’, ‘frivolous’ – and as such, you are dismissed as a person. If you identify as asexual, then you’re constantly assaulted with comments such as, “oh, you just haven’t found the right person yet”.

But true sex positivity does not uphold any of that. True sex positivity is about allowing people the information that they need to decide how they feel about sex, and then the freedom that they need to explore it however they choose.

You should feel allowed to explore your sexuality. You should feel like it’s okay to have many sexual experiences, with many different people, and you should also feel like it’s okay to not have sex. Whatever you want to do should be accepted as totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about creating a world where sex is not a shameful thing. Where being a sex worker is a valid way to make money, if that’s what you genuinely want to do. Where women are allowed to wear a hijab or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where men are allowed to wear pants or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where being monogamous and non-monogamous and asexual is all totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about being allowed to explore who you are sexually, and feeling okay in that. Feeling like you won’t be judged. Feeling like you have the right information to do it safely. And sex positivity is for everyone – male, female, transgender, gender non-conforming, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demi-sexual, or whatever-kind-of-sexual-you-want-to-identify-as.

End of day, that is all sex positivity is.


The Consequences of Over-Sexualizing Women’s Bodies

I was ten years old when I started growing breasts, and from minute one, I was ashamed.

I hear stories of girls who wanted to grow breasts, who thought that it made them look grown-up and womanly and all that, but that wasn’t my experience. When I started to grow breasts, I saw them as very sexual things that had suddenly attached themselves to my body, and at ten years old, I didn’t want people to look at me as sexual.

My solution was to start dressing in baggy shirts; lots and lots of baggy shirts, in the hope that my family, my friends, adult strangers who passed me in the street, would not sexualize a ten-year-old body.

As tends to happen to people, I eventually got older, and by the time I was sixteen, I didn’t like the way that baggy shirts looked on me. And so, I switched to tighter-fitting shirts with shorter sleeves and lower necks. There was only one potential problem with this: I had large breasts. And so, naturally, my breasts had this annoying tendency to reveal themselves in the form of cleavage quite often. Not even voluntarily; I could be wearing the most unsuspecting of shirts and – bam, cleavage. It didn’t matter what I did, it didn’t matter how I wore it; so long as I wasn’t wearing a frumpy sweater that was a size too big with a picture of a cat playing with a ball of string across the front, people were gonna see some cleavage.

And for a while, this embarrassed me. Granted, I don’t really remember being called out for what I wore (excluding on one occasion, where a teacher paraded me in front of the class and asked me to prove that my outfit was appropriate for school). But I often found myself noticing when other people’s eyes went to my breasts instead of my face, and I felt guilty for it. I wondered what they thought about me, if I was willing to dress like this. They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

Nobody ever called me a slut (so far as I know, anyway). Nobody ever accused me of looking for attention (unless I forgot it over time, because I realized that it wouldn’t matter if I did). And yet, I still felt that my body, including the ways in which it naturally developed and the ways that I decorated it, made me a lesser person.

And why?

Because that is the world that we live in. It is downright common to see and hear women’s bodies sexualized and objectified, and this doesn’t come without consequences. And I’m not just talking about the age-old some-men-see-women-only-as-objects consequences; I’m talking consequences regarding the ways that women and (especially) young girls see themselves.

From the time that I was young, I have heard men go on about how a woman’s breasts are sexually appealing, how her eyes are sexual, how her ass is sexual, how the curve of her hip or her neck are sexual, and all of this amounts to girls who grow up feeling like they can’t really have any of these body parts without it being inherently sexual. And, worse, if they reveal to the world that they have these body parts and someone ogles her or touches her inappropriately, then it is her fault, she shouldn’t have worn what she was wearing.

This latter belief is enforced from a very young age with such things like school dress codes.

If a boy in her class cannot focus on his work because the girl in question has shoulders, then that is deemed to be her problem, she is the one who needs to change. I mean, it’s not as though the boy needs to be told to stop being immature and focus on his work, right?

If a male teacher is uncomfortable with the fact that a student in his class isn’t wearing a bra, then clearly, she needs to start wearing a bra for him. It isn’t like he needs to be told that he should act like a professional and stop sexualizing a child’s body when he’s a grown-ass man, right?

And, really, boy’s bodies are not quite sexualized to the same degree. You never hear about girls getting distracted from their work because the boy sitting next to them was wearing a V-neck. You do not hear people going on and on about how pecks are dirty and sexual, and they need to be covered up as much as possible. You never hear about a boy who was assaulted, and the first question he was asked when he tried to come forward was, “well, what were you wearing?”

Simply by having a female body, society sort of sets you up to be distrusted and ashamed.

But you know what? I’m very glad that I had large breasts as a teenager, and that I couldn’t help but to show a little cleavage. And I know that when I say that, the majority of you are probably thinking that I’m saying that because it got me some good attention – but no. That’s not it at all.

Because, you see, when I first started wearing more tight-fitting shirts, when I first saw my peers’ eyes dart to my chest rather than my face during conversations, I felt ashamed and like I was doing something wrong. But, eventually, I came up with an answer to those wonderings I presented before:

They must think I’m a slut, that I’m looking for attention, that I’m trying too hard to impress them.

And who fucking cares?

If they think I’m a slut, then that’s their problem, not mine. And besides, if they really are the sort of person to look down on someone for how many sexual partners they’ve had or appear to have had, then I’m not sure they’re the sort of influence I want in my life.

If they think I’m looking for attention, then oh-fucking-well. I am looking for attention. We’re all looking for attention; isn’t that the point of life? To be noticed? To stand out? To make a difference in this world, to leave it changed from the way that you entered it? I don’t want to blend into the crowd; I want to lead the crowd, and no, my cleavage won’t necessarily get me that leader position that I’m craving, but it’s not going to stop me either, and while we’re on the subject of looking for attention, why would I deny what we all already know?

And if they think that I’m trying too hard to impress them – I’m not. I’m not trying to impress them. I don’t care about them. I don’t do my make-up for them. I don’t stand in front of my wardrobe and pick out clothes specifically with the intent of making heterosexual men en masse like me. I wear and I do what makes me feel pretty, what makes me comfortable. And sometimes that does mean frumpy, too-big sweaters with cats on the front, but usually that means tight-fitting shirts that show a little bit of skin, because it makes me feel less constrained and more beautiful. And when I feel free and beautiful, I feel more confident, more capable of leading that crowd I mentioned earlier.

And maybe I am risking people sexualizing my body when I don’t want them to, or blaming me for their own wrong-doings and sexist thinking, but end of day, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too old to worry about what people think now, and I’m too comfortable in my skin to change anything for their sake. And if someone ever accuses a woman of being the reason why they acted inappropriately (or, in some cases, even criminally), because she was dressed in a revealing manner, then that person is dangerously, horrendously wrong. They are sexualizing said woman’s body to a gross extent, ignoring her personhood completely and reducing her to little more than an irresistible object.

And that is not okay.

A woman’s body is not responsible for the actions of another. A woman’s body is not inherently sexual, simply by existing. Breasts are just breasts, like a man’s pecks are just pecks. And no ten-year-old girl should ever feel dirty, gross, or sexualized simply because of the way that her body is naturally developing.


Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.