I decided to publish a comment I received today, from a fellow who goes by the name of elevencats, in response to yesterday's post titled "An Invitation," because I do not want his insightful and courageous words to be buried in amongst everything else. I want to feature his comment in the hope you, dear readers, will see what being young and gay in another country is like; how, in some respects, our situations are similar and in others significantly different; and to give you the opportunity to speak directly to him through your comments (if you so choose).
Of course, my own comments to elevencats will follow this post.
Firstly, I'd like to comment about the internet being the best resource, connecting people. Yes, it has given a lot to us who are somehow feeling like a absolute aliens among "normal" people. It is much better nowadays. But I feel that people, especially young people have gotten much more meaner and ruthless. Yes, there has been a progress but also there is another part that a parent does not understand. A parent or any other individual can not understand the way a person feels and the situation he is in. Because of that the only way an adult can help, is to be there. To give a hug, to offer a chance for a child to talk!, to show that your child is always important.
I was bullied a lot during my 8th and 9th grade (I'm from Estonia: we have grade school that lasts for four years, primary school for five years and secondary school for three years). It was awful, but I loved school. I loved to learn, causing me to be the best in my class. When secondary school began I was the one with the highest grades, I took part in state competitions, wrote poems and also I was always there for my classmates, even if they were sometimes mean to me. It got better because I made a name for myself.
What I am trying to say, is that unfortunately a parent can not take steps for their children. They have to go threw their painful events to learn. Yes your children can make awful mistakes on the way but learning by yourself and from your mistakes in crucial.
Ok, I have to admit. I am a young person. I have no strong suggestions to offer but I try to give everything that I have learned from to that moment. My dream has always to be a teacher of science. And I know I want to have a child. And I'm gay. And I'd love to find a partner who I can share my life with. Living where I am and knowing the income of a teacher (in our country a waitress at a bar makes more than a teacher) I understand that I need to make some hard choices in my life. The work I love or possibility of a family. A school is a place I can never be opened about myself and causing pane at the moment I do not know I am powerful enough to handle. Still I am finishing my BSc and hoping to continue my studies as a teacher. I do not know what life brings to me or what my choices can lead me to feel and to do but I know I have to do something. There is a wonderful thought in a new movie called "Üks minu sõber" (In English: "My friend"): we have to remember ourselves that we are nothing more than ants. We know nothing more than to build our nest. We carry thorns one by one to our nest. Everything that happens, happens. And doing something just makes living easier.
First, I must thank you, elevencats, for your wonderful response. I'm thrilled you took the time to read my post and to write a long and detailed comment (by the way, your English is a lot better than my Estonian).
Thanks also for your insight on how a parent can help a child who is bullied in school, whether he's gay or not. I know this is in response to some questions another of my readers posed (Sarah), and, in my response to her, I suggested she should have a look at what you wrote.
What strikes me when I read your comment is your youth. That tells me what you went through in grade school--that is, being bullied--is still fresh in your mind, and you haven't been able to move beyond it yet.
I relate to this one hundred percent. I went through the exact same thing. Healing the scars of the abuse was probably the single most difficult task I did in my life because they went to the very core of my being. I felt bruised and battered by the time I graduated from high school in 1977, and I didn't know what to do.
As I've written before, I got so used to feeling awful about myself, I didn't know any different. I felt during those years like I slunk around as if I were a worm. In fact, I'd laugh to myself that a worm probably felt better about himself than I did, that's how low I was. My point is, if I felt that way once yet arrived at where I am today, trying to help people like you feel better about yourself, then you can do it, too. I promise that.
At least, as you write, we have the Internet now. At least you are able to read the ramblings of a fifty-one-year-old gay man living in Canada who's gone through what you're going through right now, to some degree anyway, and we can communicate back and forth in an effort to understand and help each other. I wish I'd had that. I wouldn't have felt nearly so lonely and isolated.
I cannot for a moment pretend I know what it's like to be young, male, and gay in Estonia. I assume your country has progressed to some degree, where the acceptance of homosexuality is concerned, just as you write in your comment, but, at the risk of showing my ignorance, I'm sure circumstances are not as open in Estonia as they in Canada. Perhaps, then, what you read on my blog--for example, my comments regarding the newspaper ads of one of our largest financial institutions, TD--must seem remarkable to you.
But what I also hope posts like these do, when read by people from around the world, is offer hope, that the tide is turning for gay people everywhere, and that acceptance is on the way. No one can say for sure when we'll have total acceptance in Canada--that is, when being gay will be looked at as no different from being straight--but, over the past fifty years I've been alive, circumstances have never been better for gays and lesbians. We can even get legally married in my country now. How incredible is that? Unfortunately, we are only one of a few countries in the world where this can happen.
(And, let's not forget, just because gays can be legally married in Canada doesn't mean we can be totally ourselves on the streets of our cities and towns. Of course, where we live in Canada has a lot to do with how open we can be, small towns not as progressive as large cities. Even so, some gays are still victims of verbal and physical abuse from time to time in cities like Vancouver, which often feels like a setback even if it's only an isolated incident. At these times, I try to stay focused on the bigger picture, which tells me things are truly getting better, and, one day, we will be looked at the same as straight people).
If I had one point I wanted to get across to you more than any other, it's this: Believe me when I tell you nothing is wrong with you because you are gay, and you must, MUST see your self-worth and love yourself.
I say this because your previous comment and the one I've included here concern me in their tone. When I read today you are a young man--and not the older person I thought you were, surrounded by lots of cats because you've closed yourself off from everything and everyone--I ache for you. You have your whole life ahead of you. No one, no matter his age, should shut himself off from everything that brings him happiness and pleasure, because of what you went through in school, and because of how you feel about yourself now as a result.
You have an obligation to return to your photography and to your poetry writing. You must. You have no choice. You must continue to live your life to the fullest. You must not waste another moment giving in to the negativity of your past. You must do what makes your heart sing. You must do what feeds your soul. You must believe in yourself and get on with your life. You must.
Here's how I look at it. Some things are within our control and some things aren't. What you went through at school happened. You had no control over it. But you're out of school now, and the bullying is over. What you do have control over is how you deal with what happened in your past, how you feel about yourself as a result, and what steps you take to feel good about your life and your prospects for the future.
I read a book once, Elie Wiesel's Night. It's about when Wiesel was a child, living in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany during World War II, and all the horrific things that happened to people there. Everything in their external environment was out of their control because they were imprisoned. They could starve to death. They could be tortured. They could be led to their deaths in gas chambers. Anything could happen. And they never knew when it might happen. Uncertainty and terror characterized their lives.
The point of Wiesel's book is that the people survived the most extreme physical circumstances and even rose above them, despite their deplorable living conditions, because they still had control over their minds and their thoughts and their feelings. If their minds and their thoughts and their feelings gave in to the atrocities going on, they would literally die, their spirits would die, before they were physically exterminated. But if their minds and thoughts and feelings remained strong, they could find the hope they needed to get through every single day. And with hope, they could believe they just might overcome in the end.
I hope I've upset no one by making the comparison between being in a German concentration camp in WWII and being gay today, whether in Canada or Estonia, because that's not what I intended to do. Rather, I intended to show how we may not always be able to control what goes on in our physical environment (for example, as you write, being a teacher in Estonia, where you can't be openly gay and where you can't earn a reasonable income), but we can always control what goes on in our minds. And, just as importantly, we can always control our thoughts and feelings about what we have no physical control over.
I say all of this to help you see that what goes on in your physical environment, which you have little control over, doesn't have to affect how you feel about yourself as a gay man--if you don't allow it to. What happened to you in school doesn't have to affect your self-esteem now--if you don't allow it to. The physical limitations you see in your life don't have to affect the love you have for yourself now--if you don't allow it to.
I understand the pain you're in--that comes through loud and clear in your writing. But, honestly, how much of the pain you feel now is what you continue to do to yourself, long after the other kids hurt you in school and probably much worse than they ever did. You say your heart is frozen because of what you've been through, but, honestly, by allowing your heart to be frozen, you're hurting only yourself. If you give up photography and writing poetry, you end up hurting one person and one person only--you. Not the people who bullied you and made you feel badly about being gay in the first place.
How many years did I take to get this message? I spent nearly two decades hating myself. Don't do the same thing I did. Learn from my mistakes. That's why I write this blog. To help you get to where you want to be much faster than I was able to do for myself all those years ago. You deserve so much better, right now, this very minute.
In the next day or so, I will publish my specific suggestions on how to turn your life around by believing in yourself and by loving yourself. For now, take one baby step forward. Admit you don't want to live the way you do anymore, and that you're prepared to do something about it. I promise my suggestions will help you. (And don't forget what one of my other readers, Doug, suggested in response to your first comment, which I'll soon have more to say about.)
Remember, love yourself. Love yourself. The journey you take to do that will be the most important one of your life. It will change everything as you know it now, including open you to the possibility of finding someone to share your life with and maybe even have a child with. I promise you that. I promise. Never give up. Never.