Why Not To Be A Jerk: Notes From A Recovering Bully

Sometimes there’s no other way to slice it than with the truth; I used to be an asshole. I know a lot of inspirational tales about the survivor, but I almost never hear much about how life turns out for the bully. (It makes sense if I think about how many people actually want to own up to their bullshit.) Since I try to live with no shame in my game, I’ll tell you how it goes. I can’t tell you how not to be an asshole, of course. That one is all you. But if you’re reading and nodding along, that’s a good step. I’ll just tell you WHY not to be an asshole instead.

5 Things That A Bully Knows

1. Words are glass. Small, jagged shards that wink as they hang in the light. These moments last only seconds, but these seconds in this light make the shards look as much like the truth as they felt leaving our lips. It is not until we lay sleepless inside of ungodly hours that we taste the blood in our mouths.

2. We have our reasons. Reasons like self-respect and love and justice. We see ourselves as the messenger rather than the villain, for a villain would surely use his fists.

3. Hate is heavy. To rule this way brings discomfort that is felt at all times, like stacking those we dislike atop our shoulders. We do not feel discouraged, because it takes a strong person to carry this weight. We blame them entirely, all the while questioning why everyone is on our back.

4. Bullies have bullies, too. There is the one person we all know, the one who started it. The one who gave us all of our reasons. An objective perspective would tell us that the virus did not begin with them, yet we will maintain the idea that this person doesn’t have reasons; just a blank space where a soul should be. We will imagine that even for a soul that is black like soil, there is, at the very least, hope that good things might still someday sprout.

5. We are just confused. How could we not be? So few of the people we know walk around with the weight of nothing and nobody. This is not malice; it’s survival. Surely if you cease to be the one holding the saw, you become the one laying on the table.

5 Harsh Truths That A Bully Learns

1. Awakening to life’s purpose will more than likely not involve pretty pastels, no third eye, no peace. It will feel as if we are going about life, skin held together by staples while our body attempts to shed this and replenish itself. We will resist, clinging to our rough exterior as if it were worth more than it is. We will not let go until we realize how painful it is to embrace ourselves.

2. Change, the grand, sweeping kind is almost never launched in quiet, thoughtful moments. Change is brought in by heavy gusts that shatter window panes. Change becomes the guest choosing to stay; invited or not. We will adapt and flourish next to it. Or we won’t, and we’ll find ourselves brushing up against it, hearts like sandpaper, vowing that we’ll teach our kids not to be wimps, because life is tougher when you’re a wimp. We’ll find ourselves spitting glass.

3. Everyone has their reasons. Reasons that make us unimportant to them, like them to us. Reasons like pride disguised as self-respect, vengeance disguised as love and loss disguised as justice. We will not see this great wheel of reasons until we and all involved notice that we’re running in circles.

4. Nobody with any kind of character bets on the bully. To be an asshole, to fly off the handle, so far it’s (kinda) worked. However, there are VERY few areas in life in which these strategies are efficient or tolerated. One day, when our sideshow is no longer the freakiest in town, the crowd that coos and strokes our fragile egos will begin to thin until it is us and the dust. We will be remembered, but people will not find it entertaining. We become the empty vessel after the party.

5. Perhaps the most jarring truth is that we matter more than this, that our lives are worth more than we’re doing with them. Our voices are melodious when they are not being used to wound. The energy we squander on hate takes real commitment, and there are innumerable positive outlets we could use to fine tune that rather endearing bit of our character. As we turn this over we will see that almost every black, rotten part of us started growing with the hope of something good. We alone are something good. The road is a unique, authentic journey for all who travel, but the pattern of change has been the same since Moses was an angsty teen. We become who we are when we discover that we can no longer be who we were.

All Great Things

It’s World Pride week, and I could not be more excited. Some of you who have followed Lipshits and Mental Fits from the beginning might remember that I first spoke openly about my sexuality in a post called “The Other, Other ‘B’ Word.” I’m so proud to say that Lipshits and Mental fits stands with the LGBTQ community, and even more proud to celebrate this week alongside them.

Although I believe that we should be proud of who we are every day of the year, Pride Week is important because it gives us the opportunity to come together and reflect on the progress we’ve made, the people who have devoted their lives to the movement of equality, and to celebrate the future of this movement.

It’s hard to grow up in a place that feels a little frozen in time, like the ground 6 months of the year. While most everybody is friendly, you don’t see a ton of openly gay couples. When I was young and visiting larger cities, seeing men holding hands and women with their smiles pressed together-it mesmerized me. The way that people strolled by without taking notice fascinated me even more. I remember wondering why seeing this kind of love felt so familiar to me. It made me warm all over, and I thought about those people for days afterward. Then I would return to the prairie, and the cold would steal my breath.

Some people I know still gain their knowledge from evening sitcoms featuring the flamboyant gay man with a cardigan around his neck, giving relationship advice at an all girls’ sleepover. For awhile, that was really the only impression that I had as well. These conflicting feelings ate my brain, and I began to see myself as a total alien. As I imagine it does for a lot of people, the confusion I felt grew thicker as I got older, like a strange haze that only I could see. The subject became important all of a sudden, and high school was difficult to navigate when the words “faggot” and “dyke” were thrown around like frisbees. I found myself saying things like “being bisexual is a fad,” even though it left a sharp pang in my chest every time.

Part of the reason that I and many others like myself hide their sexuality, especially from our peers, is because people get this weird impression that we want to make out with them or that they can’t associate with us for fear of being mistaken as LGBT as well. For those of us that haven’t come out yet, relationships can feel extremely shallow when we cannot be open about the things that make us a whole person. Many people stay silent for reasons of fear. Bullying, both at school and online can weigh on a person’s chest, choking them until they decide that it’s time to give up, to stop struggling, to cease to breathe. Add to this a volatile home life, and you’ve got a gay kid’s nightmare. No two situations are quite alike, and circumstances may vary, but the statistics don’t lie. According to egale.ca, LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk of taking their own lives than their heterosexual peers. 33% of us have attempted suicide in Canada alone, and many more are contemplating.

This number may not be high enough for you to be alarmed, but those who choose to pull the plug on life have parents and siblings. They have cousins and neighbours and best friends. Part of these people dies alongside them, their insides rotting from the words that didn’t get the chance to be said, from the guilt of knowing that it was preventable.

In 2003, a gay couple were pronounced legally wed for the first time in Toronto, and two years later, the federal government legalized same-sex marriage across the nation. I am grateful to live here, where my rights are protected. However, homophobia still hangs like a dark cloud, especially in small, rural areas. We know that if we fall madly in love, we can be wed, and that’s great, but what about the years leading up to that moment?

I don’t know about you, but I want to see more people make it to that moment. I want to see hugs at graduation and legendary touchdowns. I want to hear about sweaty hands and first loves. I want the only tears at 3 AM to be after the first love is lost. I want to see these things because it doesn’t matter if it’s two men or two women, the difference is irrelevant when I see their gums as they throw their heads back and laugh; it’s irrelevant when I see their eyes gleaming with that all too familiar shine; love.

All great songs, poems, novels, they’re written with love in mind. They search for, they celebrate, they agonize over, they curse love. Love of all kinds, wether it be a love for a human being or a love for baseball. These great songs, poems and novels are written because it is only love that can feed us and bleed us dry, sometimes all at once. A goodbye would just not be as gutting if we were watching people we disliked as they left our door and our lives. In the cold confusion that is the world, love is warm, and we forever search for, celebrate, agonize over, and curse love.

I can’t tell you where to go from here, and I certainly can’t tell you where your path will lead, because it took me 10 years to work up the courage to love and accept this part of myself. What I CAN tell you is that my life is infinitely better since coming out. I feel great about owning who I am, and I feel great about sharing my confusion with others. (Let’s be honest. I am a very confused human being.) If you are struggling with your sexuality or even simply questioning what sexuality means to you, I urge you to reach out and talk. Connect with me here, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Let’s celebrate who we are, even if you feel like you have to do so quietly for now. LSMF will always be a safe place to land.