David Pereira to the rescue!

David Pereira to the rescue!

A huge thanks to Dr. David Pereira— postdoctoral fellow, researcher, teacher, mentor, collaborator. Thanks David for all the ways you pushed Beyond Bullying 2.0 forward, collaborated with schools and teachers, reached out to students, mentored research assistants, and managed this big, sometimes chaotic, project.

The spectacle of coming out

The spectacle of coming out

vijay saravanamuthu headshot
Mikaela Clarke
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

You don’t owe the world a coming out story, because you certainly don’t owe the world a coming out.

This is the sentiment I always feel myself desperate to express in the face of queer teenagers riddled with questions about how to come out, who to come out to, and whether or not to do it at all. Yet something about this answer seems fraudulent, considering I myself did exactly that: hatching an elaborate coming out scheme in high school to broadcast my sexuality to a mass population. Sometimes I look back at my own coming out sequence and wonder why I did it at all. It was a student question addressed to the Beyond Bullying Project about how to come out to classmates in the midst of the pandemic that prompted me to revisit my own coming out sequence.

When I came out, it certainly didn’t feel like a brave, admirable act. It didn’t feel like a sign of strength, courage, or honesty. I came out to my peers through an Instagram post on my public page, one that could be shared with anybody aside from the family members I had intentionally blocked. This online spectacle felt somewhat selfish. I did it out of a need for control. I knew that I didn’t owe anybody an explanation. I knew that many of the kids I went to school with didn’t necessarily need to know me like that. In fact, I questioned whether or not they even cared.

My coming out didn’t happen out of any commitment to honesty or pride in my identity. Quite frankly, I was thinking of a girl, one I met on a dating app and really liked, despite ghosting her in response to her attempts to meet in person. I continued checking her social media long enough to see her get an actual girlfriend, one that responded to her messages and was free to go out in public. I lamented over what I felt was a missed opportunity, and my coming out post was really saying: “hey, if you see me on a date with a girl, mind your business.” I came out on a public page to students I had never even talked to, solely to ensure that nobody could ever come out for me. I wanted it all out in the open so that nobody could speculate about my story. So, I chose an identifier, typed up an “explanation” and conveyed a confidence I didn’t even truly possess.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to come out. There is no right or wrong time, place, audience or motivation. In fact, nothing about the act of having to come out has ever felt right to me at all. And still, it is a thing I partake in time and time again over the course of my queer life, as trivial as it may sometimes seem. No matter what your reasons are for coming out, the method should prioritize your comfort over that of others. As a queer individual who will likely come out time and time again, there will likely be no such thing as one, single, truly authentic coming out moment. It is okay to tailor your coming out story to be what you need it to be, when you need it to be that.

Photo by Takashi Miyazaki on Unsplash

That’s a wrap.

That’s a wrap.

THANK YOU! BBP Toronto wraps-up for now. 

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Jen Gilbert
The Beyond Bullying Project Team

Our Beyond Bullying Team has finished 3 weeks of online story collection in two Toronto high schools! In all, we conducted over 30 interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, organized student and teacher events, participated in school activities related to sexuality and gender, and collected over 50 stories.
When we began this version of Beyond Bullying—all online, with students and teachers mostly working from home—we didn’t know how it would go. Would students feel comfortable sharing their reflections on LGBTQ2S+ sexuality and gender? Would teachers help us get the word out to the school community? What role would social media play in our recruitment?
We are still sorting through these questions, but one thing we know already —none of this would be possible without the support and enthusiasm of our student ambassadors. They advised us on our recruitment strategies, offered feedback for story prompts, endorsed the project in their classes and on their social media, and showed up for us in so many big and small ways. You know who you are—thank you!
A huge thanks as well to the key teachers and administrators who gave us a home in each school—you invited us to council meetings, put us in touch with student leaders, gave us feedback, let us interview you, and made us feel welcome in your community. We can’t wait to share back our findings and help support your efforts to make your school a model for the inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity.
I need to extend one more thanks. For the past two years, the Beyond Bullying Project has been supported by a collaborative, evolving, multi- generational group of faculty, researchers, web designers, and graduate and undergraduate students. One of the real pleasures of research is the opportunity to work with and learn from emerging scholars. Thanks to all those who have given their time, labour, and creativity to this project. Congratulations team on this huge milestone!
A particular thanks goes out to Dr. David Pereira, the inaugural York University Faculty of Education Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender, Sexuality, and Education. David has been the glue of Beyond Bullying 2.0. We could not have brought this iteration of the project to fruition without his leadership. Thank you David.
As we begin to work with the wealth of stories shared with us, we are pleased to feature blog posts from the University of Toronto Jackman Scholars-in-Residence that worked with us throughout May. Drawing on their own experiences and the lives of young people in high school, these blog posts offer provocative and funny and touching takes on the ever changing landscape of gender and sexuality for racialized youth. Follow us here and on social media to learn about the white washing of gay TikTok, the challenges of coming out in high school, and the importance of embracing ambiguity. We’ll also learn how to spot a bisexual and ways of claiming, and loving, your cotton candy softness.

Photo by Ayana Wyse on Unsplash.

A place for ambiguity

A place for ambiguity

KCE headshot
K.C.E.
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

Labels. Or, what I like to refer to them as: the bane of my existence.

Queer labels are supposed to be empowering. They are supposed to invoke feelings of belonging. Feelings of inclusivity. However, these labels also create a problematic binary: a social pressure to either identify with the LGBTQ+ community or to completely deny queerness. Neither makes space for expressions of sexual ambiguity.

These labels then create expectations of presentation. Whether it’s being asked why I don’t look like ‘a they/them’ when I’m in a sundress on a picnic or it’s being told I look “too masculine” for a woman with my short hair hidden under a beanie while dressed in all black baggy clothing at a 7/11, these expectations fuel people’s binary judgements of what it means to be authentic in such diverse community.  

While identifiers like gay, lesbian, and bisexual allow people to create communities rooted in shared experiences of queerness, they also unfortunately tend to exclude those who do not adhere to narrow definitions and understandings of these labels within the LGBTQ+ community.

Ever since coming out as bisexual, I’ve often found that bisexuals (regardless of gender) are expected to find men repulsive and undesirable while also being attracted to them. And in the event that a bisexual person does end up with a man, then they have settled for a man; thus, disappointing the bi community. Not to mention that if a bisexual has never had a same sex partner or they end up in a relationship with the opposite sex, they are too often not considered as ‘real’ bisexuals and instead viewed as practically ‘straight.’

This obsession with authenticity confuses me.

Who is a true bisexual?

What is ‘gay enough?’

Because we seek validation in our queer communities, we may be quick to play our expected roles. Whether it’s a bisexual wearing heavy eyeliner, or a masc lesbian adopting stereotypically male mannerisms, this desire to be validated by others who identify with the same labels forces individuals to fit themselves into categories rather than allowing them to explore their own expressions.

I have always felt this pressure to label myself. Whether it was when it took me years to come out as bisexual or whether it was me having a gender identity crisis two months ago while watching Tik Toks of pretty boys, I could never escape this pressure to categorize myself.

What am I? What do I perceive myself to be? What do I want others to perceive me as?

These are the questions I always find myself pondering. I could be getting dressed and suddenly feel repulsed by every feminine article of clothing I try on, only finding comfort in that one shirt I stole from my brother and the baggiest pair of sweatpants that hide all my curves. Or, I could be putting on a face full of makeup at 3am and trying on dresses to feel pretty. Regardless, the number of times I have switched between hating and loving my style, my body, my hair, my aesthetic, my labels, or even my entire existence, far exceeds the time and energy I’ve spent worrying about anything else in relation to my queerness.

When I identify as a woman people expect me to present as such, so when I dress/present as more masculine in my all black baggy clothing, short hair and beanie, people question why I identify as she/her. But if Im spending the hot summer weather in a sundress while identifying as they/them, people wonder why I physically present more as a female rather than looking androgynous. In either situation people question the validity of my identity. They look to determine whether I’m accurately acting according to my label based on their expectations of the label rather than adapting their expectations to accept me.

My sexuality, my gender, and my authentic self remain as questions that I struggle to answer. However, what I’ve come to realize is that I don’t need to know the answer. That it’s okay to live in the ambiguity of identity because labels are only a small part of who I am. My experiences are more than singular words like ‘bisexual’ or ‘woman,’ because I am more than what society expects me to be.

Resisting categories or embracing ambiguity does not make my queerness any less valid. It simply means that I chose not to adhere to the confines of a category. My expression is limitless and does not need to be defined for the convenience of others.

Because, at the end of the day, my ambiguity is my truth. In a world where everyone’s journey to self discovery is their own, who’s to say mine is any less authentic.

 

Photo by Guillaume Bolduc on Unsplash

How to spot a bisexual

How to spot a bisexual

viash pulipunan headshot

Vaishnavy Pulipunan
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

No, I’m asking, how?

Every year, come September, the queer discussion groups I take part in make it a point to devote a meeting to Bi+ Visibility Day. I’ve found that across these various meetings, the discussion is almost always dominated by the topic of bisexual erasure, that despite comprising the majority of queer-identified individuals, there is a tendency to marginalize bisexuality by spreading misinformation or outright ignoring its existence even in LGBTQ+ circles. We come back, again and again to kvetching about being stereotyped as promiscuous or confused. Someone might occasionally interject, “Did you know that such-and-such celebrity isn’t gay/straight? It’s a common misconception, but they’re actually bi…”

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed and misled by this discourse. I’m told that Bi+ Visibility Day is also known as Celebrate Bisexuality Day, but there seems to be little celebration to be had. It’s as if the conversation begins and ends with combatting negative perceptions from straight people and queer people alike, as if we can only be understood as neither homosexual nor heterosexual, with no distinct identity of our own. I would much rather spend the time discussing our culture, if such a thing could exist, benign stereotypes and fashion. Where is our answer to “The Dinah” or Drag Race? Do we need one at all?

It bothered me that I couldn’t conceive of an archetypical bisexual the way I could for gays and lesbians. I recognize that that is an odd thing to desire in the first place. The last thing any of us should want are rigid norms to conform to, flying in the face of queerness itself. Still, it cannot be denied that there are certain comforts that come from wearing a uniform, a feeling of affirmation and community. I wanted a sign that I could look for in others, a sign I could sport myself.

While I found no such thing attending discussion groups, I found that spaces on the internet tackled this very subject frequently. Communities on Reddit and Tumblr were plastered with “starter packs” declaring all manner of things bisexual culture. Supposedly, we are known for baring our ankles in some form by wearing cuffed or cropped jeans and owning an inordinate number of jackets and canvas sneakers. Fashion aside, bisexuals can’t sit straight in a chair nor communicate without using hand gestures (peace signs, finger guns, thumbs up, etc.).

There was an initial pleasant surprise to find that most of these resonate, followed ultimately by the understanding that that likely has more to do with my being an awkward teenager than anything else. And these internet communities are not without some general acknowledgement that these observations are silly in-jokes that point to nothing more. But beneath that there seems to be a real need to be seen –to be seen as something other than an uncomfortable, dirty secret. Because save for announcing it outright or being seen dating men and women at once, how else would we signal our sexuality. How else do we become, literally, visible?

So I cuff my jeans and pin a tricolour to canvas sneakers because, for now, we are what we wear.

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

So go ahead, be SOFT.

So go ahead, be SOFT.

vijay saravanamuthu headshot
Vijay Saravanamuthu
Beyond Bullying Project 
Research Assistant

“Don’t be such a sissy!” 

I can still feel those words ringing through my mind as I think back to my time in high school.  I grew up in Scarborough, and like many of my peers at 16, I wanted to be known but was afraid of being noticed.  I had curly black hair that hung almost down to my shoulders, a stubbly beard that I shaped into a neat line-up and wide eyes that, despite my curiosity about the world around me, usually stared at the ground.  From the outside, I was the perfect vision of a brown boy.  Baggy pants: check.  Athletic backpack: check.  Pristine high tops: check.   

Inside, my softness was suffocating. 

Being gay in high school meant that one by one, all of the boys that I played handball with when we were kids pretended we were strangers when we passed each other in the halls.  It meant that the boys who used to walk home with me after school now uttered “faggot” under their breath while I stood at my locker.  It meant that when teachers paired me up with any boy in class for group projects, I did all the work in exchange for a moment’s mercy, to build one more ally who wouldn’t shame me on the schoolground just for being me.  I always forced one foot steadily in front of the other when I walked, conscious not to sway.  I wore loose clothes so no one would notice that my hips curved outwards.  I avoided school dances and went home for lunch hoping no one would see me.  But it didn’t help.  

“Pass the Ball . . . not like that!  Aww c’mon.  Why do you suck so much?!”  Having physically matured faster than most of the other boys in my grade, I was taller, faster, and arguably stronger.  And yet, I couldn’t for the life of me find the idea of dribbling a ball around the gym to be the least bit interesting.  My skills and strength didn’t shine through on the ball court, soccer field or baseball diamond.  Although my cotton-candy mannerisms were policed most places I went, I dreaded gym class the most.  It was the one place that the fairy magic I conjured up had no power.  All my witty banter, super-sharp come backs and hair splittingly-precise comedic timing couldn’t shield me from being told that I was too weak.  Too careful.  Too soft.  I hated high school because high school told me that I should hate myself.  And, a lot of the time I did.

This isn’t one of those stories where I reach deep within and find my inner ball player.  As the years went by, I never grew into a more masculine, more rough-and-tough me.  I still don’t really know why people celebrate hand-eye coordination as an achievement.  But what has changed for me is that I met other people.  In community spaces, in the gay village, and online, I eventually met other soft souls like me.  They were thoughtful, had their own struggles, and dared to be different while being seen.  I made friends that looked me in the eyes when we spoke and who taught me that touch can be healing.  As my world became larger and I began to meet other queers that also didn’t fit neatly into society’s check boxes of what they should look, act and be like, I found people that reflected an image of me back to myself that was radiant.  I began a journey towards loving myself that I never thought possible when I was in high school.  My gentle, cloud-like nature wasn’t just noticed, it was celebrated. 

My softness has helped my brother see a possibility of manliness that isn’t focused on his shortcomings. 

My softness has helped my mother understand that as her gay son, I want to build a world that celebrates my life’s work, and hers too. 

My softness has helped young people in my life learn and appreciate new ways of exploring the world that stem from love, and not fear, punishment or exclusion. 

My softness has allowed my partner to know that in tough moments, when we aren’t able to be our best selves, I will still be around to talk through our pain afterwards. 

And most of all, my softness, time and time again, shows up for me as a reminder that it’s ok to make mistakes.  And that I am not any less worthy of love because sometimes I mess up. 

Softness isn’t weakness.  In fact, it’s what the world needs more of.  The problem is that like fairy magic, four-leaf clovers, and Easter eggs the power of being soft is a well-hidden secret.  I can’t go back in time and tell 16-year-old me about this hidden treasure.  But if you are reading this, I can tell you.  So go ahead, be SOFT.  It’s a gift.

Photo by Emilio Guzman on Unsplash