Beyond Bullying comes to Toronto

Beyond Bullying comes to Toronto

FINALLY! We are launching Beyond Bullying 2.0!

jen-gilbert-headshot
Jen Gilbert
The Beyond Bullying Project Team

Next week, we begin collecting stories in 2 Toronto high schools. It’s been a long time coming—we’ve been talking to one of the schools for 3 years now but things kept getting in the way. There were delays getting approval from our university ethics boards, teachers in Toronto were in a work-to-rule labour action for many months, and then COVID. Just as we were about to launch last year, schools—and the whole world—shut down. This required a massive pivot. With schools mostly online, we needed to re-imagine what it would mean for us to be “in the school” collecting stories.

With the help of an amazing web developer, Annika Nicol, we have created a storytelling portal on our website. Now, participating students and teachers can visit our website, scroll through our consent process, fill out a short survey, and then be emailed a private Zoom link where they can go to tell their story. Our invitation is the same: tell us a story about LGBTQ sexuality and gender. It can be about you, your friends, a teacher, a political event, a TV character, a neighbour, your cousin—it doesn’t even have to be true.

We know that COVID has changed what school looks like. We also know that LGBTQ sexuality and gender looks different now too. We are excited to learn more about how students and teachers are figuring this all out. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we share stories from our fieldwork and talk with young people about how they are their sexualities and genders in this strange, digital, not-so-new world. 

So Much More than Stories of Loss

So Much More than Stories of Loss

Darren Cummings

Darren Cummings

Ph.D. Candidate

My name is Darren Cummings, and I’m a graduate student at York University in Toronto.

I have been excited to help the Beyond Bullying team select stories to include on this website. I love hearing and reading people’s stories, particularly LGBTQ+ stories.

As a younger person I didn’t hear many of these stories at home, in school, or even in the media.

Here’s a story I might have told sooner, if I thought there’d be an audience to appreciate it

I was 13 years old and sitting on my mother’s bright Pepto Bismol pink throw-covered sofa. I was working on some kind of school work because I had a piece of paper and a book on my lap. I do not know where the thought came from, and I can remember at the time wondering why I was just now able to put into words what I had known for a long time; “I am gay.” I wrote it over and over again many times on the paper, wondering what it all really meant. My only instruction at school about the existence of gay people came from negative words directed at me by my peers. I do not remember any specific teaching or discussions about being gay in any other context, school or otherwise. This, of course, was in the early 1990s, when Oprah wasn’t yet often talking about queer topics and Ellen had yet to “come out.” Therefore, I can only surmise that my teachings regarding my sexuality came from my peers. My conceptualization, therefore, was that, yes, I was gay, as I had frequently been called, and that meant that I was attracted to boys, and it also meant that it was wrong and that I could not tell anyone. I rushed out to the wood stove and burned the piece of paper so my Mom wouldn’t see it.

This story eventually appeared among a number of stories I included in the Master’s thesis I wrote two years ago. When I began that work, I told my stories with the hope that they would speak to other people’s experiences. As I began writing, I realized that I found it easier to recount stories of negative experiences I had lived through, like this one.

It was winter time and I had stayed over at my boyfriend’s apartment, as I had many nights, because I didn’t want to drive home in the snow. His apartment was in a house with a couple of units downstairs and one upstairs beside his own. He didn’t really talk to his neighbours and I hadn’t met them before, but would see them often. That morning it was cold and frosty. I left early because I hate driving when the roads have the potential to be slippery. I went to the back of the car to get the window scraper and stopped, frozen and immobilized, by the three letter word written in the frost on my windshield.

As I did more reading, I learned that LGBTQ+ topics are often talked about in ways that suggest our experiences are dominated by loss, or fear, or homophobia. I suspect this pattern paints a false picture of our community.

We are much more than the painful stories of bullying, the name-calling, the abuse. We are joyful and loving, artistic, talented, and creative. We are friends, family, partners, and lovers. We are survivors. Are those negative stories important to tell? Yes. Those stories importantly illustrate the painful and destructive impacts of a homophobic society, but I think they need to be told along with the stories of LGBTQ+ lives as lives we might actively and happily pursue. I titled my work, “Desirable Queerness” and tried to include more stories like this.

It was the first Easter with my new boyfriend and it was still only a few months into our relationship, so I decided to get him something little. I went out and bought a chocolate bunny and wrote on the package, “To Sam, From the Easter Bunny” and put it in the living room for him to find the next morning. When he woke up he went into the kitchen to make coffee and found the bunny. He brought it back into the bedroom, smiling, and laid on top of me with his head on my chest saying how much it meant to him that I would give him something for Easter.

Or this one.

I was walking home from a party with my boyfriend who was “out” to the family, but not to his co-workers. It was two in the morning and the snow was falling gently. We were walking side by side, still intoxicated by the fun of the night. We turned around the corner to go up the back road to my house and I took his hand. He let me take it, even though we were out in public, and we walked the rest of the way home together.

I am drawn to the Beyond Bullying Project because the stories here, on this website, add to a more complete picture of LGBTQ+ life as a site of struggle, pleasure, connection, and complexity. I hope you enjoy reading the Beyond Bullying stories as much as I have.

The Heist and Cut

The Heist and Cut

I love watching Dave Chapelle.

jessica-queer-femme-dyke-feminist
Jessica Fields
The Beyond Bullying Project Team

His taste in music renews my playlist. His sense of friendship and collegiality inspires me. His humor teaches me.
As I watched Dave Chappelle’s new specials on Netflix, I was reminded not only of this love but also how uncomfortable I am in this love. I’m a white, middle-class woman, and white fans have been troubling for Chappelle.
He wonders what we’re laughing at when we laugh at his jokes. He worries about the cost to him of appealing to us. Success with white fans seems to be one reason Chappelle left public life for a while. So, I admire him, but quietly, from afar, and with his suspicions always in sight. In his 2017 Netflix specials, Chappelle talks about an exchange he had with a white woman fan at a recent show. The woman claimed that her suffering was just like his to his—that, just like Black people, white women suffer under patriarchy. Chappelle calls himself a feminist and recognizes that women struggle under sexism. He scoffs at the “just like” argument though—primarily because it obscures white women’s complicity in racism. Chappelle refuses to let us off the hook when he reminds his fan: “You was in on the heist, you just don’t like your cut.” The heist: The daily, relentless disenfranchising of people of color in housing markets, access to education, class mobility, employment opportunities, popular culture, and everyday intimacies. White women are in on this. We participate through active collusion and through passive compliance. No matter whether we want to, we benefit. The cut: For all of our collusion and complicity, we still suffer under patriarchal conditions. We have not been delivered from sexism. We cannot count on white men, our partners in the heist, to stand with us. I guess the cut sucks, but the heist sucks even more.
Jessica Fields
The Beyond Bullying Project team

New Website, New Stories

New Website, New Stories

Three years ago,
after months of planning,
we launched
The Beyond Bullying Project
at West High School*
in San Francisco.

 

jessica-queer-femme-dyke-feminist
Jessica Fields
The Beyond Bullying
Project Team

The first morning we arrived at the school, a thick fog covered the courtyard where we would set up the U-Haul storage locker that our media partner, Bay Area Video Coalition, would transform in a private, cozy, storytelling booth. As students arrived at school, we fought off the damp, and set up our information table, put out a bowl of granola bars, and hung our banner.
We didn’t know what would happen next. Would students talk with us about LGBTQ sexuality? Venture into the booth to tell a story? How would the school greet us and our giant box?
By mid-morning, the fog had burned off. Students moved passed us quickly, shuttling themselves from class to class. Our graduate student research assistants stood in front of the table, beckoning students over with promises of food and an iPod raffle. It was a slow day—we chatted with students, made some presentations in classes, but few students risked entering the booth. We had set ourselves a goal of recording 50 stories about LGBTQ sexuality in each school. At this rate, we would not come close to meeting that goal.

On the second day, we showed up again: granola bars on the table, iPod to raffle off, and friendly grad student assistants engaging everyone who walked by. A resource staff member brought some of his students over. A member of his student club started decorating the booth with rainbows. By lunchtime, we had company. Over sandwiches and sodas, we heard stories about life at West High: the long commutes some students made to show up everyday, the teachers who could be counted on for support, the welcoming atmosphere of the library. Students started entering the booth to tell stories—sometimes with a research team member, sometimes with friends, and increasingly alone. By the end of the first week, students lined up at lunch hour and between classes to tell stories; teachers came down with students or by themselves to tell their own stories.

The booth, now festooned with banners, rainbows, and an impromptu chalkboard, became a place to hang out, eat lunch, avoid class, and share stories. Halfway through our stay at West High and we had already easily collected over 50 stories

Now, three years later, we have over 450 stories from three high schools across the United States.

With the launch of our updated website, we are excited to share the project with you. They record the staggering array of ways lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer sexuality and gender affects the lives of students, teachers, and schools. There are stories of suffering, harassment, loneliness and violence; but there are also stories of crushes, friendships, family, and support. We hope you will read and listen to the stories we share here. Every month, we’ll release another set of audio and text stories, so keep checking back to see what’s new. And, if you are so inspired, consider sharing your own story here. Regularly we will post new stories, written by visitors to our website, alongside the stories we collected in schools.

If we are going to move beyond bullying, then we need to document not just the pain of coming out or the joy of falling in love, but all the experiences in between—making an unlikely friend, finding a book that speaks to you, meeting your sister’s girlfriend, or feeling supported by a lesbian teacher. We hope that The Beyond Bullying Project might be a place for all of us to find these stories.

Special thanks to the schools, educators, students, researchers, media makers, and funders who have made The Beyond Bullying Project possible. Special thanks to the following folks:

  • Ford Foundation, our initial funder;
  • Bay Area Video Coalition, our media partner; and
  • LBJDIGITAL, the web designer behind our new site.

Conversations Across Borders

Conversations Across Borders

 

jessica-queer-femme-dyke-feminist
Jessica Fields
The Beyond Bullying
Project Team

I have been talking with
Ignacio Lozano-Verduzco and Izcoatl Rafael Xelhuantzi, colleagues in Mexico City who installed storytelling booths using Beyond Bullying as a model.

We’re writing a paper now about the booths in the US and Mexico—an exciting opportunity to think about how this method of thinking about schooling, youth, and LGBTQ sexuality and gender can travel across national contexts.

As our collaboration begins, similarities are evident: we share a commitment to sexual and gender justice, we recognize the importance of understanding sexuality and gender as they intersect with other categories of difference, and we have a deep respect for one another’s work. Differences are evident as well. Perhaps most obvious is the difference in languages: we rely on human and online translators to help us communicate complicated theoretical ideas.

But literal translation does only so much. Meaningful distinctions lie in our thinking about how to describe the sexualities that interest us. In Mexico City, Ignacio and Xel talk about “sexual diversity” where the US Beyond Bullying team has used the term “LGBTQ.” What we call “the booth” in US sites, Ignacio and Xel call “the cabin” in Mexico City. These differences are not only amusing; they point to different ideas about space, the storytelling experience, sexuality, and difference.

Maybe because we’re working across national and linguistic differences, Ignacio, Xel, and I have been very careful in our writing process. We edit each other cautiously, worried that we might accidentally delete an important idea, misunderstand someone else’s insight, or be misconstrued ourselves. This caution slows us down, and that can be frustrating. Ultimately, though, it points to something I value in my collegial relationships—care. I was aware this morning as I talked with Ignacio and Xel, our faces and voices finding each other through an online video call, that, while we collaborate, our countries are battling over a wall the new US president wants to build between our countries. I treasure the ways Beyond Bullying has brought me into conversation with these Mexican scholars, and I am grateful for our persistent efforts to connect, think, and care across differences and borders. There’s no protection for me and the people and ideas I love in any wall the government might build between us.

The Hope and Challenges of the World We Live In Right Now

The Hope and Challenges of the World We Live In Right Now

We have to think about
LGBTQ sexuality
as it’s
depicted in
Days of Remembrance
and Resilience

Today’s a busy day—emotionally and politically.
It’s the day after the 2016 Transgender Day of Remembrance, also recognized as the Transgender Day of Resilience, and our social media pages have been filled with stories of violence against trans* youth, some resulting in death and many sparking resistance. It’s almost two weeks since Donald Trump received enough electoral votes to become U.S. President-Elect, and LGBTQ educators, advocates, and allies are still trying to make sense of the stories of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia driving the election results. It’s also the morning after 160+ water protectors were injured when police used tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and water cannons in an effort to break up the #NoDAPL resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It’s also the day we begin to wrap up our revisions to the Beyond Bullying Project’s website. Our project began with a concern about how school communities were thinking about LGBTQ sexuality and gender. Our team wanted to think “beyond bullying”—that is, we wanted to get past a single-minded concern with anti-gay bullying in schools. Like most people, we want students, teachers and staff to be safe at school, but we also want more. We want LGBTQ lives to take up more room in schools’ imaginations. We want people to notice when LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty are being bullied, sure, but we also want to notice when LGBTQ folks are in love, when we’re struggling against racism, when we’re deciding which adults in our lives we can trust, when our friends support us, when our heroes let us down, when the bigger world feels scary, and when we decide to fight back.

The world we see “beyond bullying” is crowded and complicated. It’s not a world in which we’ve all gotten over our homophobia and just get along—we’re not trying to point beyond some horizon at an abstract utopia. Instead, we’re trying to acknowledge the hope and challenges of the world we live in right now—a world that requires us to think about complexity and justice in LGBTQ lives beyond bullying. That means we have to think about LGBTQ sexuality as it’s depicted in Days of Remembrance and Resilience. We need to think about LGBTQ people making lives for themselves in the aftermath of a divisive presidential election. And we have to recognize that LGBTQ people were among the protestors and the police in that violent conflict in North Dakota. Sexuality threads through our lives and our stories. The stories we share on the new Beyond Bullying Project website are just pieces in the larger story we’re all writing together.

Jessica Fields
The Beyond Bullying Project team