Raise Your Voice

(this post was inspired by a video I saw on Facebook earlier today, which was shared by @Th1nd0nly, so if he hadn’t shared it, I wouldn’t have seen it, and wouldn’t be writing this right now.)

When I was younger, I used to believe that things were a million percent better once I got older. Once I got into high school or college, I kept telling myself, I wouldn’t be bullied. I would actually be respected as a person, or at least left alone.

And the unfortunate reality I came across, as do millions of other kids on a regular basis, is that bullying doesn’t stop. Ever. There is always an opponent to your happiness, someone who constantly seeks to drag down your success and the success of those around you. Perhaps most notably in today’s election cycle, a prime example of this is Donald Trump’s name-calling of others as losers, crooked, and so on. Are they the most offensive comments? Of course not, but it does point to the evidence that bullies exist, whether you’re in seventh grade or a 45-year old journalist.

This is the aforementioned video. Kids as young as these are afraid of being themselves, and they’re not even in high school yet.

Not a single human alive is perfect, but something I know many people strive for is to be better, and in that process of being better, the desire to be different can often spring up. In some cases, that desire can completely overshadow the simple need to be better, for self-improvement, and instead you end up focusing on becoming a completely different person altogether, which is often for the worst.

Every single day, there are a lot of things telling you how to be, what’s cool, what’s in, what to eat, what to drink, what to watch, what to wear. And it’s very easy to become absorbed by this preconceived idea of who you should be as a person, because it’s frequently seen as the simplest way to get people to like you and to make new friends. You have to force yourself to like something just because the rest of your friends like it. You have to act like you’re obsessed with a show just so you can have something to contribute to your friends’ conversation. You have to pretend like you’ve been in a relationship or two before just so people don’t think you’re a complete loser.

There ends up being a lot people sacrifice in order to try and fit in. I can’t even begin to name all the movies I’ve seen where the main character pretends not to be interested in a passion of theirs just so they can try to fit in, and unfortunately, it’s a reality I’ve seen in person as well, even from personal experience. For the longest time in high school, I was dying for a social life. Band was the only thing I knew, and most of my days involved going to school and going back home. I knew trying to get into sports would be a no-go, because that’s not who I am. But at the time, me being gay was the biggest secret I had, partially up until the end of April in 2013 (in part), and, when March 17th, 2014 rolled around, it was gone altogether. Being pressured to fit in in middle school and high school can, for some people, be a brutal process, and with my shyness, it was something I struggled with immensely.

This is the same occurrence that happens online as well. Being inclusive to an environment that features people of a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and opinions, you’re more than likely to meet those who are less than savory, and people who only seek to bring down others for the most insane of reasons. Sharing your opinion, to them, is like asking to be punched in the face, and they will look for every available opportunity to try and knock you down. When I started this blog almost two years ago, one of my first posts about self-acceptance was detailing the rich history of my first encounter with a cyberbully, of someone who I tried, for whatever crazy reasons, to be friends with, which ultimately didn’t work out. People like that exist.

What is more unfortunate, however, is that individuality isn’t accepted, appreciated, and valued as much as it should be, because, if you’re a guy, listening to Ariana Grande has to be something you sweep under the rug, or, for girls, enjoying a heavy metal band or video games are not things you’re “supposed” to be interested in. Many people fail to have a basic level of respect, of letting people live their lives and letting them be happy on their own, because at the end of the day, if a guy wants to walk down Times Square in a dress, who am I to stop him or say no? What power do I have? How is it affecting me?

The answer to that last one in particular: It’s not.

Speaking of online bullying, ABC Family released Cyberbully in 2011, and simultaneously struck a chord with thousands, if not, millions of viewers, myself included. For as difficult and frustrating as parts of the plot were to watch, it spoke to the deep impact bullying can have, regardless of what age you’re at. It’s so easy to let certain words become a part of how you see yourself if you’re not really careful to your own self-perception. And more often than not, walking away from the computer or simply blocking someone is the easiest solution. You should never have to tolerate being treated like you’re less of a person, for whatever reason.

Even amongst the gay community, it’s no secret that equality is still a long way from being a realistically obtainable facet of society, due in part to people who push racism off as preferences, and who refuse to even talk to someone because they’re fat. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve tried initiating conversation with someone on Grindr or Twitter just to be ignored, and then watching those same people talk to other people instead. Is it a self-esteem killer? Absolutely. Yet, at the end of the day, how much can I really get upset about it? Is it the end of the world? Of course not.

For the longest time, however, it did make me wish I was different. That I was more confident, and successful, and that I was in a much different place than where I’m at currently. There have been two instances in my life where I have genuinely wanted to kill myself. There’s a whole host of things about myself I would love to change if I ever had the chance.

At the same time, however, there’s parts of me I appreciate as well. I constantly aim to put other people before me, which in some cases is a bit of a downfall. I care about people way too much to have someone stay mad at me. I try and support as many people as possible, because I believe it’s only natural that we reach out to others. You never know when you may need someone supporting you.

The only way anything in society can change, from how people are treated in school and online, whether they are gay, straight, feminine, masculine, thin, fat, black, latino, transgender, and so on is if we use our voice. It’s not something specific to just LGBT individuals; it’s something specific to society as a whole. People need to know it’s okay to be themselves. I hid who I was for the longest time, and my life could be drastically different now had things played out differently in my past. But still, I’ve embraced where I am, and am slowly trying to learn to love myself exactly as I am.

No one single person can, nor should, dictate our happiness. Whatever actions we choose should be ours to make alone. No single person has the right to deny us anything we are entitled to as citizens of the United States. We need to speak up for people who can’t. Every single person deserves to, at the least, well welcomed, accepted, and appreciated, because you never know the battles someone else is facing, particularly if you never talk to them. It is humanly impossible to love every single person you interact with. That will never happen. But treating other people with an open mind will go much, much farther than casting judgment. It’s the same principle for Christians who judge and hate gay people but claim to follow the Bible and are self-proclaimed people lovers. You can’t have it both ways! You either accept people, or you discriminate against them. Hopefully you choose the former. Hopefully things can move past a mother parading through a Target store, wielding a Bible and denouncing their “wicked practice” of allowing transgender people to use whichever bathroom they identify with.

There’s also this video to think about, which is something I shared on my blog several months ago. It’s a minute shy of 20, but it’s incredibly worth the watch, and the context can be used beyond what is on the surface. Imagine if being black was the norm, or being fat, and how the societal roles would be reversed. Would people still be treated in the same manner? It’s one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen, and it underscores how truly vital it is to bring a basic level of equality and acceptance to everyone,  not just those within the LGBT community. Again, this goes beyond being an “LGBT issue.” This is an issue with society, and more and more people need to speak up and fight back against it. Everyone has their own lives, and stresses, and challenges to deal with each and every day, but you would be surprised how wonderful it feels reaching out to someone and letting them know that they are not as alone as they think. Take it from me. We truly have more power than we realize, and I hope more and more people begin to put their voices to use, myself included.

“Every single day, we go online and we scroll through the highlight reel of other people’s awesome lives. But we don’t see the highlight reel of our awesome lives, all we see is the behind the scenes of our lives. We see every single moment, from when we wake up. You see your doubts, you see your fears, you see your concerns. You’re the only that’s inside your brain feeling all of your anxieties, and the voices that are telling you that you can’t be who you want to be, or that you’re not who you want to be, or that you want to be more like that other person right over there. Let me tell you, people are mean to each other, but no voices are as mean as our own voices are to ourselves. Every day, when you look in the mirror and your mind is telling you all the things you’re not, if those things are you’re not cool enough,  you’re not pretty enough, you’re not popular enough, you’re not successful enough, you’re not special, you’re not wanted, you’re not unique. Those are not the things you are not. Let me tell you the things you are not. You are not somebody else’s opinion of you. You are not going nowhere just because you are not where you want to be yet. You are not damaged goods just because you have made mistakes in your life. Those are the things you are not. Let me tell you the things that you are. You are your own definition of beautiful and worthwhile, and no one else’s definition. You are wiser, stronger, and smarter because you made mistakes in your life, not damaged. I’ve realized that it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about feeling perfect. I think that sometimes it’s just about getting on with things, and after a while, you look around and you realize that you’re happy today, and that’s all that matters. And I just want you to know that one thing I have learned in 25 years and I’m still learning, is that if you get rained on, you walk through a bunch of storms, life is constantly coming at you, that doesn’t make you damaged. It makes you clean.” – Taylor Swift, The 1989 World Tour, Hyde Park, June 27th, 2015.

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