Carole Cummings, Guest Contributor

Guest Post: Bullying (Or Not So Much) by Carole Cummings

Author's Spotlight

BULLYING (OR NOT SO MUCH)

Carole Cummings

So, I guess you’d have to live under a rock (or be a writer in the cruel, all-consuming throes of a developing story) to have missed all the #AskELJames … stuff. And if you’ve seen all that, you’ve likely seen the follow-up calls of shame on you or shame on us or shame on them and then the inevitable cries to STOP THE BULLYING!

And, on principle, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of them.

However.

When it comes to bullying, we’re not dealing with “principle”. We’re dealing with something a lot harder and colder and plainer. Or, well, we should be.

Now, there are several points to be made here, but the bullying accusation is what I want to start with. Because I’ve seen it so often over the past few years, and to be perfectly frank, it’s starting to lose its meaning. Which, to me, is a very, very bad thing. But probably not in the way you think.

Let’s start with a definition, because it’s always better coming from something official:

bully
verb
: to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person)
: to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force

bul·lied bul·ly·ing
transitive verb
: to treat abusively
: to affect by means of force or coercion

I want to concentrate on that top definition, because I think that one’s the key here: to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person).

And here’s where I disagree with those who define what happened to E.L. James as bullying, and are using it to make a point about “author bullying” or maybe “reader bullying” or even what the neo-Conservatives have started waving around when their beliefs are trotted out and exposed as the bigoted points of view they are. Because none of that is actually bullying. It’s unpleasant, yes. Hurtful, absolutely. Mean-spirited fuckery and a platform for asshole trolls, yup. Almost invariably unnecessary. Generally uneducated. Any adjective for “bad” one can come up with.

But it’s not bullying.

Now, I’m not here to pile on E.L. James, by any means, though I’ll admit I don’t like what she does. I personally think her lack of research and her callous treatment of her subject matter is unforgivable and potentially harmful. I think my teenaged daughter can out-prose her at her most (questionably) eloquent. I think she’s done actual harm to women’s issues by giving opponents a notorious, though admittedly shaky, set of clay feet upon which to lay their arguments.

That doesn’t mean I condone what happened with that hashtag. But it doesn’t mean I’m inclined to defend her from “bullying” either.

Because—and let me state this plainly and without question—what happened to E.L. James was not bullying. The people who participated in that hashtag were, by and large, indefensible jerks, but “jerks” does not automatically equal “bullies”. And, in truth, not all of the points brought up in all of that were indefensible. There were some rather valid arguments raised, and approached with perhaps some snarky wit but without rancor or foul invective. That’s called free speech and people are allowed to have it, regardless of whether or not we like what they say, or how they say it.

I know, I know, I can already hear the “but, but, but!” and I understand where the whole bullying thing comes from. I even empathize with it up to a point. But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re taking a very serious word here and trivializing it with “those people were mean.” And, yes, absolutely, some of them were. But they weren’t bullies. It’s a distinction I think is enormously important, because we’re losing the point of that word—bully—and we need that point with all its sharp edges.

Doxing is bullying. What happened to the women during GamerGate was bullying. What happens to the skinny gay kid who’s afraid to go to school for fear of getting pantsed or beaten up is bullying. What happens to a woman who’s groped on the subway is bullying. What happens to a person in an abusive relationship is bullying. What happens to people of color when confronted with a bigoted cop is bullying.

That hashtag? No. And saying it was bullying is saying that it’s just as bad as those situations in that paragraph above. It takes away the power of the word and therefore, the power of the people who are victims of real bullying who’ve already lost most of their power.

Look at that definition again—to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person)

Was E.L. James frightened? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it. There were no threats I could see, and I read—I think—the entire thread. Was she hurt? Maybe her feelings, because no matter my opinion of her talents as such, she is an author, and we’re a rather thin-skinned lot. Did she feel threatened? Again, it’s possible, but doubtful.

But here’s the key to this, and it’s really important—E.L. James, especially in the context of this internet Q&A, was neither a smaller nor a weaker person. If anything, she was the only one in the entirety of that situation who had any power. The woman is a multi-millionaire with the comfort of the knowledge that probably a good percentage of the people who participated in that hashtag free-for-all had most likely purchased at least one of her books, even if it was to make fun of it with their friends. Or seen the movie. A portion of the people engaging in the mockery on Twitter, statistically speaking, have put money in E.L. James’s pocket, have given her power, both as a wealthy person in a world where wealth already equals power, and as a best-selling author in an industry where that’s the only kind that matters.

But, most importantly, E.L. James, if she even read through the thread at all (which I doubt), was doing so from behind the safety of her computer monitor, comfortably ensconced… wherever multi-millionaire best-selling authors ensconce themselves. There was no danger. There was no threat. E.L. James was not and is not small or powerless. There was, therefore, no bullying.

And I need to say this again—I do not condone what happened, but if ever there was a subject that needs perspective, it’s bullying and what it really is and who really needs our protection from it.

Look, I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty commentary in my years of toddling about the troll-infested Lord of the Flies world we call the internet. I’ve been told I needed to be raped and die in a fire. I’ve been told the only good female brain is the one that’s scooped out to make room for a good skull-fucking. I’ve been told I should be beaten to death with my keyboard. And those are only the ones I remember off the top of my head. There have been more. And it’s not like I go to message boards or forums where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a troll. This is just in the normal course of being an author who is accessible online. And who among us hasn’t gotten the one-starring troll treatment for no good reason?

Do I like it? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s fair? Nope. Do I think it’s nasty and hurtful and infuriating? Yes, yes, and yes.

But do I think it’s bullying? No. No. Because when I’m sitting in my home with my laptop and reading these things on my monitor, regardless of my actual size and/or strength, I am neither smaller nor weaker than the person saying them. In point of fact, intellectually speaking—which is the only part that matters on the internet—I’m betting I’m the much bigger and stronger person. And if worse came to worse, all I really have to do is turn the internet off and walk away. These trolls have no power over me but what I give them, and I refuse to give them any. Which means, by definition, I am not being bullied.

And neither was E.L. James.

Personally, I’d like to see that word—bullied—saved for the people who actually need it, not robbed of its power by those who get their feelings hurt because someone was mean to them on the internet. Those who truly are bullied have lost enough power already, don’t you think?

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Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Videos

We’re Hopping Against Homophobia And Transphobia, And Giving Away Goodies Too!

Hi, everyone, and thanks so much for visiting The Novel Approach during this year’s Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Today marks the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and Bruce and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be participating in this event. It is our belief that this community-wide effort—and I’m not speaking solely about the LGBT community, but also about those of us who are proud to be allied and in partnership with the men and women of the community—is an integral part of illuminating the ways in which we share so many more commonalities than we do differences.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network reported in its 2011 National School Climate Survey that eight out of ten LGBT students experienced verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation. But, among the key findings, “for the first time (in over a decade) the 2011 survey shows a significant decrease in victimization based on sexual orientation.” That’s heartening news and definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s still so far to go, so much misperception to be overcome, and so much more educating we can do, especially with our children.

When we decided to participate in the Hop, I’d just read This Article about Lucy Meadows, a transgendered teacher in England who’d committed suicide after the media took hold of and then ran with the story that she was transitioning, mid school year, from male to female; something, by the way, her school administrators fully supported her in. As you can see in the article, Lucy’s story ended tragically, but her death, though heartbreaking, has gone on to become a spotlight on transphobia and the ways in which she was so woefully misunderstood.

Lucy’s story is but one example of the many ways transgendered men and women, boys and girls, are marginalized every day, as is the case with Isaak Wolfe, a Pennsylvania high school student who made news, first for being denied the right to be added to his school’s Prom King ballot, then by being denied the right to have his natural identity printed on his diploma.


Being parents ourselves, Bruce and I began discussing our own families and the ways in which we and our spouses are attempting to raise our children to see beyond labels, and how so many adults tend to complicate the things that children see so innocently and so simply. As you could see in the poem written by one of Miss Meadows’ students, after her death, the emotional scarring of her children—the argument that some of the parents hid behind in an effort to reinforce their own prejudices and assuage their own fears—would most likely never have materialized. At least not for 7-year-old Daisy Moreton, who saw a loving and caring adult making a difference–no more, no less. It seems this was all a case of panic and misinformation, and rather than treating the subject with the clear and common sense attention it demanded, rather than choosing respect and communication with their children, parents allowed a child’s misunderstanding of the situation to prevail over an open dialogue of all the ways Miss Meadows would be the exact same loving and caring teacher, and how being transgendered or gay or lesbian or bisexual or pansexual… is not a choice but is simply the way a person is made, though for some reason, there are many who choose to make it into something far more convoluted than it needs to be—primarily because there are those who can’t seem to take the sex component out of a person’s sexuality, which, to put a very fine point on it, diminishes all the other things these relationships are outside of the bedroom. 970349_373883192717800_746898477_n

So, I asked Bruce if he would share his personal story, the story that both he and his husband Jacob lived, attempting to first conform to what society expected of them, then finally finding each other and building their family upon a foundation of faith, and of love and respect, both for each other and for their children. My question to Bruce was simply this: How did you and Jacob break the news to your children and help them understand your relationship when you began dating seriously?

This is the answer he so graciously shared:

Wow, that is a very tough question! Thinking back to having to tell our kids about us and our homosexuality brings back some very strong memories. Jacob and I had both come out of the closet and gone through painful divorces. Jacob’s daughter was very young, so not really aware of what was happening. My children were in 1st and 4th grades. I remember having to sit down and tell my children that I had always been gay but that I thought I could make it go away. I had lied about who I was to myself and everyone around me. I had to explain to them that I loved them and their mother very much, but I needed to be honest with myself so that I could stop living the lie and be happy.

With that conversation, also came the conversation about what being gay meant. My children were distraught about the dissolution of their family and of their parents’ marriage, but oddly enough took the whole gay thing in stride. We noticed very early on that the younger two really had no issue with the gay question with us, and often discussed it freely with their friends and teachers at school. I was fortunate that my son was at a school where it was not an issue. Unfortunately, at the time, Jacob’s daughter was at a school that, because she was so open about her daddies (it was just normal for her), she experienced not prejudice from her friends but from her teachers. We quickly moved her over to the same open-minded school that my two children were attending once we found this information out.

Bruce and JacobMy daughter, who is the oldest, at first was a little reserved about who she informed about the daddy situation, but oddly enough, as she got older she has become a very staunch and vocal supporter. We have had to counsel the children that in our conservative neck of the woods, it is best that they not hide their daddy’s situation but not openly volunteer information either. As my daughter progressed to a conservative Catholic high school, we have had to be careful to not be too public since we have felt that she could be removed from school for having two gay dads.

My son, who is in public high school, has also had to learn to censor himself to a degree from what he had experienced at his accepting Episcopal school. Though we have stressed to the children that there is nothing to be ashamed of, nor should we hide our family, Jacob and I have had to be protective of the kids. We have to let them judge and decide who they feel safe letting know about their two gay dads.

My son, unfortunately, has suffered the brunt of homophobia in the form of he has to be careful who he can invite, or not invite, to the house. His best friend was and is forbidden to visit our house. Jacob and I are very proud of our family, and even though we often feel like the only gay family in the village, we are proud to be seen with our normal, happy family. I think that is the best way that we have combated homophobia in our small conservative Texas town. We go about living our lives, and as a physician and college professor with three very active, involved children, we are anything but unseen. We go about our lives and show people that we eat out, we attend church, we attend recitals and soccer games. I think once others in town have seen that it’s really not a big deal, and that they have seen we really are no different than any other family, it has become no big deal in our community.

I guess when I think about homophobia, I go back to a quote I heard early on in my own coming out process. “The problem that people have about homosexuality is that they can’t stop imagining what happens behind closed doors.” That is the crux of homophobia, I believe. The homosexual act frightens them. When our children learned about homosexuality, they didn’t know about the sex. It was not an issue for them. They just knew they were now a part of a family with two men that loved and cared for them. I think that once others see that a homosexual family is no different than any other family, they then get beyond what’s going on behind closed doors and become accepting as well. It’s all about education and experience. Once their irrational fear is thrust in their faces, that Jacob and I aren’t parading around in rainbow Speedos and having sex in front of the children, they realize we are no different than any other family raising three children.

Thankfully our children are well-adjusted and happy children. Being part of a gay family has not destroyed their lives; instead, they are better off for it. We have three wonderful children who go to school, play sports, dance, go to summer camp, have friends over and live normal, successful lives. We are truly an American family and there has been no better weapon against homophobia than that, and that alone!

This opened up a broad range of discussion topics for us, a lot of them geared toward questions I had to think very long and very hard about, primarily because they were questions about how my husband and I are raising our kids in a socially liberal household, to be accepting of other people’s differences and to understand that we haven’t been put on this earth to judge but to show the compassion toward others that we want to have aimed at ourselves. We didn’t set out to consciously raise our kids to be tolerant free-thinkers—we didn’t bring our first-born home from the hospital and say, “Okay, these are the ground rules. Now, get out there and parent!” It’s just the way my husband and I are; instinctively, it’s the direction in which we’ve guided our kids because it’s the way we live, the way we believe; it’s the faith we have that love and kindness and empathy will always overcome hatred and intolerance, and that marriage equality in no way would diminish our own marriage or family, but would only serve to broaden and strengthen the definition of marriage as a whole, as well as family, love, and commitment.

The more Bruce and I talked, the more it became evident that his and Jacob’s three children are very much like my husband’s and my three kids, especially our oldest, both daughters, who are nothing less than champions of those who need support and friendship the most. We are, all of us, raising six children who we pray will be the difference-makers going forward. These six kids, and so many more like them, will be the generation that sets about affecting a broad-spectrum change in society’s views on homosexuality and transgenderism. History proves that prejudice will always be a factor in the way some people see others, but it’s also true that there is strength in numbers, and we are adding to that strength every day. We’re trying, along with so many other parents out there just like us, to foster a future of acceptance, with the hope that someday, we will be the norm rather than the exception.

Thank you again for visiting with us today! We hope you’ll leave a comment not only because you’ll be entered to win some great gear but because you’d like to share your stories with us about your own experiences. :)

**And now for the contest! For the duration of the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17-27, 2013, we’re offering the chance for TWO lucky commenters to win their choice of gear (Up to $25 value per winner) at any one of the following sites:

NoH8
FCKH8
The Trevor Project
It Gets Better

All you have to do is leave a comment right here, along with your email address, before 11:59pm Pacific Time (2:59am Eastern), on May 27, 2013, and you’ll automatically be entered to win.

Prize drawing will be held on May 28, 2013 and the winner selected via Random.org. Please remember, an email address is necessary for us to be able to contact you!

Thanks so much for stopping by, and good luck!**



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Upworthy, Videos

This May Be One Of The Most Difficult 3:34 Minutes I’ve Ever Sat Through

But it’s tangible proof that children are eloquent and powerful and should have a voice!

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Harmony Ink Press, Madison Parker

Eighty-Eight Keys To Finding Love – Play Me, I’m Yours by Madison Parker

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent – Victor Hugo

Lucas Tate knows everything there is to know about what it means to be bullied, for everything from the way he looks to the way he loves his music. Lucas is the boy who has learned to keep to himself because he’s learned the hard way that to reach out to others and to try sharing the part of himself that defines who he is in every possible way; how he feels in any given moment; how he relates to the world in a language that has nothing to do with words and everything to do with sound and the playing of the notes that make the sounds that form the songs that are the way he relates to the world, will only serve to make him more of an outcast than he already is.

Lucas is what you’d call a sensitive boy if you’re being kind, fragile if you’re being honest, but, surprise, the kids at his school aren’t quite so generous as all that. No, they’ve decided it’s much funnier to call him names like Fairy Tate and Lucy Liu because, you know, Lucas doesn’t already consider himself a freak in every possible way, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to make sure each meager shred of his confidence is buried in the evidence of their scorn. These are the kids who will take every opportunity to lure Lucas into a false sense of comfort by pretending to befriend him, yanking that foundation of acceptance out from under him, then pointing and laughing at him while he falls. For Lucas, this is life and is the reason he has become a loner, which is made all the more difficult by his mother, who is well meaning, but whose reassurances that if he merely tries a little harder to put himself out there, he’s sure to fit in, aren’t helpful as much as naïve. The boy suffers the humiliation of being made the butt of the joke where ever he goes, of being the whipping boy for his younger brother, who seems to see Lucas as a constant source of embarrassment simply because he exists, and he learns not to trust anyone or anything if it seems too good to be true.

It’s nothing but a series of trials and errors and sometimes complete failures for Lucas, until he finds friendship in the form of a girl named Trish, and in Alex, the straight boy who has a crush on Trish, but who gives Lucas his first kiss, and who tries so hard to show Lucas what it’s like not to care about what anyone else thinks of him.

Donovan, the only openly gay boy in school, should be Lucas’ ally, though is anything but because he’s too busy despising Lucas for every part of Lucas that reminds him of the things he hates in himself. Zach Teagan, the one boy in school Lucas wants nothing more than to know and love, isn’t gay, and both boys are a cause of such torment for poor Lucas that it doesn’t seem he’ll ever get a break in this life. Until, that is, he does, when he discovers that poetry and music and the expression of feelings through words and melodies really can make a memory, one he won’t soon forget.

Madison Parker’s Play Me, I’m Yours is a tug-at-the-heartstrings story of a boy who wants so much to find someone who’ll love and accept him for who he is, but whose fate it seems to be to try and fade into the scenery and hope everyone will simply leave him alone. Though having said that, this isn’t solely a relationship book about a boy who’s longing above all else to find a boyfriend. This is very much the story of a teenage boy who’s trying hard to discover himself, who he is, what he wants, and to be proud of his immense talent.

Lucas doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve; he wears his heart like an entire suit of emotion, of pain and passion for his music and want for something he doesn’t think he’ll ever have. It’s a sweet and touching story of an introverted boy who finds his perfect match in the one he thought was unattainable. It’s filled with loads of teenage angst, but ultimately delivers an ending that has nothing to do with happily-ever-afters and everything to do with the boy who finally played his music, and the people who love him listened and understood what it is he was saying.

You can buy Play Me, I’m Yours here:

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