Dear <Name Omitted>;
I’m not sure why I feel compelled to write to you, but I do. I’m a bit of an aspiring writer, originally from Guelph and now make my home in Hamilton. I run a couple of blogs, one having to do with my own advocacy work, mostly to do with mental health, but as a social justice activist as well, my other causes tend to bleed in: Queer rights, women’s right, and really just social justice and anti-stigma in general. The other one is more of a practice to get over the writer’s block I have been suffering, and have been working through a journal of writing prompts that I found to help me to get over it. Funny enough it’s because of both of these that I am writing you today.
The prompt I am working on this morning is ‘What could have happened to you in high school that would have altered the course of your life?‘ I’m sure as someone who works in a high school, you can understand why this might be a difficult question for many people. I think maybe as someone who heads up a Gay Straight Alliance, I think you can probably appreciate that more then most. There is a lot of things that could have happened to me in high school that would have changed my life, I’m trying not to think about them all, because living in the past is not helpful for anyone.
However, I am trying to find my own way to write on this topic. Which is why I am finding myself writing to you this morning.
For a bit of background, I actually attended four high schools in total during my teenage years. The first being Centennial C.V.I. which I started at in 1997. The second of which was not actually a high school, but an alternative high school space for Queer students in Toronto called The Triangle Program in 2001. In 2002 I attempted a semester at Ross and a year later I went to GCVI for a year. I never actually actually graduated. I kept trying, but by the end of my high school years I was so broken that I couldn’t cope anymore.
I think you will be happy to learn, that of the three high schools I attended in Guelph, it was Ross and GCVI that I found more respectful of diversity, and possibly if I started my high school career in either school things may have been different for me as well.
Anyway, upon trying to write about this prompt I started doing a bit of digging around the internet about my own high school, and found your e-mail on their guidance page as someone who’s a contact for an upcoming conference in Guelph for students and educators alike. I am writing because although I can’t change my story, I don’t want anyone to have to repeat what I went through. I want to tell you, what I wish I had the words to say to say back then. Hopefully so you can share, or at least reflect upon. I am not trying to tell you how to do your job, and I hope you don’t take it as such. I think it’s important for a lot of educators to remember these.
Pay attention. Every single kid has their own story, some when they start grade 9 will not have much of one yet, maybe their stories are just starting. But some who enter have led lives that would break the hearts of the most stoic. I was raised in an emotionally and mentally abusive house hold. Nothing I ever did or could do was good enough, always told there was something wrong with me. I watched my step-father break my mother’s heart time and time again, and my brother and I spent most of our time trying to avoid his wrath. But at every parent teacher conference, my step-dad was there, to convince my teachers that I was just a bad seed. He was charming, handsome, and spoke with clarity and authority. All of my teacher’s liked him.
I think it’s important to note that I was doing incredibly poorly in pretty much all of my classes; despite being identified as gifted and always told about how much potential I had.. Except the one’s that gave me an escape, and that was only Music. At 14 I was lost. 15 I was depressed. 16? At 16 I just got angry, and more then once I was described as a ‘militant homosexual.’ No one ever asked me the right questions, teachers, guidance counselors – no one ever noticed what I was going through; and if they did, it was brushed under the carpet. Upon coming out to my family, my biological father beat the crap out of me, and my step-father kicked me out of the house the very next day. Two weeks later, my mother convinced me to come back only to have every person in my immediate blended family to hold an intervention to tell me how everything was my fault, that I was the root of every issue in my family. In fact, to this day, part of me is still convinced that this might be true.
The lack of support from family, was matched by a lack of support at school. I was teased and bullied horrendously. Being picked on for being gay before I even knew myself. Cyber bullying began to happen when I was in school, and there was a picture of me that started circulating via e-mail with home pretty awful things written on it. It eventually started getting hung in the hallways at CVI. Upon going to the administration to address this, I was told that, and I remember the exact wording to this day, ‘this wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t so out’.
Everything that happened to me had me craving a community that I didn’t have. The LGBT youth group at the time was for the most part me and three facilitators Occasionally another person would show up, but never for long. I turned to the internet, trying to connect and started meeting men twice my age. Leading to what everyone warns people about with youth on the internet; my first time was not consensual.
As I round the corner to the next decade in my life, turning 30 in less then a month. I realize that spent the better part of my 20′s isolating myself because of all the trauma that I dealt with. i haven’t even told you the half of it and I promise you that high school was really just a more intense experience of the bullying I dealt with in elementary and middle school.
I am not trying to place blame on anyone because of what I went through, I’m honestly trying to retell my story in an attempt, to emphasize that maybe something could have been done to help me, as I didn’t have the knowledge or resources to do it myself. Maybe I could have been more forthcoming about what had happened to me, but my trust in adults had long since been severed. Maybe nothing could have been done, I don’t know. But I don’t want anyone to have my story, and maybe by sharing it, someone will pay a bit more attention and maybe help someone who’s story could turn like mine.
If it wasn’t for the actions of some staff at Change Now, a youth resource centre in Guelph, and of some students at the University of Guelph I probably wouldn’t even be here to tell you my story.
I’m not sure if I accomplished anything by writing this. I see the work that’s happening in Guelph area high schools now and part of me is sad that it wasn’t around when I was younger. That despite trying to start a movement at 16 and 17, I constantly felt that no one was listening, that no one was taking me seriously. I’m glad that it started to happen, I really am. Guelph high schools look so different now then they did when I went. But the problems I faced were not new, many before me had similar stories, and I am sure that many after will as well.
I am sorry for rambling on, I wish you and your students luck at the upcoming conference – and I hope that change continues to happen and that diversity is not just tolerated but accepted and supported.
With deep respect,
David O’Garr (Originally Clark)
Inspired by 642 Things to Write About
Topic: What could have happened to you in high school that would have altered the course of your life?De
Writer’s Note: Yes, I did actually send this to one of the staff in charge of organizing this conference. I really am not sure if I accomplished anything. But I don’t think I hurt anything.