*HUGs* to you today, Celebrationists, in case you’re in need of one on this particular Monday! Today I bring you a moving, generous, and kind-hearted GBD. We’re going to chat about bullying, and what a Little Bit of Good it is to respond to aggression with grace and compassion. But first:
1.I am grateful that whatever weirdness has been happening with my eyes is officially NOT an infection!
2. I am grateful for the random and insightful conversation I had with an elderly gentleman at Starbucks today.
3. I am grateful that I’ve been gifted with many opportunities to see amazing theatre for little-to- no-money, this month. It’s wonderful getting an injection of inspiration, and I’m grateful to the kind folks who made that possible for me.
All right, friends. This incredible man is Justin Talkington.
This week something happened to Justin that powerfully caught my attention. Bullying takes many forms these days – and internet bullying is growing as a popular form, it seems. This incendiary method of harassment can sometimes be anonymous, as it is in this case – but remains no less aggressive and horrific. I’m interested in how we can respond to such acts in ways that diffuse the cruelty, affirm our own goodness, and stop the “Little Bits of Bad” (or really, Big Bits of Bad) from spreading any further. I asked Justin if he would be willing to discuss this experience with me, as well as chatting about bullying in general, and he kindly agreed. (The following contains several bits of strong language in the form of slurs used.)
Can you walk us through the recent experience you had? As much as you’re willing to share about what happened?
What a boy has to do to sit and eat Pizza Hut in his sweatpants and watch Golden Girls in peace I will never know. A few days ago I made a solid effort but, alas, my phone buzzed and with cheese still on my face a bit of tragedy struck. I was informed by a kind acquaintance in my hometown (which I was visiting for a few days) that someone in the nearby area had been posing as me on the social media “dating” app Grindr. Not only posing as me, but using a profile photo of me from high school when I was significantly overweight linked with a vulgar and blatantly suggestive profile. Pizza night was not ruined as it is indeed still pizza and therefore delicious, but a dark cloud had definitely been placed overhead.
What was your first thought/impulse after discovering how your image was being used?
Everyone has things that they struggle with, be it internally or externally. It so happens that this person posing as me struck a chord in both soft spots. My first impulse was laughter; however, I later realized upon examining the profile that this laughter was indeed a means of defense. My weight was a struggle my entire adolescence and into high school. I peaked in high school at approx. 250 lbs at 5’10” and that is when the photograph on the profile was taken. The photo used was of me on Christmas morning in the comfort of my home, and though I am now able to look at said photo with a smile, the thought of someone using it against me to solicit a fake fetish was incredibly offensive.
Have you encountered other experiences in your life where you’ve been bullied?
I am an openly homosexual Christian from a rural farm town in Indiana. Throw in some severe muffin tops and love of singing and you have yourself a prime candidate for ridicule. For the majority of my life since the age of 11 or 12 through my early twenties, bullying came in both mild and severe doses. Putting up with the frequent “Faggot” and “Cocksucker” slurs in the hallway grew tolerable; however, even upon returning home for Christmas break my junior year of college I was attacked in the parking lot of Dicks Sporting Goods by three middle-aged men.
What were some of the greatest challenges of those encounters, and what are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
The greatest challenge I have faced through my battle with bullying and harassment is not losing my faith in people. I have told myself since an early age that a few spots of dark and murky ink do not make the entire ocean black. Losing faith in humanity was never an option. You don’t stop loving others simply because a large handful of broken people tried to break you of your ability to do so. The greatest lesson you can learn as one who has gone through severe bullying is to love all the more and love more powerfully than those around you. If compassion was not shown to you in the way you craved so intensely in your youth; get your revenge. The ultimate revenge is happiness. Loving others and exercising compassion will bring happiness. Those who tried to break you will in some way always be broken. That’s when you come in. You can’t fix people, but damnit you can love people.
If the person who took your photo and used it to create a profile were reading this right now, what would you like to say to him or her?
You ruined my pizza night…
Kidding. If the person who created that vulgar profile is indeed reading this message, please contact me personally.
What advice do you have for a person who is, or has been a victim of bullying?
Message me on Facebook. The thing I wish I had in high school was a network. As cliche as it indeed sounds, it gets better. Sometimes life gives you a few cards that are terribly, sometimes tragically, difficult to play. Play them anyways and do it confidently. Too long growing up I played the supporting character in my own life and put my own happiness on the back burner. I played sports that I hated and spent time and money on things I thought I needed to impress people that I didn’t even like. Being yourself is shitty advice because when people are consistently pointing out that yourself isn’t good enough, how do you embrace how wonderful you are. It gets better. The person being picked on is usually the threat, the one others are jealous of, the foreign presence or the one breaking free of what others view as normal. Break free now. The sooner you jump the sooner you fly.
Who is another person or organization that inspires you? Someone you feel is doing Little Bits of Good?
Organizations to research and donate to: The Trevor Project http://www.thetrevorproject.org, Ali Forney House for Homeless and Struggling LGBT Youth http://www.aliforneycenter.org, LGBT national help centerhttp://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org , ALS association http://als-ny.org and ASPCA NYC www.aspca.org . All of these affect my life in some way or another.
The person I choose to focus on so much of the time however is my grandmother, Cheryl Collins. My grandma is the voice in my head separating good from bad and right from wrong. She is the kindest and most earnest woman I have ever met and takes little bits of good and molds them delicately into miles and miles of great. I believe whole heartedly that I have overcome so much of hardship life has thrown at me because of this woman’s influence on my life. The beauty of it all? She likely has no idea.
What is the best thing that has happened to you today?
You know what? Today was a whirlwind of joy. I woke up and filled out paperwork and packed my suitcase for a new job and career path I am beginning on Monday morning, had lunch the queen of my heart, my mother, and ended the night off having a few drinks and slices of pizza with my brothers and sisters. Filling in all the little grooves, I continued planning for my best friends wedding next spring and got ready for bed whilst video chatting someone very special to me. What was the best thing about my day? I lived it.
Justin, thank you so much for sharing your goodness, hope, and optimism with us. I know I’m launching into this week inspired to be a little kinder, a little braver, and a little more mindful. Wanted to leave you all with a great article by one of my favorites, Jen Sincero – on Confidence. http://www.fastcompany.com/3042665/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/six-habits-of-confident-people
Until next week! xoxo