Recently, I documented that pain that I feel at being unable to help my son when kids are mean. It’s so hard to watch our children be hurt while we feel powerless to help them. As our school year has continued, my son’s feelings have intensified, culminating with him expressing the ideation that death means no one can tease him anymore.
Those kinds of intense feelings sent me into Mommy Fix-It Mode. Fixing bullying is difficult. In these kinds of situations, we feel powerless as parents because we recognize we cannot control the behaviors of others. However, we can work to create an open culture within our schools.
I tend to be a pretty involved parent when it comes to current trends, shows, music, and fads. So when my 9 year-old son came to me three years ago and asked to make a “Half-Life Costume”, I was surprised I had no idea what that was or how to do it.
You’re never prepared for the hard conversations. You’re never prepared for the conversations that you needed someone to have with you when you were young, back when we didn’t really have the words we have today. You’re never really prepared for that anti-bullying tattoo to be something you use to remind your child that he is loved instead of something you use to teach him to love.
And you’re sure as -insertinapprorpriateR-ratedwordhere- not prepared to do it at 7:10am on a school morning.
I still remember the moment. I remember the moment when the ultrasound tech told me that I was having a son. I remember fist punching the air. I specifically remember the tech telling me she’d never seen someone bounce up off the table so high.
I’ve always been a tomboy, the “guy’s girl” who has a lot of male friends. I grew up in the 1980s with a wide array of light pink and lavender, elastic waist-banded wide wale Healthtex corduroys. At some point, I turned into the Girl Who Hated Pink.
Hearing that I was giving birth to a son solidified my excitement about not being inundated with the two most traumatizing colors in my life. The fist bump and bouncing were less about sex or gender role and much more about my excitement over not having to see all. that. pink. and. lavender.
This week Marvel Comics announced a team-up with STOMP Out Bullying, a national organization for the prevention of bullying and cyberbullying. Some of Marvel’s favorite superheroes, including Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Hulk, are raising anti-bullying awareness during National Bullying Prevention Month in October.
“The center of Marvel’s storytelling history is the eternal struggle between good and evil, with many of its greatest super heroes having to contend with–and rise above–bullying, in all its forms,” said Axel Alonso, Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics. “We are proud to join forces with STOMP Out Bullying on its important bullying prevention awareness mission. We hope that all our fans take a moment this month to educate themselves on the need to stop bullying among our youth by checking out the free resources STOMP Out Bullying has to offer.”
Check out the heartwarming comic covers below, and think about passing them along to any geek kids in your life who might need a reminder that there’s always someone on their side.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy in December of 2012, many of us were left wondering, “Why? How?”
The same questions were being discussed among the editors of GrayHaven Comics, a small independent publisher that strives to give new writers a voice and forum. Many of their editors are parents of young children themselves, and while discussing the tragic events with their colleagues they realized that two issues were “at the core” of the trend of violent tragedies in this country; bullying and violence.
Rather than sit idly, the group decided to reach out to kids that are victims of abuse, bullying, racism, homophobia, mental illness, and poverty. The editors and staff at GrayHaven wanted to create a way to let kids struggling with these issues to know that they are not alone, and more importantly, that violence is not the answer.
GrayHaven has created an almost 200 page book with vivid and intense stories covering difficult topics such as depression, bullying, and gun violence. The art work of the stories highlights the emotions and struggles of victims, and depicts how kids can help each other. Interspersed between chapters are resource pages with links and numbers for victims to find help. The message that kids are not alone no matter what they are going through is powerfully woven into each story. While the topics are intense and powerful, over all the book is hopeful. The books are available for free to school and organizations nationwide and The goal is to get it into the hands of as many kids as possible.
The response to You Are Not Alone has been so positive, that the editors are working on expanding the project and opening it to new stories and topics. To help them, check out their KickStarter, also to request a copy of the book for your school, youth group, or homeschool co-op, you can email Andrew Goletz : GrayHaven Publisher & Editor in Chief – firstname.lastname@example.org. Get one, the kids in your community will thank you.
I had the opportunity to see a preview copy of the book, and to speak with one of the editors, Marc Lombardi, about the project. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
GeekMom: In all honesty, this book is the one of the most intense and realistic looks at abuse, bullying, and homophobia that I have ever seen. Did you all know that the use of comics would be such an effective means of communicating these issues to young people?
GrayHaven: That was our hope. We all grew up in the age of after school specials and those horrible videos you would watch in Health Ed class. The subject matter was always important and the intent was always genuine, but the result was quite often off the mark. We realized that comics were a much more accessible way for getting a message out to people of all ages, but especially younger readers. Even though some of the topics are a little more mature in nature, the ideas that people who are suffering through these issues can find hope is something that is more universal across all age groups.
We knew that doing something like this book would make the message more available, make it easier to understand, and hopefully something that is more sustainable.
GM:The thing that really strikes me, along with the text, is the art. The art really conveys the pain that victims of abuse and bullying feel. I think that it is easy to read an article online, or listen to a talk in an assembly about these topics but not really internalize the issues. The pictures in these stories draw you in and don’t give any option to run away from the issue. Can you comment on the process of matching the art to these stories?
GH: Matching artists to the stories is something I always loved doing, but for this book it was fellow editor Glenn Matchett who took those reigns and he did a really masterful job. Some of the stories, when they were pitched, already had artists attached to them that the writers brought into the projects. Others, as the editors read them, just yelled out certain artists who were already in our stable of regulars. You know how when you read a book and you can picture a particular actor or actress being perfect for the role of one of the characters? That’s how it is sometimes. The wrong art for the story can really take you out of it, so it was very important that we put a lot of care into the pairings that were made, and I think Glenn was really amazing in what he did.
GM: I really loved the Silent Story by Ken Godberson III and Brent Peeples. As I was reading it, I thought, “Here we go, his best friend is going to turn on him.” But that isn’t what happened. Do you think we are reaching a place where this will be more common? Kids sticking with their friends through the “coming out” years of high school and college?
GH: I sure hope so. I mean, in this day and age so many things that were previously taboo are almost commonplace, but society just hasn’t caught up with this yet. Kids are going to be cruel — that’s just something that doesn’t seem to change over time — but I think that kids are also more likely to be the ones who change their minds about what to be cruel about. They’re less likely to have a problem with people that are gay than our parents did. You would hope that as the years go on and the laws change and everyone is given the same sort of rights regardless of who they are sexually attracted to that you will see less and less of a big deal made about it.
GM: The bullying section was intense and I have read it multiple times. Back to an earlier comment, the art work was spot on. It showed that bullying really and truly hurts it’s victims. In the story “Letting It Go” by Thacher Cleveland, the Dad tells his son in great detail how much the bullying affected him. In “Your Secret, My Secret” the bullying victim is clearly distressed. I think a lot of folks in our society brush bullying off as “just part of life”, almost as necessary for development. From this book, and the accompanying art, is it safe to say that you and GrayHaven Comics disagree with that adage?
GH: We absolutely disagree with it, and it’s really the main reason we created this book. Bullying, no matter the reason, is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be “just a part of growing up” any more than physical abuse should be tolerated. Mental abuse has a long-lasting affect for people on both sides; those who are bullied and the bullies themselves. And that’s something else we considered. We were hoping to not only reach out and give a little bit of solace to people who read these stories with the experience of being in those same situations, but we also wanted to maybe catch the eye of some of the people who are bullying others and give them the perspective from the other side. I think — hope — that someone who is bullying someone else could pick up this book, read it, and realize that what they are doing is wrong. So if this book gives one bully a different outlook on what they’re doing then I think we did something good.
GM:I like that your stories show kids helping other kids. That’s a great message. Care to elaborate on that part of the stories?
GH: That was another big message for us to get through to people in the book…that help and hope can come from anyone. The earlier that you realize that you can make a difference the better it is. I mentioned earlier that kids can be cruel, and while that can be true, kids can also be resilient and remarkable in the way that they reach out to others in need. We wanted to reach out to the target audience, give them hope, give them the resources they need to get help if that’s the case, and educate them in (hopefully) an entertaining way to being a better person.
I think the reason that so many different writers all had the same idea to make the kids the heroes just as often as we make them the victims is because, in reality, that’s often the case. In my own struggles with bullying it was more often my friends, not teachers or other adults, who came to my aid.
With so much press recently, both in Canada and the United States, about how online bullying has led to suicide, often the discussions tend to be framed in terms of online versus “in real life.” This is also the case in many other discussions that happen when someone decides to publicly come forward because they’ve received threats of rape or death or harm, and the list continues.
As someone who is constantly under attack because of my online profile, I have a lot to say on this matter, but it is only in very rare circumstances do I ever talk about it in public. The reasons for my lack of public disclosure may become clearer as I share my own personal experiences. Sharing these experiences either makes me extremely brave, or extremely stupid, depending on who you ask.
If you take only one thing away from this, I hope that it’s recognizing the fact that online bullying and harassment is a “in real life” problem, with “real life” ramifications, including loss of income and people removing themselves from the target of the harassment’s life.
One of the reasons I have stayed quiet for so long about this issue is that, very often, I see people refer to this ever increasing issue as a “woman’s problem,” or a “teen bullying problem,” or a “feminist issue.” I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. It’s a “people problem.”
Warning: The following does contain some language that some will find offensive. However, I feel it is necessary for the sake of honesty.
Some may automatically assume that because I was born a female, that I receive threats because of how the world perceives my gender. I have never once been threatened with rape. I have never once been told by someone online to shut up because they think I’m a woman. However, I have been called a pedophile and a tranny.
Recently, when a group of internet trolls decided to really stick it me because of something I dared to write about, I was called a “homosexual pedo tranny,” plus this group conspired to create evidence that I force my children to participate in the creation of porn, and threats that that they will turn this fabricated evidence over to child protection authorities and the local police. Some may be surprised to learn that “tranny” isn’t only reserved as a slur for trans women. Twitter accounts were created to flood my mentions with a very special pedo hashtag dedicated to me. Fake Facebook accounts were created to also attack publications for which I write. My address was discovered and posted online, with someone saying, “Kill it and post pictures,” after someone else said they lived just down the street from me. They threatened to vandalize my property. They attacked my friends. They tried to find out information about my children so they could attack them, too. They even posted a link to a local school’s website, because they thought that is where my children attended school. They also tried to hack my social media accounts so that they could tweet on my behalf, and used my throw-away e-mail address to sign me up for a bunch of porn and spam. There was a series of DDoS attacks.
There isn’t a day that I do not receive some form of threat. At least every six months, someone decides to do a DDoS attack on my servers. I’ve even had someone from a well-known online community of anarchic hackers take down all of my websites and replace them with their calling card. I’m now approaching four years of daily threats and like-clockwork DDoS attacks.
The reasons for these attacks are various. One reason is because I’m a trans man. Another reason is because people assume I’m an atheist. Another reason is because people assume I’m sympathetic to Muslims. Another reason is because I dare to speak out against anti-vaccine proponents. These are just a few reasons.
I’m feel I have a certain amount of privilege living in Canada. Most of the time, I can shrug off these daily threats. Twice, I’ve had to call the R.C.M.P (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) because I felt the threat to my safety and my children’s safety was immediate. The R.C.M.P took these threats as credible. The first time, eventually the person making the threats was arrested and went to jail. Most recently, they opened a new file and are investigating as much as resources allow. However, because of the nature of the threats I receive, and how slowly the Criminal Code has been to adapt to the changes in technology, there is only so much they can do. But, at least the R.C.M.P have an open investigation for if the attackers actually make good on the physical threats of harm, death, and vandalism, and the threats to try to have my children removed from my care.
But, it isn’t only the threat to my children’s physical safety and my physical safety that make this an “in real life” problem. It also damages my ability to make money. Every time my server goes down because of an attack, I lose income streams, not only because my own websites are down, but also the websites of clients. I am thankful that I have very understanding editors, who stand behind me when they, too, get attacked, instead of asking that I no longer contribute to their publication, as it also puts their enterprise at risk.
I think I have remained publicly quiet about this for too long. But, I’ve had my reasons. The reason is a by-product of identifying as a man. Women are not the only people who receive physical threats. Men, who have any type of online profile, also receive frequent threats. But, as men, we are taught to deal with it quietly and in the background. Basically, we are taught that we must “man up.” The other reason is that I am always very worried about the blowback I’ll receive from some people who use the label “feminist” in reference to themselves. I’ve had it happen. I’ve been told that I’m a male rights advocate who is trying to take the spotlight away from this extremely real problem facing women bloggers. I’ve been told, “Yeah, it sucks to be intersectional. But you chose this lifestyle.” I’ve been called a misogynist. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you should hear what I get told every day in real life,” because it is their perception that being told I’m a pedophile and being called a tranny via an online medium does not count as “in real life.” There is also a lot of “these are just words on a screen” personal mentality.
Every day, I’m given messages that I need to shut up and sit in the corner, for so many different reasons, none of which have to do with being born in a female body.
In some ways, these people are correct. I don’t know what it’s like for women who receive threats of rape. I don’t know what it feels like to worry about my safety when walking alone at night. I don’t know what it feels like to have anxiety because I’m alone in an enclosed space with a man. I don’t know what it is like to be harassed at a con, or wolf-whistled when walking down the street, or all of the other real issues women face during the day. These have never been my experiences. As a result, often I feel that I’m not qualified to discuss these issues. Also, I really do not want to distract from the real issues that women face, especially women in the United States, as feminist issues in the United States are very different than feminist issues in Canada.
But, I do think it is time we change the channel. I think it’s time that we recognize that this is a very real issue, not only for women, teens, gays and lesbians, and trans women, but also for men, trans men, skeptics, atheists, and really just anyone who dares to stand up against any sort of wrongdoing and injustice. This is a very serious people-problem that isn’t contained within the boundaries of the online world; it reaches out to the real world. While I’m not going to commit suicide as a result of my daily threats, I do face other extreme dangers that are just as valid.
Of course, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Advocating for certain self-protections is not victim-blaming.
Some of the things I do to protect myself and my family is that I never mention my children’s names online. I keep my phone number unlisted. I’m very selective about what information I share with the public. I don’t have a profile on Facebook, which with Graph Search makes stalking and hacking your account very easy, even if you post everything privately. I change my passwords every three months. I keep my domain registration information private–though because of an error with my domain registrar, recently they become public and that is how my recent attackers got my home address. My registrar has since fixed this. I keep my children as much removed from my social media accounts as possible. And, very importantly, I’m not afraid to call the R.C.M.P. when things get serious.
Some of these things, especially not using Facebook, is not something everyone can do. For some people, it may be too late to keep their children’s names unassociated with their public life. But, if you do use Facebook, don’t have your real e-mail posted. If you use Facebook, don’t have your phone number listed, even if it’s private for friends only. Ask yourself, “What steps do I take to protect my child from online predators? Why am I not taking these steps for myself? What more can I do?” People who want to do you harm have a lot of time on their hands, and they will take extreme measures to really mess with your life. They know they can get away with it, too.
While I doubt I’ll see the day where I don’t live in some sort of fear, simply because I dare to exist, I do hope that I see a day where I can talk about these things freely and people recognize that I’m not trying to distract from the many other real issues facing people in this online age. There is room for us all.
At PAX Prime 2013, parents and kids of all ages and stripes filled the theater to talk with GeekMoms and GeekDads about raising the next generation of geeks. Also sitting behind the mics for this year’s panel were some of our progeny, who had their own valuable points of view on what it’s like to grow up geeky today.
The panel centered on interactive discussion with the families in the audience, and many parents had questions for the kids on the panel on a variety of topics, from favorite board games to how to share their own passions with their children. (Eleven-year-old Nora Wecks advised meeting kids halfway and embracing your children’s interests enthusiastically as well.) The most engaging topic on the panel, though, was a question from a parent about how the next generation of geeks handle bullying.
Gone are the days where bullying is confined to the bus or playground; today’s kids also contend with mean-spirited peers on Facebook and other social media. At only 13 years old, Lily Wecks has already experienced cyberbullying. Her father, Erik Wecks, spoke about it recently on GeekDad. Lily had more to say on the topic at PAX Prime. “There was a [Facebook] group page, and a couple of people in my class decided they were going to write a post about how obnoxious I was,” said Lily. “And it got really nasty. I ended up unfriending some people and leaving the group, and it really hurt. But it was also a good reminder that I need to choose. I can’t please everyone, so just be me.”
Nora had a similar experience with kids her in class, and her best advice for families was to speak up and get involved. “What really helped me is that I talked to my parents, and my parents talked to me,” shared Nora. “My parents got involved. I had an experience where some boys were treating me badly. And so my dad got involved and spoke to the principal about it. And that made me feel safe, that I was going to be taken care of.”
Rebecca Moore, 21 year old daughter of GeekMom Kay Moore, also encouraged parents to support their children, but realize that they can’t always stop the bad things that happen in life. “Keep an open dialogue with your kids,” said Rebecca. “If you do find out about bullying, you should take those steps to intervene, but know that you might not be able to stop it.
“You have to allow [your children] to build that strength themselves. Definitely step in so that they know you love and care, but you also have to be ready to support them. You can’t stop everything. …It is sort of a growth experience. Don’t be the parent that clings.”