Grew up in a small town
And when the rain would fall down
I’d just stare out my window
Dreaming of what could be
And if I’d end up happy
I would pray (I would pray)
Trying hard to reach out
But when I tried to speak out
Felt like no one could hear me
Wanted to belong here
But something felt so wrong here
So I prayed I could break away
- Breakaway, by Kelly Clarkson
We’ve talked a lot about Vancouver, announced events that were local to us and generally stuck to the kinds of things that are really familiar to those of us that live in the more urban parts of the Lower Mainland. Part of that is that we’re in Vancouver, of course, but since we’re YouthInBC, maybe it’s about time to cast our net a little wider and talk about how things might be different for those of you who are in the small towns, what things are like out there and in particular how getting help might be different.
Well to start, some people like it out there for sure, and there’s a lot to like! You’re out in the middle of nature, you probably don’t worry about getting shot or mugged as you go out to get your mail, and it’s quiet when you need it to be. Plus everyone knows everyone, so it may help you to know what to expect out of the people around you. And I guess usually what it really takes for it to be good is that you feel like you belong there.
But what if you don’t? What if you look around at the people around you and feel like you’re not a part of it? Maybe it’s just a feeling, or maybe it’s the way people treat you. Maybe you look different or are from a completely different background from everyone in your town, and everyone reminds you of it every day. Maybe nobody in your family, on your block or in your school EVER talks about being gay, so that leaves you to think about your own questioning all alone.
While here in Van we have lots of different agencies, counsellors and outreach workers out the wazoo and drop-in centres for most neighbourhoods, that might not be the case for people out in Greenwood BC (population 650). The one therapist for your town may be your aunt… how much could that suck? There may simply not be a specialist in eating disorders in your county… what do you do then? There’s no easy answer to that, of course, but it may involve changing either what you’re looking for, or the way you look for it.
By “who you’re looking for“, it may be that it’s not the therapist you’ll look to, but something less formal, like the aunt you don’t know super well but who you think might be trustworthy, or maybe not so much mental health related but more spirituality-based, or a coach you’ve looked up to. You may not be able to find a support group for the right thing, but maybe an activity group that hikes or plays sports together every week might get you the social contact you’re hoping for, even if you don’t always get to talk about all the darkest things you’re thinking.
And sometimes it means thinking about what you want, or the qualities you’re looking for in a person, and looking for those qualities separately in people. But when your options are limited, sometimes it’s about looking at what you have, and how to make the best use of it.
Not simple, I know, but if you want to talk about it, click the big green button and chat with us. We’re totally all about that sort if thing! And in the meantime, maybe worth a look at what we wrote about “coping”, and how you might decide to take the edge off.
Thanks to everyone for tuning in. We’re on the cusp of some changes with this blog and how we update it. The next chapter may have a slightly different voice, but I can definitely say it’s been tons of fun writing for you all… Thanks for reading. <3 Stay tuned and as always, sound off and tell us what you think!
I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I told you one and one make three
I’m the cult of personality
- Cult of Personality, by Living Colour (YouTube)
So some of you may have noticed our updating has been… less than stellar. I’m really sorry about that if you’re a huge fan of the blog, I wouldn’t blame you if you were… you know… not impressed. Every year things get busier and busier around here and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the side projects like this one. We do have some changes coming, though, and one of them might be the way we use this particular space, whether it’s slicing down to just the quotes and pretty pictures, to asking other people to contribute to the blog so that we can keep it updated without having to sink quite so much time into it. As usual, if you have suggestions, fire away in the comments and we’ll see what we can’t do!
So what have we missed in the past two months… the Mars landing, the whole Chick-Fil-A fiasco, The Dark Knight Rises. But since we’re already partially on it, a couple of years ago, when the winter olympics came to Van, we talked about role models, our olympians and, in particular, why you might not be surprised to find that people aren’t perfect… but that we can sometimes still look up to them, imperfections and all.
This time, we’re going to do one tougher… it’s not a mental health thinger, really, but it totally affects us all: Celebrity and its influence. We’ve talked before about the role of media in shaping our opinions, in particular about body image. Things get a little bigger than that, though. Celebrities attach their names not only to products (do you really need to smell like Kim Kardashian?) but also to values, to causes, even just to particular ways of acting. Think like Jenny McCarthy – who’s largely famous for being on MTV – and her personal campaign to keep people from immunizing their kids, and how many young mothers probably followed suit… think Lady Gaga, who started off as a dance music sensation but who advocates for gay rights not just through her endorsements but through her music as well… Michael Jordan didn’t just rock the world of basketball, he also may be the reason many, many people out there have Nikes on their feet right now.
What’s happening here, though, isn’t taking the whole person and saying, “Okay, sure, they took a photo of themselves drinking on Olympic ice but they worked their butts off to get there.“ It’s more like saying, “They’re my heroes for making it that far, and if they do it, Ima do it too!“ That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t support the same causes as celebrities you respect, of course… Heck, that’d be like saying you’re just not allowed to learn about causes from anybody else. But it might be worth it to decide for yourself whether that cause is the kind you want to support… whether those clothes are what you want to be spending your hard-earned money on… whether that religion or faith really is consistent with the values you want to live… without feeling like you need to emulate a celebrity to do it.
And the hardest part about that may be separating what you believe from what you’ve just absorbed… we’re social animals and thinking for yourself is sometimes harder than you’d think… It may even be a life’s work. And the answer isn’t just to reject anything a celebrity tells you! But try to imagine what you would decide with the knowledge you have now, but without the influence of their opinion.
Don’t let your struggle become your identity
- Author unknown
Even though I usually like for the quotes and lyrics we post to be cited and know where they come from, I have to admit that sometimes I wonder whether we’d be better off as a tumblr, with lots of pics and videos and the occasional article like this one. Thoughts in the comment, if you have some!
So I was looking forward to this for months… since I first heard about it, but a couple of weeks ago, a little movie called Brave hit the theatres. It’s an animated movie from the good folks at Pixar and I’ve always loved their movies and I imagined this one was going to be no exception… but that said, there was a reason I really, really, really wanted to see this one:
It’s a princess movie that’s not about getting a prince.
That might not seem like such a big deal on the grand scheme of things, but the thing is there aren’t that many stories about princesses who don’t end up with princes at the end as a measure of their success and happiness… or that aren’t saved by princes (or a man) at some point. In fact, for most of these movies, it’s entirely possible that there’s no other female character, and even rarer that they talk to each other, and rarer still that they talk about something other than a man. This, by the way, is based on a semi-joke now referred to as The Bechdel Test, which was just meant to illustrate how rarely we see female characters developed unless it’s specifically in relation to a man.
While that may seem like a bold statement to make, it’s not as accusatory as it may seem. There are plenty of healthy, even arguably feminist, movies that wouldn’t pass that test… just like there are movies that would pass with flying colours but are horribly unflattering to women in general. It’s more to just shine a light on the fact that we probably don’t tell enough stories about women and girls that aren’t centred in (heterosexual) romance, or where they’re not purely plot devices, motivations or muses for their husbands/fathers/brothers/sons/boyfriends.
But Brave passes the test. I won’t spoil too much of it for you, but I can tell you this much: It’s less about running away from marriage and much, much more about family, and the relationship between mothers & daughters in particular. And that’s a story worth telling.
It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
- From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
First off, I’d like to thank all of you that have been patient with us over the past few weeks. Following the version upgrade to our software, we went through a few adventures trying to get everything to work and, as the title suggests, we had some unexpected visitors as well. Our little barbarians pounded the chat server, and if you tried to talk to us last week, you might’ve found we were offline at weird times or difficult to stay connected to… well that’s them. However, our IT goblins have (they think) made some changes that should make the chat more stable but thanks for bearing with us!
As regular readers of this blog have probably noticed, we talk a lot about learning, school, and the things we think youth want to learn (whether in school or otherwise). We’ve talked about school versions of sex ed, personal finances & media, “the beginner’s heart”, civics & government, time management & study habits, activism & decision-making, and then sex again. Part of it is that it’s not that learning sucks… it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to feel personally invested in the Pythagorean Theorem, or The War of 1812, or rock formation in the cretaceous era. I guess that’s why I appreciate different angles on learning things that we otherwise sometimes write off as boring or lame or useless, and though we’ve done that a few times for video games in our Gaming, Only Different series (part I, part II) I thought I’d share two YouTubers that are doing the same thing:
Vi Hart calls herself a “recreational mathemusician”, seamlessly weaving music, doodling and math together. Like most of us, she spent math class doodling and not paying attention, but somehow managed to see the neat ways in which mathematics pops up in the real world, or in the mindless but strangely artistic scribbles we put down on paper. You may recognize a lot of the little patterns she brings up, but she also has a really quirky and fun way of folding in why it works mathematically and why you might care. And then you can learn what this has to do with Spongebob, pine cones, snails, Fruit by the Foot, flowers, and candy buttons.
If you liked her video, check out:
- her supplemental channel
- The Khan Academy, her adopted school that aim to do the same thing with ALL topics
Next up is Crash Course, a two-in-one web series and, in particular, Crash Course World History, the world history course that runs from the beginning of “civilization” (and why that’s a loaded word) to present day. The show is hosted by John Green, of vlogbrothers, who, had he been my history teacher in school, probably would’ve led to me being a historian rather than a YIBCer. Probably just as well. Each episode is a quick and dirty look at one morsel of history, why it’s important, why you may or may not have heard of it, and probably some funny stuff about why knowing this could make you a better boyfriend/girlfriend. No, seriously… that’s one of his stated goals.
If you liked that, check out:
- Crash Course – Biology, hosted by his brother Hank Green (which also covers chemistry) which is about “sex and not dying”
- SciShow, Hank’s own show that goes into more general science
- CGPGrey, who’s channel seeks to explain “complex things” in general. One of his most popular videos were about debunking popular misconceptions, but he’s also taken on leap years, the Mayan Calendar, why pennies suck, why most voting systems suck, and the difference between the UK, Great Britain and England.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more things stay the same.)
- French adage
(( If you’re brand new to the chat, you can read all about us on our About Us page before reading about “what’s new” if you’d like! ))
You may have noticed there’s something different in the chat window now. Or you might’ve just noticed the message we put in the pre-chat survey, I suppose. Either way, we wanted to let you know that we upgraded our chat server and that means a few changes from how things were before. And we thought it’d be fair to tell you the differences:
Most things are the same. We of course see your name, and can still read what you put in the pre-chat survey. We still get an IP and it’s still just as useless to us without any outside help.
The whole “visitor typing”/”operator typing” thing is different. Two big differences: First, and this is important, we can see what you type before you hit enter. Obviously if you were planning on sending the message anyhow that makes no difference, and I know that might be freaky as hell to some of you, but it’s just the way it works unfortunately. I kinda wish we could turn it off, but we can’t, so far as we can tell. If you want to work around it, you can always write your message somewhere else, then C&P it into the chat when you KNOW it’s what you want to send. That’s totally okay with us.
Secondly, there’s no longer a “operator typing” message at all. I know, it sucks. fixed. The chat window is ugly. We know, we’ll probably jazz it up in the next couple of weeks. We were in a rush. Don’t judge us. =P fixed. There’s a naggy “this demo powered by Sightmax” message . fixed.
That’s about it. If you have any extra difficulties (especially ones you didn’t have before), please don’t hesitate to let us know. You can email any comments, questions and rage to our email:
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
- Sir Winston Churchill
So as promised, this time we’ll go over the other two bits of feedback that we hear more often than any other, along with some of how we heard it and decided to discuss it amongst ourselves, all in the goal of helping our volunteers to get better at what they do.
Feedback #3. Respond more quickly and ask more questions
Sometimes we do get swamped, and you may end up waiting 20, 30, 60 minutes for a chat… that definitely happens, and we try to get good coverage on the lines so that it happens as rarely as possible. Once in a chat, though, we get that response time is important… In fact, it’s probably more important to be fast than to have the perfect answer.
What’s more, talking online is a strange animal and speed can help to counterbalance that. All the verbal cues and body language are gone and sometimes it’s hard to know what people are thinking or how they’re feeling. We often get hung up on not always been able to understand the chatters we talk to but truth be told it’s just as important for what we express. Although it’s not always easy to do, we do think it’s important to answer quickly, in a way that conveys “No, I’m totally listening, you have every bit of my attention” without saying it (which would probably sound pretty lame).
So why is the questions thing together? Because in the end I think it’s all about the same thing: attentiveness. Respect and patience are super important, of course, but how much effort you’re putting into connecting with someone isn’t always easy to express over an online chat, so sometimes you have to be creative about how you put energy in.
Feedback #4. Be less robotic/repetitive/scripted
When what we say sounds a little wooden, it’s not because we were told to only talk one way, or that there are give canned lines and they’re the only ones we’re allowed to use. It’s because much like some of you are in the process of learning the best way to express yourselves and your feelings (particularly verbally), a lot of us are in the process of learning how to listen, how to really understand people, and how to make sure we’re really getting you.
So example. In therapy, you might’ve learned to express yourself with a really plastic phrase like, “When you criticize the way I rake leaves, it makes me feel like you don’t like me as a person“. It sounds a little silly, of course, and that’s not the way you’d want to talk every day to your friend/partner/parent/sibling, but when you’ve always had trouble telling them how you feel, sometimes you try the scripted stuff as a stepping stone, to learn by doing. And eventually, then, you can learn to use the same principles, but have it actually sound like you. (“Shit, I get that you want me to rake properly but calling me an idiot is just pissing me off… is that really what you trying to do?“)
Likewise, we’re trying to learn how to listen, and it’ll come out all crooked and stiff sometimes because frankly it’s not always easy to do! But we’re working on it, on trying to take ourselves less seriously and on trying to still be as sincere as possible… it takes some practice, but we’re working on it!
So thanks for your patience, all of you out there, and thanks for your feedback. It’s listening to stuff like that that’ll help us get better and better (even if it takes time!) and we’ll do our best to keep paying attention. Likewise, thanks to our volunteers… I know we’re throwing a big party for you, but we really do appreciate the time you put in.
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
- Tony Robbins
A couple of weeks from now, our centre is going to hold its annual Volunteer Appreciation Night and generally the tradition here on the blog is to just spend one entry thanking them and gushing about them. I’ll get to that eventually, but for today I was thinking it might be interesting for folks to hear a little bit of what gets taught to try to make volunteers better… especially on YIBC’s chat, where things are the most important. Part of what they learn is technical stuff, of course (“kick the computer right here if it starts to chug”) but a lot of it is talking about how to put yourself in the shoes of some of the thousands of voices we hear every year. And that’s not easy, because everyone’s pretty different.
We’ve talked about the feedback we get before, and probably one of the most instructive things we’ve learned is that a huge chunk of the feedback falls into 4 categories, that in turn remind us of 4 huge things that we try to keep in mind when we talk to people. This week we’ll go over the first two which kinda go together, and in the next entry we’ll go over the rest.
Feedback #1. Give actual advice
This is a big one, actually… a good chunk of our chatters want advice in some way, shape or form. The question, then, often boils down to “what do you mean by advice?” We took a shot at this in our “So how does this chat thing work anyhow” series, but let’s go a little further:
Problem-solving is hard. No, really… I’m not just whining… It’s hard stuff. Some problems are easy to solve for sure, but we don’t really get a lot of softballs, not surprisingly. And a big thing that we try to do is make sure that if you’re going to make a decision based on our conversation, that it’s your decision, not one that we made for you. Frankly, anyone who’s old enough to be talking to us is probably old enough to be deciding some things for themselves, and responsible enough to collect the benefits (or eat the consequences!) of those decisions.
That said, we get that you may not have been through this before… how the heck are you supposed to know what to do the first time you break up with someone you really care about?… Or you get sexually harassed by your boss at your very first job? (“How would I know?! I’ve never been a teen mom before!“) In situations like that, hopefully we can talk out what you’d like to see happen, what sort of people you do (and don’t) want to know about it, and maybe even go over all the different options, even the ones people sometimes think of as illegitimate (or illegal, or unhealthy, or whatever).
Feedback #2. Don’t rush to solutions
This was one of the more surprising ones. For each “just give me some straight advice!” comments, we also got ones that said, “there are no solutions to my problem, lay off” or “I really just want to be listened to, not fixed“. In fact, sometimes it feels like we may have well just been told, “stop giving me advice, damnit!”
The first half to this is being patient and listening. I’d like to think we generally try to do that, but the honest truth is that the folks that answer the chat?… they generally just want to help. And sometimes, when you want to help, you rush to fix things… but it usually pays to chill for a sec and listen really carefully first, so that you can understand where the other person is coming from. Call them keeners if you want, but in the end, we try to remind ourselves that actually getting to talk, to tell your story, to be heard (*points up at the slogan*) is really, really important all on its own.
The other half to this is what we generally call acceptance, this general idea that we’ll do what we can to meet you where you are, acknowledge that the decision is YOURS and that sometimes situations can suck (even from our point of view!) without needing to be solved or fixed immediately. The trick is not mistaking this for resignation, or thinking that the situation is hopeless or unsolvable… just remembering that we’re all human, that while we can sometimes get some really awesome stuff done in a half-hour chat, some things are bigger and we may have to settle with just taking a little chip at it, or just getting a better look at it.
Good? Bad? Right on target? Off the mark? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll be back next time with #3 and #4!
Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die! Don’t have sex in the missionary position, don’t have sex standing up, just don’t do it, OK, promise? OK, now everybody take some rubbers.
- Coach Carr (from Mean Girls)
Late last year, Time Magazine published an article talking about Holland, where the teen birth rates and HIV transmission rates were a tiny fraction of what they are in the U.S., and discussed whether there was something to learn from them and the way they talk (and teach) about sex. While both countries talk about sex organs, STIs and pregnancy, dutch kids can also expect to be talking in class about relationships, prostitution, the significance of “your first time”, and the seriousness of sex in relation to consent. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, not many people are used to having such open conversations about sex, even between friends or with family.
And maybe it has to do with the fact that often when the subject of sex or drugs comes up over here, the “education” about it seems to be based around the things that you don’t want… or maybe even that you fear. STIs… unwanted pregnancy… addiction… alcohol poisoning… All the parts of sex and drugs that you should be afraid of or avoid, rather than being able to talk honestly about what sex is, why people do it, how do they do it and with whom. Those may sound like daring topics, but unless we want the conversations about sex to get stuck at “JUST SAY NO” like the conversations like drugs have, they’re topics we probably want to take on. (we actually wrote a whole other entry about this last February)
The reason I mention porn is because for a while there, the media was all over this idea that “zomg our kids are learning about sex through porn”, from blogs to newspapers, to probably the most controversial and widely debated TED Talk presentation ever. At some point someone realized that sometimes kids get a hold of porn and that in the absence of proper education around sex, sexuality and sexual relationships, that they might get the sense that facials, group sex and bondage are actually the norm. But I guess the first question is “So is that really the sense you got?”
Being a little nerdy, I like Venn Diagrams… So if you wrote one with two circles, one for “things that happen in porn” and another for “things that happen in real-life sex“, what would go in each circle? What would go in the overlap? And do you think everyone would agree with you? But the important thing isn’t knowing which goes in each, but having the opportunity to discuss why you would or wouldn’t want things in your “real-life sex” circle (or your porn circle too, I suppose)… or talk about “what people think” versus what reality might actually be.
Now imagine if that were the kind of content that went into your sex ed class. Could I convince you to go?
It’d certainly be simpler than googling “sex education about porn”… needless to say that turned up about fifty bazillion results I wasn’t allowed to see on the centre’s computers. And hopefully this entry won’t get this site banned from your school computers.
TN bill will prevent teachers from using the word “gay” in class. In response, I’m lending them my name: “It’s okay to be Takei.”
- George Takei (@GeorgeTakei)
Hey NHL, how’s it going?
I just wanted to say that I’m kind of impressed with you lately. I mean, I’ve always been a hockey fan, but I’m actually not talking about the on-ice stuff, but the really outspoken off-ice support and advocacy for things that I think are really important.
Last year, we wrote about Do It For Daron, an awareness campaign backed by the Ottawa Senators encouraging people to talk about teen suicide. And yeah, we had some, er, constructive criticism, but we still thought it was great.
A couple of months ago, we talked about In One Voice and the Vancouver Canucks stepping up to have those tough conversations about mental health and suicide.
And it looks like you done it again… Flyers’ scout Patrick Burke and his co-founders put together You Can Play, an effort to have athletes, fans and organizations step up to create a healthy, welcoming atmosphere for LGBT players so that everyone can have a fair shot of playing, the way they should. Concretely, they’re trying to challenge the way locker rooms and spectator stands have created a culture that is sometimes openly homophobic, or “casually” so, by using homophobic slurs without realizing that they may be hurtful, like “That’s so gay” when they mean “That’s stupid.” or “Don’t be a fag” instead of “don’t be an asshole.”
The ads have come up already during games (you can also see them YouTube here and here) with the clear message that “if you can play, you can play.” I don’t necessarily expect gay NHL’ers to come flying out of the woodwork, but I just appreciate that it’s not only players that are committing themselves to positive messages like these, but the organizations as well… And that’s pretty cool.
Thanks for that. Good luck in the playoffs.
Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you’ve told him all along
And pray to God he hears you
And pray to God he hears you
- How to Save a Life, by The Fray
Okay, Glee, we need to talk. I know we’ve already mentioned some of the things we liked about you a couple of years ago, and to your credit, you’re still one of the best places on TV to see characters and stories that both honor and speak to the struggles of being young and gay, without it being a token effort or embarrassing stereotypes… so much so that you’ve been honoured by the GLAAD Media Awards as Outstanding Comedy Series twice (so far!). ‘Course, don’t get me started on how you handle race… But that’s not what this is about.
This week, the show took on suicide, probably one of our favorite topics (we can’t shut up about it), with a nice nod to cyberbullying and even a rare speck of gay-on-gay bullying. Then, Mr. Schue did what you’d want a caring teacher/adult to do: he got the kids together so that they could talk about it… and after sharing his own struggle with suicide as a teenager with them, what he asked them wasn’t about how hard this was for them right now, or how they were worried about Karofski (or blaming themselves for things they had done to him), or whether they were thinking about suicide at all, but rather to name something they’re looking forwards to.
I get that this is supposed to be the clever contrast to two seasons ago, when they went around the same circle and told him what they were before Glee, and how much they’d changed over the year. But just like with what we had to say about It Gets Better: It’s okay and even *important* to give people the space to talk honestly about suicide, instead of always wanting to talk about the positive and trying to push them to optimism. If you can listen, care and take the time to help someone who’s suffering through that to feel a little less alone in the world, the optimism will come… even though we sometimes lose faith in it or are too afraid to be disappointed again, I think there’s always a part of us that wants it. But listening comes first.
But thanks, Glee, for talking about suicide. Thanks for showing an adult who actually wants to talk about it and giving him the heart to reach out to the kids he cares about. Thanks, Daniel Radcliffe and The Trevor Project, for having the sense to make sure that if this hit a chord with people that they’d immediately know who they could talk to.
And if anyone out there couldn’t think of something they’re looking forward to, know that it’s still okay to talk, there are still people that still want to hear what you’re feeling:
- CHAT NOW with us by clicking the giant green button up top, we’re open noon to 1am every day.
- In Canada, click here for your closest crisis centre
- In the US, call 1-800-273-TALK to get connected to the closest one in your area
- For support for LGBTQ youth struggling with suicide, The Trevor Project runs both a 24/7 chat and hotline.
- Elsewhere in the world, check our After Hours page or Befrienders for a local service.