There are very few moments that make you feel completely fulfilled with your work. Lots of people go to work every day and only hear feedback from their bosses, or even customers, if it's something negative. But every once in a while you get to feel like what you're doing makes a difference, if only to one person. A reader recently reached out to me at the end of her rope, looking for advice. I gotta thank Dispatch for letting me have a soap box on which to stand, 'cause otherwise I might not have ever been able to offer any assistance. Below is our interaction.
My little brother just turned 13. He is a great kid, but he has pretty serious anger issues, combined with anxiety and depression. He is what I have always affectionately considered feminine. I attribute it to the fact that he was raised by myself and my mother, with no clear male role model ever in the picture. He is an extremely sensitive kid. He's compassionate and empathetic, emotional, and incredibly kind and loving, I think it is these characteristics that have brought on the teasing. Kids, primarily my mothers deadbeat boyfriend's redneck sons, tease him endlessly, calling him gay. (The words they use are much more hurtful. They are very explicit in their remarks. It makes me fucking sick. They have even been physically hurtful. They're horrible children who should be put down) My concern is that if he is gay, he will never tell anyone because his fear is too great. I don't know if he is. Sometimes I wonder, based on his relationships with peers. I am completely supportive no matter who he wants to be. I love him and I want him to be happy and healthy. I am terrified that he's ashamed of who is and is too afraid to be himself.
Advice? And by that, I mean is there any way for me to know if he's gay? What do I say to him? How do I help him feel safe and comfortable so he can be himself? Am I way out of line?
The best way to go about this type of situation definitely requires some delicate finesse. You don't want to elude to the fact that you question his sexuality, mostly because at that age, being anything different from the norm is a mark on his forehead saying "HUNTING SEASON: OPEN". I struggled with anger issues when I was younger, just because I too was ashamed by the part that people wanted me to play: the gay kid. And at that time, I wasn't and wanted people to just accept that. Often enough, especially around your early teenage years, people don't want to find who they are. They either want to find out how to be one of the cool kids, or they want to find a way to stay off of their radar to avoid any attacks.
It's a scary age, but things do start to shift there. I knew a couple kids who had figured it out and just went with their guts, and got ridicule here and there. But they let everything brush off their shoulders because the most important things to remember is that if someone is trying to knock you down a peg and make fun of you for being yourself, they're commonly really unhappy with who THEY are, and want to make someone feel little to raise them up a notch.
I remember an instance my freshman year of high school where I was getting shit on for being myself by the same person, day after day. Finally I stopped them and said something to this effect: "Hey, what you're saying to me may cause superficial wounds on my ego, but those wear off. It seems like you've got a lot more going on than you'll let everybody else believe, and I hope things get better for you." Never got shit from that person again, and he actually turned into less of dick as the years went by.
You never know what is going on at home with bullies like that and whatnot, but the best thing that you can do is encourage your brother to be himself. No matter the cost. 'Cause he'll spend a long time being miserable if he's pretending to be in someone else's skin. Once he can lock down the idea of self-worth and power in his soul, things will get better. And if his redneck step-siblings keep trying to knock him down a peg, tell him to just forget about it. Easier said than done, yes. But they're gonna be pumping his gas one day, if he keeps his head up and focuses on his personal success.
And you're in no way out of line. It is definitely normal to keep him in your mind, especially given the circumstances. But keep one thing in mind: he may have effeminate tendencies and all of that, but at the end of the day, his hormone might be directed towards women. There are not tells, or dead giveaways. My godfather is one of my favorite persons on the planet, and he happens to be one of the most effeminate men I've ever met. People would peg him as a gay man in a heartbeat, but he's happily married with two adult children and a fantastic job.
I do wanna say, though, that if things are getting really bad with the step-siblings and no one is intervening, that could become your problem. You've probably witnessed a portion of it, but it could be a lot worse behind closed doors. The absolute best advice I can give you is a power stance; if it continues, step the fuck in, and put a stop to it. Immediately. Because that's how terrible things happen. Anger and anxiety mixed with a potential identity crisis AND bullying could easily be a recipe for awful actions. Not at all saying he'd do the same, but lets not forget about Columbine. Those boys didn't feel like they had someone that they could talk to. Be that person that he trusts and wants to relate to. And remember to tell him that everything will be all right eventually.
Signed, sealed, delivered,
A month and a half went by, and I hadn't heard anything back. This afternoon, I received this.
I apologize for taking so long to respond. I had a hard time finding the right words to express my appreciation. Your advice has served me well. I have stopped trying to figure anything out and let myself just listen to him. He's opened up a lot to me recently, both about things going on at home, and about his fears in social situations. He's riddled with anxiety, but it seems focused where most adolescent anxiety is - in trying to fit in somewhere. I think he has a pretty good grasp on who he wants to be and also a clear idea of what he considers right and wrong. That gives me so much hope for him.
Thanks again for taking time to talk with me about this. My brother means the world to me, and you've helped me be able to communicate with him better and be there for him the way he needs me. For that, I am forever in debt.
All the best,
I love my job.