My Guilt

Tim Pylypiuk will tell his soon-to-be born niece or nephew, “No matter what your gender, be courageous.”

It’s a strain, at times, looking directly into someone’s eyes. Most think people like me just naturally lack this social action when this is far from the case. To me, the information gleaned from an eagle-eyed glare can feel like how a writer will sometimes deal out currency in prose—expensive and overwhelming.

More difficult is when I look at my own eyes and find what’s lurking behind their drawn drapes. Staring at my reflection, early impressions tend to start out favourable. When they’ve exhausted their stay to the point of novelty is where the problems occur as my murky underside rises on cue with precision.

Then the guilt tugs hard at my gut, ruffles my core.

In my previous article, “Bullied By Girls: One Man’s Account”, I pointed out aspects of culture that trigger me, flaring up the connective tissue riddled with scabs.

One aspect in particular: Strong women that hurt men. Girl Power that intimidates.

At first, when these experiences leapt free from an extensive degree of captivity, I felt cleansed.

Then the guilt followed behind in equal measure because there were some who thought that all strong, independent female characters received their due in the media. If I failed to revere their existence, no matter the concise distinction raised, I would be condoning narratives that stereotyped and harmed women; turn the clock back to a misogynistic culture long deemed unacceptable.

Aflame, the fire spread. Wet with desire to consume me, this malevolent creature called guilt.

♦◊♦

I remember troubling passages, clear as crystal shards, from a book I read last year by Kazuo Ishiguro called Never Let Me Go.

For background, it involves the early chapters where all the characters were young. The male supporting character called Tommy is outside waiting to be picked for soccer by the other boys. The main female protagonist, as a young girl, mingles with her circle of female friends in the girls’ dormitory.

They observe Tommy getting picked last again by the boys, bullied and teased as he reacts. The girls, including the lead female, taunt him from their window.

  • “There was something comical about Tommy at that moment. Something that made you think well, yes, if he’s going to be that daft, he deserves what’s coming.”
  • “Laura kept up her performance all through the team picking, doing different expressions that went across Tommy’s face. The bright eager one at the start; puzzled concern when four picks had gone by. And he still hadn’t been chosen; the hurt and panic as it began to dawn on him what was really going on. I didn’t keep glancing around at Laura, though, because the others kept laughing and egging him on.”
  • “‘I supposed it is a bit cruel,’ Ruth said, ‘the way they always work him up like that. But it’s his own fault. If he learnt to keep his cool, they’d leave him alone.’”

Those passages reared me up like a lion ready to shred its enemy. I wanted to tear the book apart, rip it, and throw its remains in the trash. Instead, I opted to toss it on to the floor and yell “BITCHES!” vibrating with rage and on the verge of tears.

I think there were moments when a few tears did leak out in compliance to my recollections because it was difficult to distinguish the actions of these characters towards Tommy and all those girls and women toward me. Those times under the steel whip blared.

Luckily, the female protagonist goes through some development and changes her stance towards Tommy later on in the book. He is soon treated well. My faith restored, I finished the novel and was touched by its heart adorned with pride on its cover.

But the point of my little tirade remained.

I didn’t want to see female protagonists like this with such an attitude towards male characters while getting away scot free, never changing nor getting called out.

♦◊♦

That’s why I was so overjoyed to have witnessed such an event from the movie Our Idiot Brother. Yes, the premise sickened me at first. But I caught the part where the brother finally stood up to his inconsiderate sisters and they soon felt the consequences in full.

By the film’s end, they had thought long and hard about their ridicule and changed their ways, bailing him out of jail.

Feeling guilty because I don’t want new generations of women growing up getting a free pass to hurt and abuse men and boys doesn’t jive with equality in my view. Just as I had felt when reading Never Let Me Go in the beginning, the injured connective tissue will always be a part of me. Denying it, denying my feelings toward these troublesome narratives and how it could end up hurting women, would stunt the healing process until there was nothing left of the real me except an empty shell ready to put itself out of its misery.

♦◊♦

So I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. Guilt won’t shackle me any longer. I refuse to be blinded.

When next I leave the room, I’ll soon be looking upon another reflection.

I’m going to be an uncle next year. When the time comes, I promise to impart the same philosophy I had grown up with from my personal foundations.

If it’s a girl, here’s what I’ll say:

“Don’t go around thinking all boys suck. If one boy, or a group of them, are giving you trouble, feel free to be mad at them. Cry into my arms.Tell them they suck. But leave it there and treat every other boy with respect. Be their friend as well, because they will need it.”

If it’s a boy:

“Please don’t think all girls suck. If one, or a group of them, give you trouble, feel free to be mad. Cry into my arms. Tell them they suck. But leave it there and treat every other girl with respect. Be their friend as well, because they will need it.”

No matter the gender, I’ll tell either one to be courageous. Stand up for your own gender when others won’t. Call out the miscreants, rake them across the coals with their prejudices and sexism tucked between their legs.

But don’t be afraid to come to me with your problems.  Stare at the living reflection looking back on you in a nurturing and paternal way, a partnership.

And I will do my best to overcome my own fears. All for you, my little love.

That’s what reflections are all about.

photo: MSVG / flickr

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About Tim Pylypiuk

Tim Pylypiuk is an autistic writer and performance artist who has worked with autistic people of all ages for ten years.

Comments

  1. Tim, this is really beautiful. What a deep and authentic narrative of your pain…and also your hope for a better future. Your niece or nephew will be lucky to have you as an uncle.

    I am the oldest of three. I have two younger brothers. Kids pick on each other, whether of the same or different genders. I think as adults we all see this dynamic. But I feel guilty that I teased my younger brothers so much.

    One day, I was sitting on my youngest brother to torment him. I was very small for my age, and I suddenly realized he was bigger than me! The day had finally come! He flipped me over and pinned me down and said my days of being the queen bee were over. :-) But, I still remember something he said to me in a fight months before that. He said, “Ha ha! You’re older so you will die before me!” and I said, “No I won’t. Women live seven years longer than men.” That really exasperated him. But now, he is dying of cancer, and when this memory comes to me, I can barely choke back the tears.

    Kids say and do really mean things when they are young and clueless and insensitive and socially striving among their peer groups. Most–I hope!–grow up to be decent human beings. I have certainly tried! I do not believe anyone just “gets a free pass,” male or female, but then again, I believe deeply in redemption and in freely given forgiveness through compassion. I was horribly bullied in school–by girls and boys alike. They now try to friend me on Facebook as if nothing happened! I think, “Whoa. Does he/she not remember how he/she treated me??!!”

    The slings and arrows of childhood create huge scars for many of us that we carry forward. But I have come to believe that most people turn out ok…like in the book by Ishiguru. It doesn’t mean the pain they caused was not real, but that, hopefully, they have reached a place in their lives where they do not need to lift themselves up by putting others down. In other words, they have grown up.

    This was a fabulous post. What I most loved about it was that it tells a story so honestly. It is the stories that lift us up.

    • Thanks Lori. I’d say this may be the cream of the crop in compliments.

      I want to be a great uncle, no matter the gender or sex of my kin. This will be a promise to pass down to him or her.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        Isn’t that all we can hope for all our kids? That we give them each the tools to respect each other and promise to try and protect them both?

  2. Lisa Hickey says:

    Hey Tim,
    It’s been really great to have you here as a contributor. I like the way you take your experience and make it honest, accessible, and human. Thanks.

  3. Wow.

    Lori, I think you may have met your match in high praise.

    :)

  4. I’ve had my little niece in my arms for almost a couple years, and I’ve yet to teach her anything at all – I’ve been far too busy squishing her in my arms to have time for much else. But when I do get time, and I will, I’ll recall what you’ve said here and apply it generously.

    • Yes, Ellisa.

      Teach your niece. Teach your niece really well.

      But also don’t forget that, especially when they get older, kids are going to formulate independant minds of their own and won’t waste time using them.

      I should know, I’ve worked with autistic kids. Still do. Like any child, they want to test boundaries and experiment. It’s up to us to answer to it.

  5. Tim,

    what an eloquent response to those who mistakenly thought you damned all strong women in fiction without bothering to read and understand your clearly stated caveat.

    Writing is very clearly a strength of yours and it really comes out in a fora like this where there are room for longer and perhaps more composed writings than those allowed in the often hectic and unfortunately often hostile environments of comment fields. I’ve “known” you through comments on a blog we both frequent for I guess a few years now and I am really touched by these two articles of yours GMP have published – not only for their contents, but also because I suspect this has been cathartic for you.

  6. Tom Matlack says:

    Tim THANK YOU. I really think all we have is our own stories. Sometimes its brutally hard to share the truth as you have done here. I commend you for it. And I am inspired by you for having let me walk just for a time in your shoes. Hopefully that is what this whole thing is about.

    • Exactly, Tom.

      That’s has been my intention.

      Followed by making a place where people like me don’t need to be alone when surviving trauma. One step at a time.

  7. This is a beautiful article. I was bullied mercilessly in middle school. I still don’t really care for horses, because I was called horseteeth for every day 3 years by my classmates (I know, I know, don’t take it out on the horses). For the record, I had big teeth for my face, but can happily report I grew into them in hgh school.

    It was usually the girls who bullied me. They coined that lovely nickname. They put gum on my bus or classroom seat. They threw things and told the teacher it was me. One time a boy punched me in the stomach, at the request of one of the girls.

    The punch hurt, but the emotional pain of being ostracized hurt way more. My real crime? Switching school districts and having the same first name as the most popular girl in school. And the same strengths: long distance running and competitive figure skating.

    To be honest, I was somewhat of a misogynist in my own right for a time. I didn’t like girls. Besides what happened in middle school, I was abandoned by my high school friends when I needed them most, after a male (former) friend assaulted me.

    I’ve grown up since, and even reconnected with some of my high school friends. We were all confused and figuring life out and we’re all better, stronger people now.

    I think most people like to lead and teach by example, which is imperative. But I think the writer’s words are very wise. I sometimes wonder if any of the kids in middle school who bullied me were ever explicitly told by their parents to respect others and treat everyone well. I think it’s a discussion a lot of us mean to have, and it just slips our minds, a victim of “well, duh, I’m sure he/she knows that.”

    I believe that a lot of lives would be improved if we made a point of explaining respect to our children at a young age. Yes, school faculty teach our kids that, but kids usually think their teachers ar booooring or they just want to rebel against those academic overlords. A heart-to-heart with a trusted adult would likey have a wonderful impact.

  8. Julie Gillis says:

    Gets back to what I just comments on the other piece. Humans are cruel to humans. Humans can also care and heal other humans. Women are as guilty of hurting as men (though often there are various way that express) and they are also as amazing as men at healing. Men heal too.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the fruits of my labor were borne from “Bullied By Girls And Women: One Man’s Tale” and “My Guilt,” there have been traces of immense inspiration churning these creative juices. Both my contributions […]

  2. […] read “Bullied by Girls and Women: One Man’s Account”, “My Guilt”, and “Smoke, Mirrors, and Earthquakes: On Being A Male Survivor”, all available here and […]

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