The B Word

There seems to be a love affair with the B word in New Zealand education: bullying.

There’s no denying that bullying occurs. That would be like denying breathing keeps us alive. But the use of the word disturbs me in the fact that, from what I have encountered in my professional life, the B word is thrown around a bit too freely and a bit too quickly at things that are not usually bullying.
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“These Are Not the Emotions You’re Looking For…”


Okay, so got a cheeky Star Wars reference into yet another post about my depersonalization and depression; score one for me.

Seriously, though, yesterday was a very difficult day for me.  It honestly didn’t start out that way.  I woke up early as I had an appointment with the sleep specialist to check on how my CPAP machine was going.  It went very well, and it made me very happy, which made my mood quite bright and cheerful.

On to our second chore while we were out: work.  I needed to swap over the back-up drives (which I’d forgotten to do last Friday) and also some work on allocating student loans to the appropriate Public Trust accounts.  The second part really didn’t need to be done yesterday, but because I was at work, I thought it would be easier to get everything done in one fell swoop, so I could spend the time during this school holidays actually relaxing without much work at all instead of working every day, a little here, a lot there, and forgoing the whole reason of having a break like I normally do.  One of the things I am learning in counselling is I need to step-back and have some “me” time a lot more often than I have been over the past 20 years or so.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…

In the second, larger 13 June 2011 earthquake, two of the large decorative concrete panels came off our work building.  That, in turn, made the engineers unsure how the building would perform in another large earthquake (and since we were on the third quake above 6.0 at the time in a rather rich aftershock sequence, no one was ruling out anything by that point… Mother Nature seemed to turf the rule book out the window).  So, Unit 7 in Amuri Park was red-stickered, and the owners came to see us to tell us that it was cheaper for them to demolish and replace the building than to repair it.

Unit 7 Being Torn Down
Unit 7 being demolished. All the damage to the front of the building was done by the demolition company. The panel on the ground on the left of the building actually came off during the 13 June 2011 6.4 quake.

Read When Life Gives You Lemons…

The Two of Me

Sorry for the delay in publishing anything lately.  I’ve been dealing with a lot of internal stuff, and when that happens lately, I seem to shut down and focus on… well, internal things.

Two weeks ago, I was at home (as I usually am on a Thursday) and I went through the normal routine.  Get up, play some games on the computer while eating breakfast, think about any work I can do for the day, and then, after putting my dish in the dishwasher, I walk into the garage and let Levi out of his pen.

(For those of you not in the know, Levi is our chihuahua.  He sleeps in a fenced-in area in our garage where he has access to a luxurious futon, a litter box, food, and water.)

The normal routine has Levi bolt out of bed, go running to the back door, doing his toilet business in the back yard, and coming back in for a little cuddle before settling onto his big cushion in front of the fireplace for a good part of the morning.  And he does it at 120 times the speed a normal 16 year old dog should do it (being a chihuahua and all).

This all went to plan, except when Levi got to his big cushion, he made a hacking noise twice (this is a normal noise he makes after he’s eaten grass or has a hairball) and then fainted.

All I remember is rushing to the cushion as quickly as I could and shaking him slightly as I made a prayer aloud to God.  Within seconds, he came to, and seemed fine (although a bit dazed).  He has been fine ever since.

He had been ill earlier in the week, so I wasn’t sure if it was the aftermath of that (just got up too quickly and that was that) or if his heart murmur was at that stage where it would make him pass out.

Noel tends to be a bit more laid back about these sorts of things: Levi fainted once, he had been sick a few days before, it probably is nothing.  The “exterior” me thinks, he’s probably right; I’m just overreacting.  All the time, the “interior” me is worried beyond belief, the voice within screaming, “Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet!”

Yesterday, I finally caved in to the “interior” me and took him to the vet, despite nothing else seemingly wrong.

Chantal (our vet) found that Levi’s heart murmur has grown worse from when he had a chest x-ray 9 months ago while his teeth were being cleaned.  The x-ray had found nothing out of the ordinary, but now, instead of her hearing a dum-dum rhythm when listening to his heart, all she could hear was a wooshing noise.

Despite this, he seems fine and has no other symptoms of congestive heart failure.

The words and phrases “quality of life”, “comfortable”, “we’ve had this talk before about Jenah“, “contraindications”, “congestive heart failure”, “this is the best we can try” came out.  It’s not Chantal’s fault, but the “exterior” me smiled slightly and nodded and asked questions.  The “interior” me died a little more.

The “interior” me noticed we were in the same consultation room Jenah was put to sleep in.  That me thought how small the room looked compared to what I remembered it to be when she drew her last breath and finally slumped into what looked like a peaceful sleep.

When Levi collapsed two weeks ago and I rushed to his side, the “interior” me came out, praying aloud to God to not do this to us.  “I’m barely over Jenah’s death and quakes and all that shit, I don’t need him to die on me.  Please, God, let him be okay.”

I usually keep that “interior” me in check.  It’s a sign of weakness, my embattled psyche thinks, to let the “exterior” me crack and let the “interior” me show.

This is the lesson I learned from being picked on for being gay and smart in grade school.  This is the struggle I’ve been playing out my entire life.  The “exterior” is what I show the world because the “interior” is too fragile and too feeling to expose to the harshness of reality.  The “interior” me found out that crying or responding or letting those picking on me (I loathe the word “bully” as it’s overused these days) would only bait them to continue, so the “exterior” me grew out, like a hardened shell, around the “interior” me.

I think of it like the “exterior” being the friend or big brother who stood up to all the bullies because the “interior” didn’t have the strength, courage, or energy to do it himself.  I never had the luxury of someone to stand up to the bullies when I was growing up.  Hell, I didn’t even have a lot of friends because I was a nerd and gay, and gay was different, and nerd was different, and different was not good.  So I learned (finally) that I had to rely on myself to defend myself.  It’s something I do to this day (because if you don’t do it, maybe no one will).

The “exterior” me is the one who makes ’em laugh, smiles, makes it look like nothing is wrong, or conveniently shields the “interior” me from the hurtful comments or snide remarks or condescending tone someone’s made about me.  The “exterior” me appears not to be hurt when a friendship seems to fade despite all the work I’ve put into it, or when a friend makes plans with me, only to have me wait around all day to be absolutely positively blown off.  The “interior” me just wonders: “What have I done wrong?”

(By the way, the bullies never go away in your life; they just take a different form.  I believe, for example, that some Government departments have several of the bullies and the bullied-turned-bullies working for them, trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.  “You will conform.”)

Before I go to bed, every night, I use the toilet and wash my face and brush my teeth.  No, not all at the same time.  Last night, thinking back on the day’s events and Levi’s diagnosis, the “interior” me shoved his way out.  My mind’s eye saw Jenah suddenly fade away in that room at the vet; it then turned to wondering if Levi would go the same way in the same room.

And then I broke down crying.  Not just normal crying.  Sobbing crying.  That deep well of tears bubbling forth from somewhere deep within the core of me.

This morning, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to all of this, and I realise that the “interior” me is showing more and more each day.  The “interior” me is tired and worn-out.

He’s tired of being in a room full of people and still feeling alone.  He’s worn-out from always being the outsider, trying to push his way in but almost always rejected.  He’s burnt out from fighting endless battles against bureaucrats and autocrats and people in general who don’t think or even care how their actions affect others, and when you disagree with them, they try to bully you and twist your words to something you haven’t said instead of admitting they were wrong.  He’s had enough of feeling hurt at the actions of others, even if those others don’t know their actions have impacted him that way.

He’s weary of trusting new people.  He’s suspicious of the motives of others.  He’s at the point where he believes half of what some other people say.  He’s always scanning for other’s ulterior motives.  He’s tired of some other people not saying what they mean, or saying one thing and doing another.  He’s frustrated with people not paying attention to what he says, or even worse, listening to what he says but doing what they want anyway, then crawling back to him to ask him to help them fix it.  He combats this by speaking a bit louder and talking over people, just so he can get his point across.

He’s worn-out from caring too much.  He’s sick of the cycle of trust-trust-be-hurt-trust-trust-be-hurt.  He’s bitter from losing some of the ones he’s loved.  He misses the ones he’s loved and lost.  He’s homesick for the familiar, whatever that might be these days.  He’s torn between too many worlds, none of which he truly feels he belongs in.  He’s growing numbly comfortable with the “new normal”.

He’s tired of the rhetoric and dogma and clichés.  He’s frustrated with being treated like a second-class citizen because of how he was made and who he’s hard-wired to love.  He’s overwhelmed with not knowing what he wants out of life and struggling to help others out where he can.  He’s confused about religion.

He’s scared because time seems flying by yet he feels he’s done nothing with his life.  He’s tired of always second-guessing himself and his decisions.

He’s over fighting for every last square inch of his rights and his patch.  He’s always fighting the urge to look back and losing, like Lot’s Wife.  He’s tired of being so worried about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present.  He’s deflated at sometimes not making the most of “this moment”.

He’s sick and tired of worrying about “what-ifs” and thinking about what the next disaster around the corner will be.

He’s had enough of pain, or not being able to breathe, and his clumsiness.  He’s tired of dieting and working out and doing everything in his power to lose weight for it all to come back (and then some).  He’s angry at himself for putting off things until tomorrow: always tomorrow.

He wishes he was good at a few things instead of being mediocre at many things.  He wants to punch the next person who says they are “passionate” about something (when, in reality, most of us are not passionate about anything), just like he feels like slapping someone who throws the “love” word around so carelessly (someone who has never felt love and doesn’t understand what it means).  He wants to follow his dreams… if he could just figure out which one when, and how to follow them… and had the courage to do it.

He feels he’s not good enough.  He wonders why people tell him he is good at things when he feel he’s mediocre, at best.

He wants the critic in his head to shut up sometimes.  He’s frustrated because he has all these ideas in his head but he can’t seem to translate them onto paper, or into words, or into any media but the film reel in his head.  And even if he could translate them, he’s afraid that the critics will pick apart those aspects of his life and himself he’s put out there for the whole wide world to see.

He wants to be wanted and to be loved unconditionally.

He needs a break.

Despite saying all these things, there are good things to the “interior” me too.

When he says things like “thank you” and “I love you”, he means it when he says it.

He’s a loyal friend, brother, son, cousin, nephew, grandson, husband and companion.  His family, friends, husband, and pets love him overwhelmingly in return, warts and all, and know how to say the right words at the right time to make him feel better when he’s blue (which, for a while there, was quite a bit of the time).

He cares about how his actions impact others.  He cares about others.

He wants the best for those he loves.  He tries to help when and where he can.

He takes care of his friends, family, and loved ones who need it.

He tries to be positive, and when he feels happy or positive or one of those feelings, he genuinely feels them.

He’s learning a moment is a moment, and if it’s bad, it will pass.

He tries his hardest for his work and sometimes goes above and beyond his job description.

He genuinely likes most of his students and all of his work colleagues.

He’s learning to live in the now, instead of looking back to the past or worrying about the future.

He’s trying to find the edges of who he is.

He gives freely and expects nothing in return.

He stands up against what he sees as injustice and tries to fight against bullies and tyranny.

He tries to see the good in everyone.

Maybe the “exterior” me and “interior” me will find some sort of peaceful coexistence, like they had previously.  After quakes, and the stress associated with them and the fall-out, Jenah’s death, and Levi’s prognosis, the two have become out of whack.

But I have faith that the balance will return.  With time.  With time and healing.

The Battle for LGBT Equality in New Zealand Immigration

When I arrived in New Zealand, gays and lesbians who had a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident as a partner could gain permanent residency through a relationship visa.  This would have probably been the only way I could gain New Zealand permanent residency under the system as it was then.

There was quite a flaw in the system though, as gays and lesbians were treated differently under New Zealand Immigration’s rules.  Back in 1996, or even 1998 when I applied, the rules (created in 1988) were as follows:

Straight Married Straight De Facto Gay De Facto
When the non-NZer could apply for Permanent Residency Immediately 18 months together 24 months together
Wait for Permanent Residency Approval None 6 months 24 months
Total time Nearly instantaneous 2 years 4 years

Obviously, this was not fair.  How could Immigration determine that a gay relationship was at any more risk than a straight married one?  Why was there such a cool-down period for gay couples?  The difference of 2 years between de facto couples, totally dependent on their sexual orientation, was astounding.

Noel and I didn’t feel this was fair or right.  So we did what many LGBT people have done before us to secure what legal rights we did have; we fought.

The LGBT media (and, to some extent, the mainstream media) were extremely supportive with our fight against the New Zealand Government.  No one seemed to be able to answer why there were different categories based on sexual orientation, but the underlying current seemed to be the assumption that gay and lesbian couples were less likely to be stable or stay together than straight couples, so more stringent criteria were needed for gay and lesbian couples.

Remember, boys and girls, that to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Noel and I became sorta “poster-boys” for this campaign, especially when another couple involved felt they had been fighting too long and needed to get on with their lives; they sadly left New Zealand and the fight for equal rights behind.  One of the examples I could find was the 15 May 1997 edition of Express newspaper, of which the main story is about immigration rights in New Zealand.  The main tidbit read:

Christchurch couple Noel Turner and Scott Fack met on the internet nearly three years ago.  Fack, an American, wants permanent residency to stay with his partner in New Zealand.  He says the four-year requirement does put strain on the future of a relationship, making it difficult to plan ahead.

Openly-gay Labour MP Tim Barnett and his colleague Annette King helped with the fight.  Noel kinda pushed me to be the liaison with all these people: media, other couples, Tim (the latter of which made it difficult for me because I couldn’t always understand what Tim was saying with his British accent…).

It was difficult for me personally because, as a gay American who wanted to become a New Zealand permanent resident, I had to basically put my life on hold for 4 whole years.  I had to pick a visa and stick with it for 2 years.

If Noel had been a woman, by the time the first 2 years had passed, I’d be a permanent resident.  It made no sense.

Then Immigration minister Max Bradford repeatedly stated that changing the law to allow gay and lesbian couples the same rights under the law as straight de facto couples was too difficult and would need numerous changes all over the place to work.  He was skipping like a broken record: “Too hard.  Too hard.  Too hard.”  The tune was getting repetitively boring.  In the end, I think we kinda backed off because all we kept hearing was the same thing; it was very apparent the old buffoon wasn’t going to budge.

(In all my dealings with Bradford, he reminded me of an old goat, or even worse, a stubborn German.  I’m a stubborn German, so I know one when I see one.  He just. Was not. Going to. Budge. One bit!)

The problem with the marriage-certificate-gets-permanent-residency-immediately route was that, technically, people could marry and fool Immigration into thinking they were a legitimate couple.  The non-New Zealand would become a permanent resident, the two would live as a couple for a while, and then the now permanent resident could easily site problems in their relationship for the reason he / she was leaving.

Of course, LGBT couples didn’t have the right to marry.

We moved on with our life, trying to live as normally as we could.  We applied for permanent residency under the system in 1998.  It would mean I would have to wait until 2000 to know whether or not I could stay in New Zealand.  (It’s very hard living years of your life in limbo, not sure if you’re going to be able to put roots down or not.)

Bradford was replaced, eventually, and the new Minister of Immigration, Tuariki Delamere, took power.  Thank God for the LGBT media, because they revived the story and brought it to Delamere’s attention.  Delamere pretty much turned around and said, “I don’t know what the big deal over this is”, and, after a discussion with Cabinet, he announced the change to the policy on 22 December 1998.

The policy was changed to the following:

Straight Married Straight De Facto Gay De Facto
When the non-NZer could apply for Permanent Residency 18 months together
Wait for Permanent Residency Approval 6 months
Total time 2 years

I’m not sure when we heard about the policy change but it wasn’t implemented until 29 March 1999.  I do remember that we found out that all existing applications were technically considered under the old 4 year policy, and since I’d applied around February 1998, mine fell into that same category.

Back to the Minister of Immigration we went, with the full support of the LGBT media.

Again, Delamere waived his seemingly magic wand — it must’ve been a magic wand because his predecessor said this all couldn’t be done easily — and told Immigration to have those couples whose applications were under the old scheme to reapply, charge free.  Technically, the old application was cancelled and the new one was made under the new rules.  Smart thinking, that!  See?  It wasn’t that difficult, Mr. Bradford!

Immigration called us into their Christchurch city offices around this time, where we met with a lovely Immigration officer named Trish, to fill out the new application form and have a final interview.  Since we were well past the 24 month / 2 year stage of our relationship (Noel and I at nearly 38 months / 3 years, 2 months at this point), and we’d gone well beyond the 6 month waiting period, Immigration wanted to get our application done in one fell swoop.

An embarrassing confession: Trish asked us a question, and Noel started to answer it, but he had his facts all wrong.  I interfered to tell him the correct facts, and then we had a wee bit of a domestic in front of Trish.  A big smile crept across her face as she returned to her paperwork, and she told us she’d seen enough; only real couples bicker like that!  Amazing that such a funny little incident proved to Immigration that we were a genuine couple.

Thursday, 8 April 1999.  My birthday.  The post arrived, and I rushed out to the mailbox to get it.  There’s a letter in there from Immigration New Zealand.  With Noel beside me, I took a deep breath and tore it open.  We read the letter together.  My permanent residency had been approved; I started crying as Noel hugged me.

We’d won.  We’d won our fight to make things equal for LGBT couples where one non-New Zealander wanted to gain residency through their New Zealander partner.

Noel was taking me to Wellington for the weekend for my birthday.  It was a great birthday, and we had a wonderful time, knowing that our relationship was safe and my roots could be planted here in New Zealand now.

By Wednesday, 13 April 1999, my passport had the New Zealand permanent residency visa and permit in it.

Now, 17 years into our relationship, we’ve proven to the New Zealand Government that their choice to give equal rights to LGBT couples was the right one.  And, as always, I am extremely thankful for the help that the LGBT media gave us, especially Express newspaper and Queer Nation TV show, especially Andrew Whiteside, and to MP Tim Barnett and other MPs who supported us.  Of course, a huge thank you to then-Minister Tuariki Delamere for doing what was right by New Zealand and the LGBT community.

Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer Has Deep Pockets!

This week, with the second anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake approaching, I’ll be blogging about several issues relevant to our situation here in Christchurch and natural disasters in general.

I have never been the biggest fan of bureaucracy.  Personally, I feel the definition of a bureaucrat is a person with far too few skills and little common sense who is paid way too much to sit behind a desk all day and try to be as obstructive and obtuse as he or she possibly can be.  (This does not define 100% of all public servants but a good chunk of them.)

The Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes have pretty much shattered any last little vestige of faith in bureaucracy and Government agencies in general that may have been cowering in some little dark corner of my mind.  Okay.  I admit that I do understand sometimes why it is in place: to protect us against those who would otherwise try to take advantage of Joe Public.  My understanding extends to bureaucracy attempting to stomp out dodgy traders and people, and setting up hurdles to stop people out from getting a quick buck from hurting people like your little old sweet Nana.  But sometimes the bureaucrats go a little (or maybe a lot) power crazy and stomp on the good people too.  They frustrate good people who have the best intentions or can even bring inspiration, wealth, knowledge and creativity to the community and, overall, hurt the economy and public rather than protect them at the expense of stopping the small minority of bad guys.

Read Don’t Worry; The Taxpayer has Deep Pockets