Stitched Up

by Oliver Harling, Bellingen, NSW, (with a bit of help from my mum) 

Today I am a 14 year old boy, who against the odds, goes to a weekly ‘girls only’ sewing group after school called ‘Stitched Up’.

I love sewing, it’s heaps of fun and a lovely gentle activity, but for me to be attending this group is no small feat. Here I will write about how in my experience, from a very young age, boys in our society are totally ‘stitched up’.

Call it gender stereotyping, or whatever you like, but as a boy there is a narrow way of behaving that is seen as ‘OK’, all the rest and you’re ‘gay’, a ‘fag’, and other derogatory terms (that I’d rather not repeat) that mock any kind of natural tenderness.

My personal experiences have seen some pretty interesting examples of how this works.

Although from young at home my mum in particular, but also my dad, were pretty open (in their own way) to me not having to conform to the ways boys were supposed to be. But in the world outside, I was given constant messages that there was this small box of ways that were OK as a boy and a man and this whole spectrum of things and ways that were not.

At home my favourite toy from babyhood through to toddling and beyond was a knitted doll, called ‘Dolly’. Dolly had a pushchair and a cosy bed and I slept with her every night.

One of my favourite colours was purple, and I was often drawn to pink, depending how and what I was feeling. My parents weren’t perfect, far from it in many ways, but compared to other boys I was treated with more tenderness, which lasted longer.

My early years were spent in a small village in North Yorkshire, we had a wide and varied group of friends and so kids and families that I was exposed to and got to check out and wonder about. I used always to watch a lot. I remember as a boy of about 18 months with a group of friends around to play in the garden, (all of us walking by then) and seeing that already the boys were mostly being treated very differently to the girls. One ‘lad’ kept tearing round (“boys will be boys” apparently) and frequently falling over. His mum would get him to his feet and tell him pretty matter-of-factly, “you’ll be right, up you get, dry those tears”, whereas the girls might get a cuddle and maybe carried inside and certainly allowed to cry.

I remember other parents’ reactions to my choice of colours, toys, behaviour, etc. even in playgroup. Boys played with cars, tractors (which I loved too), they were expected to be rough, fast, ‘cheeky monkeys’, ‘little rascals’ and ‘little terrors’.

When I showed a painting with purple and pink in it, other parents notably cringed and struggled to say something like, “ooh that’s ‘nice’ Oliver, interesting colours”. Eyebrows would rise when I gravitated equally to the dolly corner (with the girls) and tenderly cuddled a baby doll, (though at that young age teddies were still slightly more acceptable).

I noticed even at this age that in winter (North Yorkshire) I did not always want to play outside in the cold, but the boys were already putting on a ‘tough act’ and dashing outside with not enough clothes on with their lips turning quickly blue.

I remember vividly when I was less than 2 and my mum was pregnant with my little brother. Straight after the scan when we found out ‘it’ was a boy, my new little brother, James, my relatives started to type cast him intensely. Whenever he kicked my Nan would say “ohh, he’s going to be a boxer, or a footballer”… and my mum would tease her back a little and say it felt like possibly a ballet move?!

Later I remember my brother’s favourite toy was a hammer (which he was pretty good at using)… but mum did not bat an eyelid when his favourite game with it was to wrap it in a pink fluffy blanket, cuddle it up close and sing it sweet lullabies!!! How our older relatives cringed.

These differences and expectations intensified as the years went by. For example, when I was little my dad was able to be fairly tender with me and gently supported me if I fell over, etc. Then came this magic (actually not so magic) line in the sand where this was no longer OK, and not just insinuated, but overtly stated. I love my dad dearly and I know he’s doing his best, he was raised to be tough and thinks he needs to do the same for us.

But it was a sad day for me when at about 12 years old, I fell hard and badly grazed my hand, I went to dad (by this age trying not to cry) and asked for help getting the gravel out. I was shocked when he told me to ‘man up’ and not be such a ‘p*ssy’!!! My own dad, OUCH!

Just the other day when we were being picked up by dad to go to his house, my brother had made a big effort to love his hair, styled it, etc., dad immediately went into this derogatory rant about how he’ll be “wanting a handbag next”, my brother simply replied that that was a lovely idea.

And then there is the boys’ clothing department, have you ever checked it out? In all the Target and similar stores there is always about twice the floor area for girls’ clothes as boys! And trying to find an item without a scull on it is pretty near impossible. If not sculls it’s surfing, ‘sk8ing’, etc. This too gets worse with age, whilst you’d never dress a baby boy in pink, though might put a girl in blue, toddler boys get ‘cheeky monkey’, ‘I eat worms for breakfast’, and ‘If I can reach it I can wreck it’ (to name just a few of the highlights from our UK relatives), but by the time you’re a teenager you might be blessed (cursed) like my dad was with a Bart Simpson shirt of ‘underachiever and proud’ right through to the very foul logo I saw on a 16 year old guy the other day ‘suck my d**k b**ch’. Really guys, the world is getting out of control. How are we raising our boys?

Even when people recognise that there is an issue, the solution is often worse than the ill. For example all the year 5 and 6 boys at my old primary school (and apparently many primary school across Australia) got made to do this ‘great new initiative’ called ‘rock and water’ that was meant to show boys how to become adult men. The ‘rock’ standing for being hard… So hard that one activity was to punch our big male teacher as hard as we could in the stomach!!! And this is helping us to become better men?

So against the odds, me and my brothers are finding our way in a world which is telling us to be tough, hard, unfeeling, rough, violent, dishonouring of women and girls and ourselves, into football, porn, etc. etc.

The ‘tough act’ I mention earlier that from a young age I saw boys going into to survive had gathered such pace over the years, till today, at high school it’s pretty awful. I see the new year 7 boys trying to speak with a put on deep, hard, ‘tough’ voice; walk tough and make sure they look like they just do not care; swear constantly; say foul things about girls; and generally be as naughty as possible. Most boys in my year only have one broken lead pencil to do their work for fear of being seen to be ‘taking care’ and being called gay. Heaps of coping strategies come in: some get right into sport (football etc.) to hide, others choose the ‘nerdy’ path and get into the academics and their study, high-balling the A grades, others just find it all too much and get super fat on multiple daily custard tubs and mammoth iced coffee, anything to not be seen and numb the pain, others choose sex and drugs. We have a cannabis dealer and grower in year 7. Guys are bragging from younger ages about their sexual ‘conquests’, there are even cases of ‘splitting’, cos sex is meant to be like porn these days, ‘hard’ and ‘fast’ and to be a ‘man’ you’re meant to actually make the girl bleed!!!!

And then, there is ME.

Most of my friends are girls who I admire and respect and we all love each other. I love taking care with my work and using stacks of different colours, a sure definition of being gay! I talk ‘normally’ in the true sense, not in the most common sense, but just as me. I walk as me, no tough guy act. Apparently when I bring a pasta salad to school that I made myself with broccoli and olives, that’s a ‘gay lunch’. In cooking class I was the only boy who could cook (quite well) and was brave enough to show it. Most boys made as big a messes as they could and behaved like idiots for fear of being called gay, (which I clearly was). I always make eye contact with people and this is definitely ‘gay behaviour’. Just for clarity, I’m not actually gay, but I am choosing to just be me as much as I’m able. In short, having me around, just bucking the trend and being myself is pretty threatening. I get flack constantly for my way of being me. I don’t pay much attention to what people call me at school and I am finding ways to support myself to be what is actually ‘normal’, but just incredibly uncommon. In this Universal Medicine and Serge Benhayon have been the hugest support and inspiration and I can’t thank them enough for showing me how possible it is to just be me, that men are naturally tender and that there is a strength in gentleness.

And so the sewing group?…

Well it went like this. I saw the sewing group advertised and thought, “great I’d love to go to that”, but then read it was ‘girls only’ and felt pretty bummed, but frankly by now was not into being told what I should and shouldn’t do as a boy. So I wrote a loving letter to the group of older ladies that went something like this:

“Dear Ladies,

I was sorry to read that you do not allow boys into your group, as I would love to come along and have fun sewing. Please consider that I’m sure you’d all like your daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters to be able to have true ‘gentle’men in their lives, but by excluding boys you are in effect telling boys they ought not grow up to be the ‘gentle’men you would like to know….

In view of this: Please let me know if you might be prepared to make an exception and let me join the group?”

And so, after reflecting on this, I was warmly welcomed into the group as the first and only boy.

I cop heaps of flack from other guys and some girls too, but ignore it. Even though the old ladies are always trying to choose masculine ‘boyish’ fabrics for me with sculls on etc., (thinking they are being considerate), they love having me there and are beginning to embrace my own choice of floral or otherwise fabrics. The group loves having me and my tenderness along, I am a true asset to the group and I have heaps of fun too, I even made a gorgeous floral dress for my 3 year old sister.

Thanks Universal Medicine. I might go to ‘Stitched Up’, but I’m sure not ‘Stitched up’ like the majority of the other boys I know and meet!

320 thoughts on “Stitched Up

  1. Simply awesome Oliver in every way. I wish you well in whatever you choose to do in life and I am confident that there has been a lot of eyes on you quietly observing and learning through what you reflect to everyone around you. You may never know the full impact you are having on the lives of others of all ages, but I have no doubt it is quite remarkable and considerable.

  2. We need more men like you in this world Oliver. If this is the state of how our next generation is being raised into this world, every reflection of truth, love, tenderness and deep care is needed

  3. Thank you for writing this Oliver Harling. I am sure there are thousands of men who would love to have the respect and love for themselves and for others such as you have shown in this blog. People like yourself that do not just cower to the dictates of the day and the bullyish behaviour of their peers and/or even parents are sorely needed in the world today.

  4. ‘..having me around, just bucking the trend and being myself is pretty threatening’. Yes, but also hugely, massively inspiring. This is a totally refreshing blog about someone just following their own impulses in the face of peer pressure to conform to a certain way. Long may it continue, Oliver. We can never have joy from copying everyone else and losing ourselves in the process.

  5. What an awesome blog Oliver and what an amazing model and true example you are to other young men. Any sewing group, in fact any group, would be blessed by your presence.

  6. Wow Oliver how truly inspiring this blog is to read, your going against the pack mentality and choosing to remain true to yourself, this is indeed true power. I wonder how many other boys would really like to be able to express their tenderness but are fearful of the repercussions they think might occur. Keep on shining your amazing light Oliver, showing another way of being through your livingness.

  7. This is brilliant. It’s a tough world out there for men and I’m sure it’s gotten a whole lot tougher for Oliver since he wrote this. Even if it is difficult to hold ourselves and sometimes we wobble or fall, there is no need to punish or criticise ourself and as long as we always know we can instantly come back and we remember who we truly are this is what matters most!

    1. Thank you Danielle for the warmth of understanding shown in this comment. The understanding that it is a tough world for men growing up (and the late teen years are certainly no exception – they are tough – especially for someone who stands out more than most – as Olivers mum – or anyone he met knows – his eyes at the time he wrote this were like bright blue pure beacons of light) and the understanding that things have likely got a whole lot tougher for Oliver since he wrote this – which is very true. And the understanding that even someone who knows them self very well at one point can certainly trip – but that underneath there is a knowing of all there is to come back to – if one dares. And the understanding that there is no place for self bashing – only for understanding and just re-reading Olivers blog highlights the life long pressures – even til that point in life.
      Thank you Danielle for tuning in in this very warm holding comment.

  8. Telling it how it is left right and spherical. Spherical meaning including all context of the story while also incorporating understand of negative events.

    More so than just being yourself Oliver you are allowing the choice of other boys to take the same road.

    Well done!

  9. Oliver, it is all the other boys who are stitched up by the ‘norm’ of the stereotyped perceptions of gender. You are demonstrating a strength and power to be who you truly are that is not going un-noticed. You are an inspiration to your peers, all parents and everyone that there is another way and for a young man to embrace and live his tenderness is available to all.

  10. Oliver, I love the confidence honesty and playfulness with which you relate your story of how life is for you, growing up. It is deeply inspiring to read how you observe those around you, and their reactions to how you choose to live and in spite of this, how you continue to live your life your way, and now by the dictates of society.

  11. There is no holding back in you Oliver… love the self confidence to just be yourself. Its that which changes the world and the acceptance of what is ‘normal’ and not working for us men up till now!

  12. Oliver – how amazing (and shocking) to read about your experience in growing up as ‘a boy’. It is like a curse. Interesting how we push kids into roles and behaviors we and up to suffer under. I as a woman love to have tender men around me, but did I support the boys who did grow up with me in their ‘being themselves’ whatever? How much are we subordinate our natural way of being to be ‘safe’ and recognised, I wonder? Is this worth it? No! Everyone who shows us that there is another way, by just living it, is a blessing for all of us. So: thank you!

  13. Wow Oliver. What an inspiration you are. To know yourself so well and honour what you feel, not caring what others think or say is so wonderful to hear. You are leading the way and supporting us older folk who have given ourselves away to ‘fit in’, to claim who we truly are and honour ourselves too. Thank You.

  14. This is awesome Oliver, good on you for blazing a trail for other boys who would like to be their sensitive selves but can’t bear the repercussions when they do. There is so much pressure from all directions on boys to conform to the narrow choices that have been deemed manly. Who decided that the only choice for men for grand occasions was a suit? This is an indication of the way we will ask men to be…rigid, unfeeling and ready to do the dirty jobs. Thank god for men like you and Serge Benhayon, making it ok to be yourselves, and the more this happens, the more it will become normal.

  15. You’re leading the way Oliver, and you choosing to stay as you in a system and a world that is very clearly demanding you don’t, is not only for you but all those that meet you, know you and observe you. Even if at this stage they don’t choose the same for themselves your reflection will always stay with them.

  16. Oliver you are amazing, this blog and you blew me away. What you are offering the entire world, both women, men, boys and girls of every generation and age is huge and I mean huge! I work in schools and it is sad to see how boys and girls I may have to say, after around primary 3, start to harden and toughen up and react, feel it’s not okay to show affection to other male / friends, This is not always the case, as I observed the other day, two boys who were so openly caring in their friendship and had no issue with hugging one another. Even reading your blog I have dropped the hardness in my body. I love what you, your brothers and mum reflect to the world and the great confirmation that this is bringing change by the way people react to you.

  17. Truly awesome, Oliver. You are an amazing living example that being able to maintain ‘being oneself’ is the greatest and most powerful way to be yet at the same time so gentle and loving. This is so contrary to the norm, it is no wonder that others find it threatening as it challenges all the false beliefs and ideals so fiercely held.

  18. What a refreshing blog to read Oliver. You are an inspiration for all and a role model for your peers. A young man living his tenderness. How fantastic that you have stayed true to yourself not conforming to fit in or be affected by the names/comments made, such strength and power in being you. Thank you for sharing your blog and your love of sewing.

  19. Oliver you have given great insight into how we mould boys away from their true, natural sensitive nature and then wonder how come there is so much violence, domestic violence, sports injuries, porn use, sexual assault, and male suicide etc in the world. To socialise boys away from their true sensitive, caring and tender nature is very harmful to both individuals and communities.

  20. This is just gorgeous. First of all I am amazed how much you can remember being as little as 18 month old! It is so beautiful to feel how you have been supported by your mother to just be who you are, and how confident you are being you. Such an inspiring sharing. Thank you, Oliver.

  21. Unbelievable Oliver! I’m so inspired by you! I have just sent this link off to a friend who is currently raising a young boy and has been feeling the pressure around how to truly raise and support her son. This will no doubt remind her that all you have to do, is allow everyone to be who they are, and support them in all that they choose.

  22. This was such a pleasure to read. There is nothing more inspiring that a boy choosing to embrace everything he wants to regardless of what the world will say. People are quick to label what they are not prepared to understand or feel and it is only at the detriment of a society that in truth needs a whole lot more of you in it to reflect that they’ve doing it all wrong.

  23. Oliver- this is such a beautiful sharing, it is inspiring to meet a young man like you hold such a strength in himself to be able to withstand the onslaught that comes at you for honouring your sensitivity. We need more men like you in the world.

  24. Oliver what an eloquent young man you are, I loved reading this. There is so much to discuss here and I notice that this was written over 4 years ago when you were 14 so you will be 18 now. I would love to hear more from you with regards to growing up, what you encountered and mostly how you stayed true to yourself. This is inspiring for children, young people and also adults and it asks us as adults to sincerely look at comments or ill-beliefs and ideals that we have with regards to both boys and girls. I loved the comment your mum made here ‘Whenever he kicked my Nan would say “ohh, he’s going to be a boxer, or a footballer”… and my mum would tease her back a little and say it felt like possibly a ballet move?!’ We absolutely need to de-base and break ill images and stereotypes that we have both around boys and girls.

  25. If there were a ‘love’ button rather than ‘like’ on this website, I would certainly press love for this blog. How awesome and what an inspiration you are Oliver in the absoluteness of your obvious love for your self and your claiming of who you are. I took the sporting option when I was a young man – to get through school and then get accepted as a man in life. One of the sadnesses for me in what you share here is that the term ‘gay’ is used as a weapon to manipulate young men into being hard and tough. Apart from the obvious impact this has on anyone who is naturally gay, there is the secondary affect on a mans’ innate sensitivity, which is in fact a blessing not a failing. We tell boys to toughen up and then when they are older and getting into relationships they are criticised for being insensitive. We can’t have it both ways. Sensitivity is very natural and a gift we all share. Our ability to deeply feel what is going on in our world is something to be nurtured and appreciated for it is how we know truth and our connections with each other. We reject it at our peril.

  26. Oliver, you are such an inspiration to not only boys at your age but men in general. When men start to recognize and honour their ‘feminine side’ or natural tender, sensitive and caring qualities they realize how wrong and damaging all the gender stereotypes are. The future will show that many diseases men suffer from will become less when they live their tenderness and know it to be a true strength.

  27. Oliver you are a super sweet example of how awesome it is to bring all of us into every moment of our day. Truly inspiring. Thank you.

  28. Your account is consciousness breaking; often we are not even aware of the images and stereotypes we are imbued with until someone simply stops complying with them. Then we get a chance to stop in our tracks and reflect on what actually is true or not.

  29. It is so great to hear from an ‘insider’ at school with all the things you spoke about and sharing so real and openly. What stands out is that parents and general ‘grown up’ people view kids as like they are not aware of what is going on yet your blog and your experiences show that we do notice everything when we are young and know very well what is going on – maybe even more so than most adults.

  30. You write with such wisdom, authority, tenderness and so so so engaging. I learnt a lot from reading this today and felt such a mixture of feelings – a deep sadness of how we as a society are raising our boys and an incredible joy in how you are choosing to raise yourself (with the support of your family). Amazing work Olivier.

  31. We certainly need more young men like yourself who are willing to step out of the box and be themselves, showing their tender gentle selves and not allowing the jibes and comments from others stop them from expressing truly.

  32. I love this blog Oliver! Having just re-visited it for the first time since it was published, it is an absolute joy to feel the tenderness you bring and how deeply honouring of this quality you are within yourself. You are indeed an asset to the group and the world. It would be lovely to have a follow up blog now – 4 years down the line.

  33. How utterly exposing of the state of our world, that you being you Oliver, is so drastically challenged – from seemingly every quarter.
    Hats off for being the trailblazer that you are, that others may be liberated from the intensity of diminishment they – and we – live in every day.

  34. I have two boys ages 8 and 7 years old. For sometime now the boys especially the 8 year old have been aware of some of the things boys are up against. They are aware of the pressure to toughen up, to not cry otherwise you’re a girl and you have to do boy things otherwise you get made fun of. I also have a daughter aged 10 and she said last night that whenever she heard a man saying to a boy ‘are you a girl?’ or ‘girls do that’ it made her feel uncomfortable, that there was something wrong with her and what she was doing. Children know and feel everything and as a parent I feel it is paramount to make space daily to communicate and express with them and to give them opportunities to share with me how they are feeling and what is going on for them. Thank you Oliver for sharing with us your experience of what boys are up against in society.

  35. Wow, Oliver, this is so beautiful to read. Thank you for your absolute honesty, openness, and vulnerability that you’re bringing to the world. The strength and power that you must have inside you to be able to withstand all of the conformities and pressures of the outside world is truly remarkable and incredibly inspiring. I cannot imagine having brought this level of integrity and self-confidence into my teenage years. Your peers and everyone who you come into contact with are so blessed to have you as a reflection for them of what it means to be a true man; strength in sensitivity, power in sacredness, and the embodiment of maleness and femaleness in one. I absolutely love your expression in the blog, in the letter to the sewing group and the way you just stay true to you in the face of everything that tells you to be the opposite. Long may you continue to shine your light for the world. P.s. Your girlfriend is a very lucky girl! 😉

  36. Wow Oliver, you are a brave tender man. There is so much in this world fighting against what you are doing. A complete set up for men like yourself to not express what true tenderness is. When we look and step outside the box’s that have been created we see infinite space to be all we are.

  37. Having spent my early years growing up in North Yorkshire, my dad having lived in Yorkshire all his life I would say the men in this area generally portray an outer toughness. You were and are such an inspiration to men, boys and even us females.

  38. Your blog and how you are in the world is really gorgeous Oliver, and yes we do need more boys and men in the world who stay true to themselves, ‘that men are naturally tender and that there is a strength in gentleness.’

  39. I have just come back to this blog after a few years. It is just as fresh and inspiring as the first time I read it. Oliver what you bring through is so needed. Through your totally delicious living way you are giving other boys and men permission to be just who they are too. It is still great to know you are out there doing your thing, lighting the way for others!

  40. I think it’s so important to be talking about the amount of gender stereotyping that goes on for boys (as well as girls) – thank you Oliver for all that you’ve shared here and for showing us that there is a different way.

  41. Thank you for leading the way. The true way to do it is to be what you truly feel no matter how the world chooses to respond and react. Men in tenderness is a very beautiful thing that is my forever testimony as a woman. But because men are trained to be hard, when expressing the deepest feelings it may still come out as hard, as this is the only way they have been taught and it has been liked or praised. Men are all very tender inside and this is very apparent when they deeply trust someone and yet the ideals and habits that have run for so long is something that takes time to realise with the support of women to express how we truly feel when we experience the hardness and tenderness of men.

  42. Oliver this is so incredibly inspiring, a boy your age to be walking his truth is not an easy feat. Your impact on many peoples lives would be immense. Offering a reflection many would rather shut down.

  43. I would LOVE a gorgeous dress made by a tender, loving and considerate young man. You are a very needed reflection in this Oliver, as we are wasting away further into hardness, competition, self-abuse and abuse to others – what we need is true tenderness and for our natural qualities to be lived rather than denied.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s