This morning before work, in my usual multi-tasking way, I sat detangling my hair while I read some Facebook updates. One status update was by my friend Steve Tucker. I clicked on his link and it took me to The Age/Sydney Morning Herald column, All Men are Liars by Sam de Brito.
You may recall Steve Tucker made international news a few weeks ago for emailing 4000 staff in the government organisation he works for, in search of a girl he’d met that previous weekend. It was a slow news day. There was a media frenzy. Unfortunately Steve was thrust into a storm of assumptions, judgments and some ridicule by the media and public.
I commend Steve 100 percent. Though I work for a similar government organisation and am aware of the consequences of email misuse, it makes me smile that Steve went to this great length to tell a girl how he feels. Steve didn’t deserve the negativity he received.
Like most of the public, I didn’t know the full story. Steve sent me a brief text thanking me for my wishes last week. His words today blew me away.
Steve wrote Sam a letter, a public response if you like, explaining himself. It was published in Sam de Brito’s column today.
When I read Sam de Brito’s column, I had a smile on my face, and tears too. I was so uplifted by Steve’s honesty, courage and pursuit. I identified with a number of things Steve wrote about. I exchanged a few emails with Steve today – I had to tell him reading his words made my day. (He’s given me permission to write about him here too.)
You can read all of The real Steve Tucker story on Sam de Brito’s column. I want to share a few words that stood out for me.
As Sam said in his preface, ‘if you’re gonna read one thing to the end on the internet today, let it be this [Steve Tucker’s letter] …’
I will be brutally honest here.
I was born with a disability. I have cerebral palsy.
I was always a very determined young kid. I had constant speech therapy, physio, legs in plaster, legs in splints, chiropractor appointments and massages up until the age of 16. I still do constant stretching and free weight work.
As you might suspect, I got singled out for being different and bullied. I couldn’t physically defend myself, so I just took the crap I had pushed upon me. It was verbal stuff, not physical thankfully.
Things were OK until I was 12. I was coping. It’s when puberty hit that the rot really started to kick in. Everybody wants acceptance from the opposite sex. When I was 14, there was a high school social I went to. It dawned on me that night that I was going to be up against it in the girl department.
My friends were getting interest and I felt like I never was going to. It was very isolating. I went home to my mum that night and cried for two hours in her arms. Sadly, I resigned myself to defeat there and then. It was too painful so I shut off…
…I woke up the Monday morning knowing I was going to go through with it. I was going to go through the entire mental process I had done for skydiving and jump again, only in a different context.
This was me saying: “Society you always have ripped my dignity away as soon as I attain it. I’ve had enough. If you’re threatening to totally cut off my balls, I’m fighting you tooth and nail for what’s left. I dare you. F—ing bring it on.”
I simply took matters into my own hands. If I had a 0.00005 per cent chance of making contact with Olivia, I was going to take that instead of having a zero per cent chance.
This was about reinforcing the lesson from skydiving. I was not going to let the fear from others, and peer pressure, dictate the situation. I understand this is a negative motivation, Sam but I’d simply had enough. That email was a last resort. I did try a Facebook search.
I stuck everything on the line, I was that fed up. My balls were on the guillotine and the blade was lowering … This was my Michael Jordan moment. Game six in the ’98 finals against Utah…
This revolves around me living my life as honestly as I can. People are too unsure of themselves today; especially men. I’ve had enough of peer pressure and the media stereotypes brainwashing males into submission. I’m as loathing of it as you are.
These messages had controlled me for long enough so I threw a punch at it. Society is cold and most people have to always wear a mask. This disgusts me.
People want acceptance but they aren’t doing anything to get it. Instead, they walk around staring at the ground, unsure of themselves. I injected some warmth back into the place.
I wasn’t taking any risks before and it was making me unhappy internally. I sought to redress this balance. And I am happier. The fact I stirred both sides of public opinion meant I took a real punt.
What this all boils down to [is] me not distinguishing the difference between controlled risk (skydiving) and blind risk. That email was blind risk. It was an error of judgment. I accept this. I made a mistake. To my employer and especially the innocent people caught up in this mess through photos and rumours, I apologise from the bottom of my heart.
I was simply standing my ground for the deeply traumatic process I have gone through. I took matters into my own hands, the “old” me would not have. My territory had been stepped on for the last time.
The uproar this caused astounded me. Certain pockets of society have been carrying on like I committed murder. I sent an email.
The fact I wrote that email so honestly was why it propelled to the level it did. That and I had a “captive audience” in Canberra to generate the buzz. It certainly unblocked the “emotional constipation” in this town. This emotional constipation is society-wide, not Canberra specific. This is not another invitation to bash the ACT. It gets rubbished enough.
Despite any perceived embarrassment in the media, life really has been no different for me. Not one person has sniggered and laughed at me in a mean way. I have a high degree of anonymity due to my appearance having changed.
My friends absolutely admire me. I’m a hero to them: a “Love God” a “Rebel for Love”, “Love Guru”, “Office Romeo”, “Love Jedi” etc.
My name generates an instant reaction when mentioned. Girls look at me differently. I may not have got “Juliet” (if you believe the media spin) but this thing exploding viral has had massive positive spin-offs. I have inspired people.
My dad is going to have more of a dip at life. My aunty has said: “Maybe there is something to this counselling thing.”
My story is not about “Romeo & Juliet”, it is about every kid being bullied in the school yard. It is about teenage kids committing suicide because they feel worthless.
It is about people dealing with disability; those who cannot communicate their suffering and the families that care for these people tirelessly.
It is about telling peer pressure to go f— itself. It’s childish behaviour and it impacts our adult lives in ways we don’t see.
It is about gender stereotypes (both of them) and social conditioning. It is about mental health and getting help if needed.
It is about telling people what they mean to us while life is good. Not when a personal crisis hits. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee for any of us.
It is about standing up to society and illustrating that it has lost its way. We live in a culture of fear. Society had dimmed my spirit for long enough.
I didn’t expect to get in the news, Sam, but the fact is I have. This has been my journey. I have dealt with all of these elements. I have endured this and come out the other side.
I’m telling my side to stop the bullshit and telling disadvantaged people: “You can win. I am proof of this. But you must have a go to give yourself a fighting chance at a happy life.”
There are no shortcuts. Happiness is not handed to you. Capability is developed by simply having a go. If you’re “outcome orientated” you won’t do the things you really want. If you believe in something enough, go and get it in the right way.
I went to a party last weekend. I spoke about some of the deeper meaning behind my email with my disability to a friend. His answer: “That email has put you back to where you should have been.”
I had tears when I read Steve’s letter. It was like a big ‘fuck you’ to everyone who’s ever doubted, ridiculed and abused people with disabilities. And a huge courageous leap of faith by Steve for showing a girl he’s interested in her.
As I’ve mentioned, there is always a lingering internal pressure to prove yourself when you have a disability (see Perfection vs excellence and Forward rolls). Steve took this opportunity to show his inner demons, and those who bullied him, that he could. He’s written about the importance of recognising mental health problems and seeking help. He’s handled the media frenzy with dignity. It’s an incredible personal victory.
I know Steve’s story is not entirely about love. But I’d be honoured if a man made that much effort, and took that much personal and professional risk to tell me his feelings for me.
Steve Tucker, I am proud to call you a friend. I haven’t seen you since our uni days, and we don’t talk often, but in this week of International Day of People with Disability, I want to commend you on being a courageous, honest, intelligent and articulate voice. I admire your spirit. You are a good person. Well done for shaking up perceptions and letting the world see the real you.