Musician Daniel Oliver opens up about being bullied and how he had to fight that to become the person he is today.
In a Facebook post Daniel Oliver, one of Iceland’s Eurovision stars, opened up about the bullying he faced as a child and how it’s still affecting him today. His status, which shared yet another article about bullying from Jóhanna Ósk Þrastardóttir, included themes of exclusion, prejudice, and “fitting in with the norm” for safety. Daniel elaborated by saying “today I find it uncomfortable to stand out from the crowd, find it difficult to lead my boyfriend in public, and just generally have a hard time being in a large crowd, often wary when I meet heterosexual men in groups. I sometimes allow myself to be a colorful character but it is very monitored.”
For him, most of the bullying he experienced wasn’t bloody hits, death threats to his dog, or beatings; it was casual exclusion and things that would go unnoticed by teachers or parents. One time, the teacher did notice and instead of intervening they joined in! “I was never really good at playing ball-sports for example and my gym teacher was very much into ball sports so I got left out and made fun of with embarrassing remarks about throwing like a girl, being a faggot and stupid stuff like that. I remember my teacher taking part in the bullying and taking part in the name calling.” For Daniel, humiliation came from even the authority figure in the room: “One time I was late to gym class. I must have been around 12 years old. I had forgotten to change clothes and came to the sports hall in my regular clothes so he (the gym teacher) made me strip down in front of everybody. The guys were laughing but the girls weren’t for some reason. They understood how humiliating it was.”
To open up about these things through a post on Facebook or an interview was difficult for Daniel. “I’m honestly not comfortable talking about this. I think their behavior was caused by peer pressure and a general fear of things that are different, and I was different. I was more feminine and usually very confident actually which made them even more determined to break me I think. I got beaten up by a guy who didn’t like me hanging out with a girl he had a crush on. It’s so stupid to think about this now but I shiver just at the thought of it.”
Changing yourself to fit in
Eventually, after all this harassment from peers in school and even the teachers, Daniel couldn’t take it anymore and started to push himself into “the norm” for safety. When leaving elementary school and entering high school, Daniel changed his physical appearance, style, or clothes to make himself less of a target. “I remember coming in ready for a new chapter. My confidence had taken a big hit so I really just wanted no drama and I just felt it would be easier if I just fit in. I had always dressed up quite uniquely and colorful but I couldn’t be bothered with the name calling and unnecessary remarks about it so I just went to black and blue. It was fine in the beginning but honestly looking back on it I feel like I lost my edge. I was very careful with how I spoke and what I shared with people,” says Daniel.
To combat bullying as a kid, Daniel recommends mustering up some bravery to fight back with words and be vocal. His advice for a kid like Óliver is “to stand [your] ground more. Call out the injustices and put those who are bullying in their place by calling them out on it and of course tell people/teachers/friends about what’s going on so they can step in if necessary.”
The queer experience
When it comes to the queer experince of being bullied, the conversation becomes a bit more complicated. Although many young kids of all genders face bullying from classmates and peers, kids that are in any way perceived to be outside of the binary of masculinity and femininity have a harder time. For many of them it’s an internal struggle between hiding their true self and being less obvious about their attraction toward a member of the same sex or gender expression, because if that is exposed they face backlash for it. Daniel agrees “I think that just by being queer and not hiding it takes enormous bravery. There’s still a long way to go. For many straight people it’s still something they know about and accept up to a certain point where there is a “it’s fine but don’t shove it in our faces” attitude which makes you wanna hide and suppress a part of you that is and feels very normal to you. And it is…. Normal.”
Daniel also spends a lot of his time now in Sweden and notes that it’s no better or worse there. Queer friends of his still face harassment and abuse in Stockholm and Reykjavik. “I feel more at ease when I’m home in Iceland I suppose. It’s my home country and thankfully I feel very safe here. Stockholm is more of a multi-cultural capital so you have to be more careful in general. I’ve had friends that have been beat up brutally outside of a gay club in Stockholm but those incedents are rare thankfully,” says Daniel. Even though Iceland and Sweden are 14th and 11th respectively on the European index for LGBT+ equality and protection, it doesn’t change the culture much for an abuser looking to demean or harass a member of the community. There are still very large targets on our backs from all angles.
“I think that just by being queer and not hiding it takes enormous bravery.”
Turning negativity into positivity
For Daniel, the best way he can channel all of this pent up negative energy from bullying and prejudice is to create something positive to put out into the world. Through his music, he’s better able to express himself and communicate his truth: “I think it influences my music in terms of wanting to empower people and my songs are deeply personal. At least these days. I don’t necessarily write or sing about the troubles of being gay but I create songs mostly about love so I guess everybody can relate to them in a sense.”
A sneak peak of the track list via Daniel Oliver
Speaking of his music, Daniel just returned to Iceland after a stint in Sweden recording a new album he’s excited to share. On Wednesday last week he posted “[Today’s] the last day in the studio here in Stockholm. My album is almost ready and I look forward to coming home, quarantining with my kitty and celebrating Christmas! I was supposed to be having a Christmas concert this weekend (my first) but it changed out of nowhere and I just did what I do best in a crisis, poured myself into work and made something. This time it is a solo album and something I will be proud of until the last day!”
To get to know Daniel better you can find him and his music here or here and follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
See also: Óliver is far from alone – A national conversation on bullying and queer stories of bravery