Coming out in rural Prince Edward Island

Steve Sharratt
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Gay students learn to have thick skin in high school from teasing and violence directed at them for their sexuality

This is the third in The Guardian's series looking at LGBTQ issues in Prince Edward Island, Pride in P.E.I.

Angelina Jolie may be considered one of the most desirable female celebrities around, but she didn’t do a thing for a young Island boy.

“I was watching this movie and discovered that I found Brad Pitt really handsome and I remember wondering if there was something wrong with ºme?”

The 2005 flick was about two married assassins, and while his buddies drooled over the curvaceous female lead, Tyler Dockendorff was trying to cope with something he didn’t understand. It was just the start of the heart-wrenching battle of bullying, depression, name calling and physical intimidation involved in growing up gay in rural P.E.I.

John MacCormac endured the onslaught as well, went on to acting school and is currently performing as a Father of Confederation this summer in Charlottetown.

“There were no role models for us then and sex education in school barely mentioned homosexuality,’’ said McCormac. “There was violence towards me, but usually when no authority person was around.”

For the 23-year-old Dockendorff, now living in Montreal, it was years of fear and loathing that are now behind him.

“I want to share my story because I don’t want it to happen to someone else.”

Dockendorff had girlfriends and a circle of school buddies to hang out with but sorely lacked the “normal” interests.

“I don’t like trucks and I don’t like hockey ... and if you don’t fit the norm on P.E.I. you are labelled gay. I didn’t even realize I was gay so it hurt terribly to be called a fag ... I couldn’t understand how people calling me those names could even tell I was gay.”

Dockendorff comes from a family with strong religious beliefs and he felt his gay interests betrayed them.

“I actually panicked and I wondered if I was gay. I had been told that gays were perverts and pedophiles and I was terrified.”

During his teen years, he said gay people were described in his circles as bound for hell. He didn’t dare tell his parents while living through some of the darkest periods of his life.

“It was always secretive and not to be talked about ... the message I got was that it was not good to be gay.”

Trying to cope with his sexual identity saw Dockendorff wracked with guilt and praying relentlessly. He sank into depression, took burning hot showers to punish himself, turned to drinking to escape and believed he was going to hell.

For 22-year-old MacCormac, the gauntlet of guilt wasn’t quite as severe.

“My family had difficulty but were more open to it,’’ he said. “And it gave me resilience ... I went to Sheridan College in Toronto after high school where there was never a negative reaction.”

MacCormac said he came out early and developed a thick skin in his high school days where he was teased, called a fag and sucker punched more than once.

“My teachers were very helpful and I had lots of friends who didn’t care whether I was gay or not. But I didn’t fully understand at the time what I was doing.”

With no one to talk to about his sexuality, Dockendorff tried to fend off being gay by praying.

“I thought it was a choice and I could be cured if I prayed enough. I felt like I was a murderer and had gotten away with it and had to live with the sin.”

When Dockendorff came out last year, his immediate family struggled with the knowledge, but were quickly supportive.

“They were taken aback, but I know my family loves me very much and I love them and now I couldn’t be happier,” he said, noting that he’s now living with both gay and straight friends, interested in his studies, and comfortable in his own skin.

“I felt like I was the last unicorn or the last dinosaur on P.E.I. before I came out." Tyler Dockendorff

“I felt like I was the last unicorn or the last dinosaur on P.E.I. before I came out,’’ he said. “Now I have many gay and straight friends who like me for me ... I’m just a work in progress.”

MacCormac is best known as a Father of Confederation and an actor with the Young Company in Charlottetown.

“In the theatre world, there are lots of gay people so this has allowed me to find a comfort zone ... when I went to Toronto that circle expanded.”

He realized early that once he stopped reacting to people and homophobic slurs, the criticism would stop.

“I’d say yes I’m gay ... and that was it ... as if they suddenly realized it didn’t matter to me.”

MacCormac says Facebook has been a strong connection for gay teens and he often gets messages from young students asking for help and guidance.

“They have heard my name or know that I was a gay student at the high school and seek some help with their own issues. I think if you leave things out for kids (like sex education) you let kids fill the blanks with what might be the wrong answers.”

MacCormac likens homophobia to racism and says while things have improved, there will always be those opposed.

“I had to fight every step of the way and I’m glad I did,” said MacCormac.

“I’m not ashamed ... you have to follow your heart because you will find people who love you for you.”

Organizations: Sheridan College, Young Company

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Montreal Toronto

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Recent comments

  • islandguy
    July 31, 2014 - 20:58

    Hey AC - it's part of their pride week coverage. and the reason it trumps you (and i's) heterosexuality is because no one is looking to kick the shit out of us because we like boobs.

    • From Away
      August 01, 2014 - 22:25

      Thx, island guy, for taking the time to respond to AC and help set him straight (no pun intended!) :-D

  • A.C
    July 31, 2014 - 14:09

    I'm happy for you but why does it need to be are front page write up for the last three days? I'm sending a write up to the paper about how I enjoy girls this is too much the paper doesn't need to be plastered with this.

    • Ian
      July 31, 2014 - 21:02

      Yes it does. You and I, as straight males, cannot even begin to comprehend what it's like to grow up as a member of the LGBTQ community. What I do know is that it's necessary for articles like these to be written, so people can stop for one minute and try, just TRY to understand what it's like to be antagonized your entire life, just because of your sexual preference. Most straight people will never experience the fear and shame a gay person has been made to feel, simply because of ignorance. Try to use articles like these as a tool to reflect upon yourself. Ask yourself why it makes you so uncomfortable to see an article like this on the front page. I doubt you'll be able to find any real answer. Why not be supportive and progressive? If you think "it's all good with the gays so they can shut up now" you need to give your head a shake. Society has so much further to go before the gays are all good.

    • You're Missing the Point
      July 31, 2014 - 21:21

      It's not about how much one enjoys guys or girls. It's about acknowledging the unfair oppression of a demographic for their very nature. Sexual Orientation, Race, Religion, Gender etc etc. When you've been oppressed or made to feel 'less than' for something instinctive to who you are, a completely normal reality, then there is a place to promote change. I encourage you to take a look at the stories in the coming days. Take an extra moment and give some thought to the lives presented. The Guardian is sharing factual stories of every day islanders who happen to be gay. It's about awareness, education and respect, and I applaud those individuals who have been willing to share their stories!

  • GuyPEI
    July 31, 2014 - 13:41

    What a walk down memory lane for me. I echo the experiences of these fine young gentlemen. I don't feel what we went through was necessarily something distinct to rural PEI. As I have grown and my circle of people has grown, a similiar experience was had in rural and metro areas of not only PEI but rather all over the globe. I applaud these young men and I am so sorry for what they have been put through on the way to full personal growth and acceptance. I know what became of my bullies... NOTHING! The best revenge is personal success!

  • Marisa
    July 31, 2014 - 13:09

    I love BOTH of you boys! Super proud of you for doing this.

  • Carmen McGrattan
    July 31, 2014 - 10:22

    Gentlemen, well done, proud of you... and to those people on PEI, who are still living in the 'stone ages'... these are human being, God's children, they are, what he chose for them to be. All the best to you in the future... be well and be safe.

  • Jeremy
    July 31, 2014 - 09:36

    Incredible article! Bullying and other forms of violence towards people within the LGBTQ community is so high in PEI. We have to work together to ensure no young people are made to feel bad about who they are.

  • Gay Islander
    July 31, 2014 - 09:28

    Great read! A story which is very relatable to anyone growing up gay in a small town. PEI has made huge progress over the years, and continues to today. Hats off to the organizations who work directly towards LBGT awareness, but also the general public and today's youth who recognize that sexual preference is simply a non-issue. As a young gay person, I often thought that I was meant to live in the city, like TO or Montreal, but I've come to realize that PEI has never let me down. Speaking from my own experience, this place is a great one for anyone - gay or straight - to live and build a life. I would be curious to know how these two gentlemen feel towards the island now, and hope that the challenging experiences of their teen years hasn't stifled their view of their home province moving forward. Thanks for sharing guys!

  • Anon
    July 31, 2014 - 09:26

    Tyler is a fine example of what every guy should be! Thank you for sharing your story, and good luck in your coming years!

  • Catherine O'Bryan
    July 31, 2014 - 07:15

    Excellent article! I wish them well.