I'm 28 years old, now. I'm sitting here in the engine room of a NOAA research ship, as a licensed maritime officer making more than 60k a year. My life has come together. Everything is good. Everything is great.
And then I read the recent diary about Bully, and a nightmare mixture of rage and fear and sadness comes washing over me.
I can't watch the video, because our satellite connection doesn't have the bandwidth for YouTube.
I can't watch the video, because.. Because I can't watch. The wounds are too fresh.
It's been 14? 15? years, since my parents pulled me out of high school, and the nightmare ended.
A decade and a half.
The wounds are too fresh. I can't watch the video.
The great philosopher Calvin once said: "Years from now, when I'm successful and happy, ... and he's in prison... I hope I'm not too mature to gloat." It's been years. I'm successful and happy. But gloating? The wounds are too fresh. Besides, if the Republican Party is any indication, the worst of those bullies are probably now billionaire businessmen. After all, the worst were the Cool Kids, the ones who were social, and who knew how to climb the rungs by trampling the people beneath them.
I'm sorry. I'm bitter. I'm hurt. And it hurts that I still hurt - I should have grown beyond it by now. I'm still angry. Angry at my peers, whose names and faces I've long since forgotten. Angry at myself, for being too weak to fight, and for fighting and losing, and for fighting and winning. Angry at the world, for placing me in that position, with those people.
I don't even really remember what they did, anymore. Lethe is a small balm. I just remember how I felt, and I remember and know how it affected me.
I remember fleeing the field during recess, climbing a tree and hiding until the bell rang. I got in trouble for that so many times in the third grade that my parents pulled me out of school for half the year. That was the first time I homeschooled. The only thing worse than school food was being forced to sit with my classmates in the cafeteria. The teachers finally took pity on me in middle school and allowed me to start sitting at the faculty table or eat in the special ed classroom. I got permission in 7th and 8th grade to volunteer with the severely mentally handicapped class instead of going to recess - a blessing in many ways. I got out of lunch to volunteer in the library. All of this just painted a bigger bullseye on me.
The bus rides were when I was most vulnerable, most unprotected. I got into fights on the bus with a girl twice my size every day for months. She'd mock me until my temper snapped, my mind went cold as ice, and my body surged with adrenaline and rage. I think I usually took the first swing. I know I never won. I'd get sent to detention. Don't know what happened to her. I ran into her some years later, working at a pizza inn. She asked if I remembered her. I smiled sadly and said 'yes'. She got us a different waitress. I couldn't gloat, but... She seemed so small.
I read accounts of Anoka-Hennepin, read the comments on the Bully diary, and realize... I was one of the lucky ones. I'm alive. I'm free. And that's when I can't stop myself from crying.
My parents were behind me, as much as they possibly could be. My teachers were (with the exception of 3rd grade) wonderful people. The school administrations were almost completely feckless, but the middle school counselors were as helpful as they could be - although as the administrative burdens on them expanded, they were able to spend less and less time with students (a diary from another time).
In high school, though, it became unsustainable. None of my defenders were there with me - the faculty and friends I'd cultivated in middle school were gone. Things went south on many levels besides bullying. The academics were poor, the faculty were incompetent, and the administration hated me. My parents pulled me out. At 15, I started taking classes at NCSU. College was a whole different, amazing world. The traits that got me mocked and attacked in lower schools - precociousness, eccentricity, inquisitiveness, being small and geeky and weird and different - those made me a minor celebrity on campus.
I still bear the scars, though. I imagine I always will. I can't think about it, hear about it, talk about it, without bile and sadness and anger rising up. It's damaged my worldview in a lot of ways. I watch american comedy, centered around making fun of people in embarrassing situations, and all those same emotions come up. I'm the butt of every joke. Watching an episode of Family Guy is like reliving the worst of my childhood. It's not funny. It also scarred my emotional and sexual development. 28 years old, and I'm dating for the first time. Because so much of the taunting and mockery was sexual in nature, and so many of the kids I despised so much flaunted their sexuality so much with macho behavior, innuendo, and sexual remarks, I came to despise sexuality in general. When I started to adolesce, physically, I developed a great deal of self-hatred that's taken me over a decade to work through.
Years later, I'm successful and happy. I won. Why does it still hurt?
And how do I - how do we - protect the next generation of intelligent, precocious, eccentric children from suffering the same fate?
I want to link to some bullying-related charities and activism.
GLSEN is probably a good place to start.
Scott Wooledge also rightly recommends The Trevor Project and It Gets Better, both excellent resources for gay youth.
Please recommend more in the comments. I'll add them.
EDIT: One other comment I want to add in: This diary from a week ago was spot on in linking gay bashing - and bullying in general - to gender roles. As a non-gender-normative boy, I was a target. I was accused of being gay long before I developed any kind of sexual inclinations (I think it's no coincidence that I didn't start to until I'd escaped school). I have an immense feeling of solidarity towards women in their struggle for equal respect and treatment, as a result, and take misogyny very, very personally. I think that for the betterment of the species, our primitive (but rather modern in invention - just look at royalty from 300 years ago to see how flamboyance used to be fine in men, and blue used to be a womans color!) ideas of gender norms need to go, along with the biases and expectations that are packaged with them.