It's going to take me a bit to get to the point, but I promise you that I will.
Despite the fact that my hair is short right now (and that is temporary - I donated my hair to Locks of Love this week) I’ve had long hair most of my life. I first grew it long in grade school (back in the late 1960s) which made me stand out in a red-neck town with little tolerance for differences. Because of a death in my family and a subsequent divorce (which was quite the scandal – at least people like my father’s mother kept telling me so) I was treated by my teachers with kid gloves and even a little fear and I have to admit that by keeping my hair long I exploited it to a degree. I like to tell the story that I grew it long at the same time as a Native American friend the same age as me and used him for cover – and it’s true - but in my heart I knew that I grew it long to be different from everyone else.
Of course, there is a price to be paid for being different. I was an eccentric kid with a love for solitary things and science fiction long before it became cool. I was the top student in my class, and the class ahead of me. I read dictionaries. I listened to jazz. I wasn’t athletic. One of my best friends was Black, and another was a Native American (who also grew his hair long). Face it, I wasn’t an ordinary kid by any stretch of the imagination – certainly not in a town with 2 TV stations, a heavy KKK presence and kids who were exempted from coming to school before 10am so that they could do farm chores. So that price? I got bullied a lot.
I don’t talk much about those days. I’m not searching for any form of catharsis or sympathy from anyone and certainly don’t want it. I have no interest in reconciling with my tormentors. My life is pretty damned good these days, and I got out of what I considered to be a form of hell before my 18th birthday. But there is something I understand very well – the ostracization and outright hatred generated by being different from everyone else.
I’ve been called “faggot” more times than I can count – even though I was the first person I knew to have a girlfriend (for the record, I am heterosexual and have learned to be comfortable with that). I have been shot at. Once a classmate assaulted me with a 10-foot length of chain. I can still feel every punch on my left arm given me by some jerk just walking past me in the school corridors. I can remember quite clearly when a close friend of mine turned into a bully and an enemy because he had been told by his parents that I was “unsave-able to God”. Once, a bully dissected a bee and stuck the stinger in my arm upon learning that I’m allergic. Give some thought to the predation necessary to pull that one off.
I kept my injuries secret from everyone – even my own family – despite being nearly killed twice and suffering numerous scars and in the case of the chain incident a cracked rib. Being bullied is a humiliating experience and not something you want to relive. To this day I still do not speak to most of the people I knew when I was growing up and the ones I do were never among my tormentors.
I know that I’m lucky. I had a few friends who were bullied like me. I had a loving home life although my father was long gone. Because of my sister’s death teachers looked out for me (which felt a bit creepy at the time I must admit). I cultivated friendships with a couple of the football players and helped them through their classes in exchange for some protection. I befriended the biggest kid in school when he discovered that I had a pet snake, and that bought me some breathing room (the movie “My Bodyguard” with Chris Makepeace, Matt Dillon and Adam Baldwin resonates with me in multiple ways). I developed a sense of humor and fairly thick armor. I developed a knee-jerk response to every time someone would yell, “Get a haircut!” by yelling back “grow yours!” Yeah, that got me punched a few times too.
Reading today about the incident when Mitt Romney was in private high school and assaulted an underclassman with a pair of scissors has a horrible ring of truth to me and probably anyone else who has been bullied. By the time I had grown my hair long I had already heard stories about kids like me having their hair cut by classmates and even teachers. Bullies liked to joke to me about it – the someday when the teacher isn’t looking they’re going to cut my hair so don’t move when it happens so that nothing else doesn’t also get cut. It never happened, but I suspect that’s because bullies aren’t really brave people – although that’s not a distinction a child will be able to make and I certainly didn’t at the time.
Based on the reports I’ve read it really isn’t clear to me if Mitt Romney actually teased his victim about being gay. It is clear that he complained a great deal about his victim’s hair and I can speak from experience that having different hair and being called gay go hand in hand so it’s likely, but it’s not something I can actually prove. On the other hand, based on multiple reports and witness statements that are coming out of the woodwork the assault actually happened and it was traumatizing for the victim.
I’ve been there. I still carry the scars more than 4 decades later. People like me who have been through these kinds of things are changed by them, and we carry it with us for the rest of our days.
Mitt Romney is saying that he might have been a jerk 48 years ago. Hell, what kid isn’t? What person of any age isn’t under the right circumstances? Children and adults do dumb things and this is behavior that can be addressed and corrected. This could have been a teachable moment. But it doesn’t excuse scarring a person for life. He’s trying to laugh it off as the exuberance of youth when he should have been disciplined and expelled from school for assaulting a fellow student – a younger student at that.
It seems to me that laughing about how cruel you were as a youth shows that you think there is something cute and/or funny about the indiscretions of your youth. It seems to me that it means that you’re a jerk NOW.
I have said on many an occasion to anyone who would listen that if a person’s apology contains the word “if” in it anywhere then it isn’t real and it shouldn’t be accepted. That’s what Romney is trying to do now and it’s unacceptable. There is no actual apology in his words. This isn’t him being Dr. Hibbert from “The Simpsons” and laughing at an inappropriate moment. This is a young bully transformed into a middle-aged bully. Those of us who have survived being victimized by bullies recognize them fairly quickly and that’s what I am seeing here.
In a just world this would be a game-changer, but I think we all recognize that it won’t be. Mitt has already sealed up the Republican Presidential nomination and short of him blowing Dan Savage on stage at a performance of “Book of Mormon” nothing is going to change that – and even that might not do it. Hell, it’s wouldn’t be a shock to me that given that the source of this story comes from Mitt’s childhood friends that this might be a deliberate attempt to shore up his credentials in places where gay-bashing is popular and he himself isn’t. I honestly hope that isn’t true.
I admit that I wasn’t ever going to vote for the guy. I’m a liberal and proud of it. But if I found out the same story about a liberal politician that I support I would drop that support of that politician as well. There is no place in civilized society for this kind of bullshit, not at any age. Mitt Romney should have been expelled from his high-class prep school – and he should be expelled from this election cycle. These aren’t “hijinks” – these are high crimes and misdemeanors. At the very least, it sure as hell isn’t Presidential.
2:46 PM PT: Community Spotlight? Me? Really???
Wow. Thank you.
3:56 PM PT: And then the Rec List? Given all the reactions of outrage and the sharing of stories I've seen today to be picked out like this is a surprise. When it comes to this sort of thing I'm nothing special. But right now it sure doesn't feel that way.
Thank you. Love and happiness to you all.