Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Was Once Called Gay

Of all the things I thought my next blog post would be about - my job, writing, November - bullying certainly wasn't on the list. I post a lot of what I consider civil rights and common sense and decency issues to Facebook,  but I really do try to limit a lot of the political stuff to issues that are really important to me. This post will touch on two of those issues: bullying and gay rights.

(For the record, I've friended several folks whom I went to school with on Facebook and consider several of them to be geniune friends should we meet on the street. This isn't intended to make them upset, but I need to tell the story as it happened.)

You see, I was that kid that everyone picked on in school. In elementary school it was mainly by exclusion - I simply didn't fit into any of the various groups. And yes, I was teased, although I doubt any of my tormentors meant it to be mean. Middle school was an entirely different matter, though. There were a couple of 8th grade girls who took delight, for whatever reason, in deliberately tormenting me. Maybe I wore an invisible "Kick Me" sigh that only school bullies could see. By the middle of the year, the one girl had taken to calling me "gay" whenever she saw me in the hall. She obviously enjoyed my embarassment and discomfort. I was a very shy, quiet, and awkward kid, preferring to blend nicely into the background thank you very much.

The torture lasted for the better part of the year, until she nearly split my lip on a water fountain (accidentally) trying to show off for her friend. Maybe she decided I was cool for not making a big production out of it because that was pretty much the end of her torment. (Goodness knows I could have made a big deal of it if I'd wanted to. Braces meeting water fountain isn't fun. AND I was in good with the admin folks, but I knew it really was a stupid accident.)

I really must have worn an invisible sign of some sort, because when I started at a new high school in 9th grade, on the other side of the county, there was a girl in my new class who reminded me so much of that other girl, although she didn't call me gay. She did, however, try her best to pick a fight with me - for months. I simply wouldn't take the bait and didn't appear bothered by her one bit. I'm sure it confused her. I had no problem with being called chicken, because I wasn't. It's just that a fight would have been stupid. (One day I walked up to her in the cafeteria after lunch and further confused her by asking what I had done to offend her. She looked at me like I was an alien. *grin* I told her that if she could tell me what I'd done, I'd happily apologize. The torment stopped that afternoon. She simply didn't know what to do with me after that.)

I survived the teasing and have obviously gotten on with my life. Sometimes it wasn't easy. I had to do a lot of work on self-esteem and confidence issues and sometimes I still need to work on them, but I got there and I'm rather happy with my life now. However, I've never forgotten what it feels like to be called names. The girl in question wanted to hurt me, for whatever reason. I can understand the need of marginalized and tormented students to either escape somehow or to reach out and hurt those who are hurting them.

Obviously, I'm not gay. I'm happy married to a guy I love and I've two wonderful daughters. If I had been gay, even if I hadn't realized it at the time, this story might have a different ending. I was already suicidal in high school. Maybe such teasing and name calling would have pushed me right over that very narrow edge. Maybe not.

I do feel for those who bully. In most cases something is obviously lacking in their life. However, I feel sorrier for those who are bullied. Too often their innocent victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time and attracting the wrong attention. There should be zero tolerance for bullying. There should be zero tolerance for tormenting a kid because of who he or she might be attracted to. Goodness knows that they're probably having a difficult enough time dealing with things as it is. And there should definitly be zero tolerance for seeing just how vicious you can get and how far you can push someone just so you feel big, and powerful, and important. You're noticed all right....for the wrong reasons.