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In (delayed) honor of the Spirit Day/Week for preventing bullying I wanted to share something with you all.
I was bullied. I was tortured. I had that childhood no parent would ever wish on their child.
Yes fabulous Uncle Matt had it rough. So rough that suicide was a weekly contemplation that plagued me for years.
I was a child growing up in the early Eighties when that kind of thing was not really something talked about unless you were the bullied, and even then how to cope and deal with such a thing was unknown and almost a mystery, even to those who had been through it.
From the time I was 6 and entering kindergarten, the kids knew something was different about me. I don’t know how they knew, but they did. Though I was a friendly and outgoing child, I just didn’t fit in. I was called a sissy, and sometimes even that F-word, though I never told my folks that it had started quite so early. I had a few “friends” that I grew up with around the corner and even they would hesitate to socialize with me for the fear that the other kids would pick on them as well.
This torture went on for years. I was unhappy most of the school year. In the excitement of summer, I would start each new semester with the thought that this year would be different, this year I had changed and they would see how funny and kind I could be. Each year would lead to disappointment, sadness and loneliness throughout my day.
That is not to say that there weren’t any bright spots to my childhood. There were good days and bad, but mostly they were bad for me. By the time I was in third grade my family noticed how unhappy I was and we decided as a family that even though I could technically move on to the fourth grade, that I would stay back a year, we hoped that the absence of my protective and popular twin might help alleviate some of the stresses of the day to day “outcast” feeling.
It didn’t help. Nothing changed, except I was now behind my brother in school and I was still treated in a manner I found so upsetting I could not believe. Please keep in mind I still had no idea what it meant to be gay, I didn’t know why they didn’t like me, and I wasn’t sexual in any way, so I thought I was just generally disliked. This is almost the truth.
By the end of that school year my family decided that I could not endure another year at my local school and I was enrolled at a private school in which my mother worked. The school in which I was to be enrolled in had a policy about exclusion, so if I wanted to join in a sport or game, I could, without fear of being told I couldn’t just because I was a weirdo, or a freak or yes, a fag… And I still had no idea what that meant! I spent some of my happiest childhood years in the 3 semesters I spent there. I made friends of my own, who liked me for me and not because my brother was so popular. I fought some of my own battles and got into my own trouble now and then and even during that time found out what it was to be gay and at 10, I told my family. That’s a story for another time.
As a family decided to keep this secret for me because in my 7th grade year I was returned to the school that I so hated. I was even more of an outcast for the two years before the beginning of my high school hell, but I had learned to stand up for myself just a little and I made friends with a few of the other outcasts; still yet on the weekends, away from prying eyes of the rest of the student body, I had a few secret friends that would hang out and who would socialize with me. I graduated from the 8th grade confident that the unified high school I was going to attend the following year would be a whole new world. I thought that we would all be more adult, that with the mixed student body from multiple schools would allow me the opportunity to avoid those people that treated me with such disdain.
I suppose you ask, what was so horrible about this? Name calling is nothing. But I am not talking about just name calling. I am talking about the abuse. The random whack from a “stray book”, the stealing, ruining of my school things and clothing, discovering one day that your locker had been opened and its contents strewn about the entire hallway, where they were stepped on and kicked and ruined. I’m talking about the bus rides where random things would ricochet off your head to laughter from behind you. The pain of being called a “Fucking Faggot” every single day, being elbowed, kicked, and thrown into lockers when the teacher wasn’t looking.
All this, from children old enough to know better.
High School, was worse. Instead of once or twice a day being thrown into lockers; it was between every one of the 8 periods a day. It was being called worse things than a “Fucking Faggot” loudly and right under the faculty’s “watchful eye”. It was being pummeled by aerosol cans, plaster and bolts in the changing room, being shoved, pushed and screwed with at every turn. Instead of your locker being along the floor, it’s covered in some ooze that you cannot describe. It’s being dragged down the hallway and thrown into the walls.
Again, I had a few select friends, and when I finally came out in my junior year, the assaults almost seemed to have stopped, but in reality, it was the calm before the storm.
As a gay man I was now a target for the entire student body, or so it felt. While the incidents were a little fewer and more far between, by this time I knew which areas were safe, which seats in class to get, and what hallways to travel down. Suicide was an option that I played with on a regular basis. THE ONLY THING THAT STOPPED ME FROM TAKING MY OWN LIFE WAS MY FAMILY. The only thing. I did not want to cause my family that kind of pain. Notice it isn’t about me being with my family, it was about their sadness at loosing me. I knew they loved me if no one else, and I could not bear to bring that kind of pain to them. I didn’t care, at that time, if I lived or died. I felt that, actually, it might have been better had I not existed at all.
I decided in my senior year that I was going to beat them all.
And here’s how.
My family knew of my distress, after my father saw me get off the bus only to have a football size chunk of ice hit me in the back of my head and nearly knock me down, he even threatened a lawsuit. Perhaps he should have, but the faculties promise to “look into it” caused us to back off slightly to see what would happen and I was even afraid that it would get worse if we brought more attention to it.
After that didn’t do any good, my parents gave me the option of getting my GED and getting out of school early. OH, I was tempted and I almost accepted the offer. But then I thought to myself. “No, they are not going to rob me of my education. They are not going to ‘run me out of the school’. I will not let them scare me into defeat. I had gotten this far and I was bound to finish this and never look back.” That’s what I did. I graduated with a gay pride symbol on my mortarboard and left that school and I refuse to go back. I will never set foot inside the walls of that building for as long as I live and I am happier for it. But I survived it. It got better. I am happier, safer, surrounded by my friends and my ever faithful family. I will NEVER let myself be a victim like that again. I am stronger, better and more aware than ever thanks to the children who caused so much pain.
Here’s the kicker, since my graduation in 1997, I have been approached by more than one of the children who spent years making me their sport… At gay bars… Where they spend endless amounts of time and energy trying to apologize and make amends. There are some I forgive, some I will not. But I will never EVER forget the lasting scars and the pain of those years. I still can’t walk down a hallway of lockers without sweating and looking over my shoulder…
I don’t care if they changed and I’ve changed, and we’re different people now. What they did will echo through my life until I pass away. I might thank you for apologizing, but I still don’t want to know you.
To those who have a bullied child, remove them, take them away. Away from the pain, and the sadness. Find a place where they feel they fit in. It is hard and it may take a few tries, but you should not have to worry like my parents did.
To those of you who are kids being bullied, it gets better. The darkness has an end and it’s not in Death, it’s in Life. What seems like the end is really, truly, just a beginning. There is light at the end of your school years, and it’s bright and beautiful and amazing. All you have to do is get there. So fight. Stand up. Be strong. Know that it will all be a distant memory some day; that might still haunt you a little, but it will never, ever, EVER hurt you ever again.