The Continual High School: My Experiences with Bullying

Posted by Jersey Julian on Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Last night on the PATCO train, when exiting the ticket machine, a young guy I had never met before motioned his wrist limply and lisped at me. A group of girls stood around him drunkenly laughing, and my own friends were already far ahead of me through the ticket machine. I didn’t know what to say or think. After years and years of taking the train to Philadelphia, I had never experienced a stranger making stereotypical jabs since high school. Even after so many years, I still have the same bitter taste and threatening anxiety ready to bubble over as I wonder how such things can still happen. 

Should I be surprised when I have dealt with bullying before? When I shook those shackles that made me an invisible person off at high school graduation, I suppose I thought every element would disappear as well. I never expected that the situations could change, but the same difficult people would continue to crop up regardless of what I do and who I am. 

I remember the first time I felt different. A day in fifth grade, before I even knew what it was that separated me from others, I somehow ended up wandering the playground alone. That day I realized just how alone a human being really is and just how invisible one can be. I wandered through the thick mulch of the jungle gyms, the grass of the fields, the basketball courts. I looked for the familiar faces of all the kids I had grown up with. I passed from group to group, attempting to make eye contact with a supplicating smile, secretly hiding my anxious dread. Eventually I went to a metal bench in front of the school and sat down watching the kids playing around me. 

For maybe the first time in my life I felt what true humiliation feels like. There was nowhere to go, and I was forced to bare my social outcast status, praying to God, my fists held tightly together with sweat between the closely held palms, that no one would say something, mention this oddity, make me feel what I had known for a long time. I was different. Not the strange kid that eats paste, or the girl with a nest like hair and a cartoon t-shirt. Instead, I was something else entirely. Something they couldn’t put a finger on, but instantly mistrusted. It wasn’t something I could fix, because it wasn’t something I understood or could even understand. The best description of what that is comes from Carson McCuller’s Clock without Hands, when she states about the effect of a gay youth on a small town that, “He resembled a silk-sheathed knife.” 

The first day of my sophomore year of high school, an older boy from another gym class threw me against the concrete wall of the hallway, as other students and teachers continued on with their day, oblivious to what happened. I did not know what I had done to make him angry. What was wrong with me? I told myself that I was not this person, the kid that got picked on. Or was I? No one ever tells you that the biggest problem with bullying is that the target does not wish to be a victim. Nothing is worse then being a victim. Nothing. 

I went to my locker and left all my books. I knew only one thing, I would never go back, not ever again. When I shut the locker door, I lost so many things in one moment without realizing that I could never go back, or that it would forever change my life. 

I refused going to school again. At first the school attempted to just take me out of gym, placing me in a study hall instead. By some crazy twist of fate, the same boy who threw me against the wall was in the same study hall, sneering at me from across the room. The Vice Principal stated later that what the boy did to me “Wasn’t personal.”

I considered dropping out of high school and getting my GED. With my mother threatening to sue the school, I was placed on homebound instruction. I became a shut in for an entire year, afraid to even walk into a small store. I had one friend, who would visit me at home. I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t enter a Wawa or a supermarket, suddenly fearing that a flashing sign above my head was pointing me out as a potential victim. Suddenly the world was nothing but an inquisition, a place of torment, with every stranger playing the role of an evil judge. 

I am now a college graduate, yet my history is still me. With every new moment of gossip, a rumor, a bad name, or dim witted caricature, I wonder what it is about me that draws anger when what I should be asking is why no one stands up to people who try to bully others. Of course there will always be a pissed off, or hurt person, attacking someone. That cannot be avoided. But why is there no collective support? Why when I hear about the comments another person, says about me, do I not also hear how I was stuck up for or how the situation was deflated? 

I write this simply to illustrate how much harder my life has been because people just like you, in everyday life, with not particular interest or position, do not defend someone being attacked and wronged. This doesn’t mean I expect every person whispering about a hideous dress to get punched in the face. However, when someone calls me a “faggot” why does no one take issue, or point out the fallacy, hypocrisy, and vileness of such an insult at a person without defense. 

Next time you’re drinking it up and partying, I ask only that you live with some ethics. Make this world better, and do not allow behavior, that you would not wish to go your way. It’s the simple golden rule, that seems to be lacking.And I promise you that if anyone lies, or talks bad about you to such an extent or often, I will stand up for you. 

Please send any comments or questions my way about your own bullying experiences, or dealing with difficult people, and how it can be dealt with more easily, as its clearly on my mind. It was difficult and painful for me to rehash my history, but I know that many can relate to such events. 

Comments
Thetis on July 22, 2015 at 2:59:07 pm said:
Thank you for writing this. It seems that many people never grow out of the high school mentality, and remains stuck there for the rest of their lives. It's like they're in stasis, doomed to the same petty behaviors ad nauseum.

As a special needs student, I suppose one of the most 'remarkable' bullying examples in my life (and there are many to choose from, sadly,) was that the bullies harassed my best friend in high school to such an extent that he ended our friendship. Occasionally, I still get bullied, although I don't doubt I'm more able to deal with difficult situations than a vulnerable, isolated teenager.

A recent rumor spread among some of the students when I entered grad school that I did not get in my legitimate means. Whether this meant I cheated on an exam, or otherwise was never explicitly stated, but it was daunting as I've still experienced prejudice from those who willfully choose not to understand.

Well, I suppose there will always be people who can't tolerate those who aren't exactly like them. My only advice is to not let people like that dictate who you are and control the way you live your life. They don't deserve that kind of power.
Bill Stella on October 22, 2013 at 1:38:56 pm said:
My responses:
While I don't stand up all the time against every instance of injustice I see (even more exhausting than what I do) I will speak up. Even if it's just, as a most recent example, speaking up on the phone to a new friend when he made a gross generalization about women with: "Uhhh, I don't belong to the women-haters club." And his reply was "Neither do I, really." Maybe the cost is that this is one way he won't be able to relax around me about what he says, or maybe as new friends do we'll get to know each other better and he'll learn I'm not knee-jerk politically correct. But it was important for me to do as one gay man to another - and I've been Out for almost 40 years while he's just coming out this year, though we're approximately the same age - to let him know that we gay men don't all by default use women put-down jokes.

On the other hand, I don't respond by jumping in uninvited every time I hear someone say faggot or use gay disparagingly, because the response needs to match the level of the epithet. Whether we like it or not, some friends call each other gay, and it's not bullying. Plainly the situations you described were not not-bullying, but it does make jumping in to speak up and give "collective support" a bit more complex a decision. Apathy, ignorance and inhospitality are probably more the reason why no one came to your side, but others not knowing new situations might explain inaction somewhat.

I also didn't see you write anything about speaking up for yourself. Hard as that might be - and I have proven to be inarticulate in the heat of the moment far too often - speaking up for ourselves is something we need to do. Easier said than done -- And, Hey, Anybody reading this, there's still a need in the Q-munities for someone to offer workshops in speaking up for ourselves! But sometimes, I've found the right thing to say. Sometimes I've said back to faggot and other epithet-tossing cowards "Jealous, much?" A couple of times I turned a friendly conversation with a hetero man that was going sour to the point where the sourpuss half-seriously thought he'd get the upper hand with a dismissive "Fuck YOU." into a win that salvaged the friendship by coming back with "Promises, promises." (No, we didn't.)

Disarming your attacker doesn't always work, nor is it always recommended. But if we'd speak up even a percentage more of the time with situation-appropriate but not-too-appropriate humor, it'd make a positive difference.

Finally -- and the core reason this blog currently resonates with me -- sometimes the bullying just comes from places one is blind to expect them to come from. (No matter how much experience one has.) (As you have noticed and written about.) I finally finally realized that I was being bullied by a long time gay friend. But it took me being pushed into responding by losing my temper and fighting back too many times before I took a real break from him, and weeks of self-recrimination and depressed moods and thinking about it before I realized the friendship was as broken as it was - that he was goading me into my behavior, was bullying me worse than the last time just to feel and to prove he was right, prove that I would break down under the pressure. I couldn't understand why a friend wouldn't try to be kinder. Sometimes, I've learned (_again_), the people who say they care, who treat you best to get what they want most are the biggest jerks, liars and bullies.

BTW, I'm reading this for the first time today - See? sometimes blogs do have longer lives, aren't just ephemera soon forgotten.
Cousin Butchie on July 18, 2013 at 5:41:04 pm said:
Welcome Julian! Your first blog is very interesting, and surely many readers can relate to your experiences. I recently heard about a 65 year old gay man who was being the bullying victim of a 68 year old neighbor. I guess that we must always be on the alert no matter how confident we are about being able to handle the situation. When it occurs we realize that some of society has not progressed anywhere near what we would like to believe.
Best....... Cousin Butchie
Bonnie on July 17, 2013 at 6:07:34 pm said:
Welcome Julian! Thanks for this thoughtful and open blog post.

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