Though, honestly, I thought about it. A lot. And I think it is miraculous that I made it through. I describe my elementary and high school experiences in terms of "surviving" and "getting through." I never got my locker peed into, but I hung out with a girl who did. In fifth grade, I overheard Katie whats-her-face saying to Vinny Anderlionis (the cool, cute boy all the girls liked), "I DARE you to ask out Jen Tobin." His response? "Who's Jen Tobin?" And she, "the short nerd with the glasses..." I'm not sure what had happened in Katie's life to blacken her heart and suck out her soul, but clearly, she had no concern for anyone else's feelings, and never even tried to keep her comments out of earshot of her victims.
That Summer, she invited me to her birthday pool party. My friend Colleen, who was also invited, informed me she invited me just for the present. So I went. Because I wanted to swim in her pool. And I brought a shitty gift.
Society is fooling themselves if they think this is a new problem, this children killing themselves due to harrassment at school. I'm not sure exactly what has shifted among us (because clearly the hate still exists) but I'm happy to see parents not sweeping the issue under the carpet as it has been. The recent media attention these suicides has gotten has been focused around these kids being tormented for being gay (or kids believing the victims were gay) but I just want to point out that kids get bullied for being shy, smart, short, different, poor, black, having glasses, standing up for themselves and indeed, liking people of the same gender. Hate really doesn't discriminate.
I blame the parents.
We can point fingers at teachers and principals and the kids themselves, but where does everything in a child's life begin? At home. With their hateful parents. I inherited a lot of things from my folks. The idea that you need to work 9-5. The word "Chink" and the belief that if you let a black man into your home, he's most likely going to steal something. Now, this blog is not to call my parents out on their ignorance or make them seem like awful people. They have evolved since my childhood and to be fair, they inherited these things from THEIR parents. It's all passed along like diseased genetics, this thing called hate. And whether or not we experience it via our religion or lack of education as a whole, is almost irrelevant. It exists. And the question is: How the fuck do we change it?
I'm the first person in my family to graduate college on my father's side, and perhaps, the only one. I lived away at school and found myself face to face wtih people of different races, homosexuals, JEWISH PEOPLE for Christ's sake. I didn't even know Jewish people existed outside of the Old Testament. I didn't know they were still a real thing. Was I sheltered as a child? Maybe slightly. In a school where the one half Chinese kid was exotic (remember our friend Vinny?) I'm pretty sure I had never MET an honest to God "Homo" in my life. We took a family trip to San Francisco when I was 15 and I spotted a man wearing purple socks. My father felt the need to point out, "that guy's a little light in the loafers." I wasn't sure what that phrase meant exactly, in a literal way, but I was sure his purple socks indicated his love of men. And really, weren't all men in San Francisco gay? It was, in my house, pointed out that being gay was "disgusting." So was touching yourself. I never really took heart to either of these ideas because the lights would go out and my hand went straight down my pants. And honestly, I didn't see the problem with a man kissing another man. I DID, however, find it disturbing that my father believed every gay man he came into contact with would want him and try to turn him gay. I mean, my father was ok-looking, but I'm not really sure why he thought he was so hot. Most gay men have much better taste than to fall for a straight guy who drinks too much and owns nothing but flannel. Just sayin'.
Maybe it was that I was picked on myself, or that my mother really did instill in me the importance of being kind (if not afraid) to other people, but I never bullied other kids, even in my hurt. I mean, I suppose I did some crappy things behind people's backs in self-preservation (the old eat or be eaten) but I certainly wouldn't have had the audacity to call someone a dork to their face. And this, really, is the least of it. The kids who recently killed themselves had their ribs broken, their sexual exploits secretly taped and posted on the web, etc. Admittedly, that is a whole other level of hate.
The problem I'm really having, though, the real issue to me, (aside from the obvious-beyond-terrible-point that kids are dying) is that parents who need to hear these things most aren't available for the hearing. They are wrapped up in their religion, their "rightness," or they are uneducated and don't read blogs, or they really believe they are serving their children by scaring the shit out of them into believing that people who are different are bad. We can all talk about all of this and try to reach the kids being affected, but until we rip the roots of the hate straight out of the ground and pour bleach on the unholy place they were planted in, we will continue to see the seeds of hatred, prejudice and injustice sewn in ours, the Land of the Free.
My husband teaches at a crappy school in LA and tells these kids that a lot of the thinking their parents have been doing for them is wrong. (He and I are both former Catholics so aren't talking out our ass here.) He explains to the Catholics in the class (which is most of them) about how being divorced, a parent out of wedlock and having sex before you're married are ALSO against their religion. But, for some reason, their parents only choose to tell them the part about how being gay goes against God... while they're banging strangers and multiplying like good Christian straight people. Kids don't know too much about hypocrisy, they just blindly participate in it because it's what they're told to do. And even more so, what they're shown.
I really do believe in empowerment and I think if kids were made to help those other kids who have less (because no matter how bad off it is for you, there is always someone with less...) maybe there could be compassion in there over-riding the hate. And maybe the kids being empowered could somehow pass it on to their parents...and the cycle could be halted one generation at a time...
We definitely need to keep talking about it. To let kids know they aren't alone. To stand up and say, "Hey, kid, I'm 35 and poeple hated me as a child...and now look at me. I have a way better life than most of the fuck-wads who made fun of me as a child. And I can call them out by name in my blog on the internet! So hang in there so you can, too. Because really....it feels good to be 30-something and see that kid who made fun of you bald and divorced." Oh, and...
"I don't care what they do/say to you...you are worthy of love. They are afraid of your light...because darkness cannot exist in the presence of light...and darkness is all they know."