where the writers are

I'm joining the entire Red Room community in writing a short blog post on this week's topic: "Back to School." We'll choose at least one of these blogs to be featured on Red Room's homepage next week, and we'll choose three blog writers to receive free books from Red Room Authors. Submit your blog entry by Friday at 10:30 a.m. PDT [GMT-0700] for consideration. Be sure to tag the entry with the keyword term "back to school” so we can find it.

I hated school. I was miserable there. The schoolwork was never a problem, but from about the second grade on, I was the target of intense bullying. By the time I was in the seventh grade, the bullying felt life-threatening--in addition to daily name-calling and hallway shoving, as well as the occasional unprovoked physical attack, there was more serious stuff like being set on fire and being shot point-blank in the ribs by a BB gun. My fear of and hatred for the other boys at school eventually made enjoying any part of the school experience impossible. By high school, I was a habitual truant. I barely got my high-school diploma.

It's a good thing I liked to read--otherwise, I don't know how I would've learned anything at all. As it happened, I entered adulthood with a haphazard education that was heavy on literature and 1980s New Wave music, and appallingly light on the sciences.

I was a bully target for a few reasons. For one, I was always the new kid (I attended elementary school in four different states). For another, I was an ingratiating and sycophantic child--I was desperate for adult approval, and my shameless teacher toadying was surely distasteful to kids and most adults, even the adults who recognized my neediness as the result of "problems in the home." And the more people disliked me, the more I toadied--thus making myself even more odious. It's terrible how that works.

But the bulls-eye on my back, I think, was my being gay. Before I even knew what being gay meant, the other boys had figured out that I was different (this was no remarkable feat--I was a fey child), and they either punished me for it or, showing mercy or sympathy (or recognition), ignored me.

I'm the kind of gay guy for whom the down-low isn't a viable option. I cannot "pass," and I never could. High school was not good for me. 

People talk more about the problem of bullying nowadays, and I'm glad. I hope we're putting a stop to some of it. Because I'm here to tell you, it leaves lasting scars. I'm not just talking about the round BB scar a few inches below my right nipple, or the permanent purplish-red gash on my knee, or any of the other marks that those mean boys left on my body. All these years later, the phrase "back to school" fills me with dread. I'm 40 years old now, but classrooms and straight men still make me feel flinchy.

I don't think it's exaggerating to call extreme childhood bullying "torture." And when I look back at my young adulthood, it seems to me that I was living through post-traumatic stress disorder. I've worked hard on overcoming the emotional trauma of high school. I know, I know--youth isn't easy for any of us. And I had some wonderful friends (thank heaven for little girls, and teenage ones). But I am truly amazed at how tough I turned out to be. I survived it; some kids don't. The first step was forgiving you, Steve L., Tom B., Philip M., and the rest of you. I know that many of you were dealing with your own serious problems at home. You were children, too. I can't forget you, but I forgave you.

At least, I'm working on that.

(Do you want to help LGBT kids survive life-threatening bullying? Support the Trevor Project. I do.)


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Charles, this post makes me so angry and sad at the very same time. Your resilience to be able to come out of that experience as a happy and successful adult is so impressive.

I am the PTA president at my daughter's middle school. Bullying is still a big problem with this age group, and we are determined to do all we can to if not stop it, at least motivate the bystanders to become upstanders.

We started by watching a video, school wide, called "Ryan's Story." In it, a dad is giving talks to school kids about the bullying in his son's life that motivated him to kill himself. The story is so powerful that I'll never forget it.

The dad acknowledges that we may never get the bullies to change their ways, but we can start taking power away from them by reaching out to those bystanders to tell them that by standing by or, worse yet, laughing at the bullies' actions, they are a huge part of the problem.

We have designed t-shirts that read "Bullying Stops Here" (on a stop sign on the front) and "Castillero Upstander" on the back, which we award to any student nominated by a peer or teacher. Our program is new, so we still have plenty of brainstorming to do, but we will keep working so that, hopefully, no child within our reach can have a story like yours or Ryan's to share.

I am so glad the &*(^%$$#@ didn't win with you.


Shana McLean Moore www.caffeinatedponderings.com www.sunnysidecommunications.com

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Charles, thanks for sharing

Charles, thanks for sharing this with all of us. The simple fact of writing about it the way you did shows how special you are as a human being.

I had this friend at school who was in my classroom and walked home with me every day. I lived two blocks away from his home. Many times we´d be walking home and the other kids would be yelling insults at him. He knew me since we were little, so he´d ask me: please, don´t answer, don´t yell back, it´s worse.

His school life was miserable, but at home things were not easy as well. His older brother was what you´d call a testosterone-filled guy, and a bully. So he´d get it at school and at home.
Mauro is a really sweet guy and I don´t know how he was able to go through all of that, but he did. It´s amazing how resilient some people are.

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Thanks for your honesty here

I don't want to go into my own personal experiences because they're too close to home, but there was a prolonged campaign of bullying when, aged 8, I moved to a new area. In school I was asked to sit next to a girl who lived at the far end of my road. It seemed natural that we should walk home together. But she had a friend in a class two years above us who lived even closer to her, with whom she'd been bosom pals for a long time. I looked upon them both as my friends at first and didn't cotton on to the possessive aspects of the situation. The older girl grew fiercely jealous - partly, maybe, because she wasn't with us in lessons - and a nasty spate of bullying began in which the younger girl was co-opted.

I learned later that the elder, an only child, had lost her mother to cancer who had been gravely ill during that period. Her father was many years senior to her mother and a rather remote figure, so the child would have had to field much of her own grief at a crucial period of her development.

The whole episode, having been outside the context of home, eventually taught me self-reliance and how to hoard myself apart so that the world wasn't dominated by bullies.

On a slightly different note, Charles, you might be surprised to learn that some (many?) straight women find testosterone-ridden males make them feel 'flinchy'. And for the same reasons!

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Thank you.

Rosy, Luciana, and Shana, thank you so much for your nice comments and for sharing your stories. This was an interesting post for me to write--I was worried that it would make me sound too melodramatic or "woe-is-me." But the truth is, it was very tough! I think a lot of people can identify with the problem.

I have a follow-up story that I thought of when I was thinking about bullies: When I was about 20 or so, I was riding the subway in San Francisco, late at night, and a group of thuggish teenage boys started name-calling and saying threatening stuff to me from across the aisle. I was just ignoring them and trying to "disappear" into my seat. Then an older woman (probably in her late 40s, so she wouldn't seem "older" to me now!) got up from several rows forward, walked to our section of the train, and started lecturing them, saying, "I will *NOT* listen to that kind of ugly language. You ought to be *ashamed* of yourself." And so on and so forth, in a sternly maternal way. And they totally listened to her! Her tone was just right. The boys shut up, she went back to her seat, and my stop came a couple of minutes later. I was so desperate to get off the train, I didn't thank her.

Wherever you are, midnight subway woman, you are one of my heroes! I strive to be as brave as you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Girls and women have always been wonderful protectors and friends, both when I was young and today!