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.)
Causes Charles Purdy Supports
San Francisco Food Bank, Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Open Hand, San Francisco SPCA, Smile Train, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association...