I am wearing purple today in solidarity with my many LGBTQ friends and family members who consider me an ally. We are standing up against bullying, prompted in part by the recent suicides of so many gay and gay-perceived teens and children. Yet this morning, as I put on my purple clothing, I had a flash of memory followed by a horrible realization. See, I once was the very kind of bully we're speaking out against. In high school, I bullied a boy for his sexuality. And so, I must start by speaking out against myself.
It's unbearable that kids -- that anybody -- can be made to feel so bad that they kill themselves. I could be knee-jerk and holier-than-thou, saying, "I don't understand how people could say and do such terrible things." But I do understand. Because I was terribly cruel.
Perhaps it was a pecking order thing. In a fiercely-hierarchical high school where I struggled to be a few pecks from the absolute bottom, I bullied a boy who I considered a friend -- though I'm not sure he considered me one. Nor should he have. In doing so, I essentially outed a person who wasn't identifying as gay or bi. It wasn't me alone, though I won't name names. But a friend and I were very, very cruel to this boy.
I can't plead environmental ignorance or family bigotry. I was a drama student surrounded by gay actors and directors, I had gay and lesbian family members who I loved dearly, in high school I loudly proclaimed myself bisexual, my family valued diversity and tolerance.
I could play the victim card and talk about the psychological flip that often happens where the bullied becomes the bully. I was bullied badly in grammar school and junior high. This wasn't based on my perceived sexual orientation. I am not lesbian, and my heteroflexibility has only been a bonus for me, an extra bit of exotic flavor, a turn-on, never a cause for abuse.
I was bullied because I was the weird kid. In 7th grade, a group of girls caught me writing my Last Will and Testament in the library, chased me into the bathroom, and hung over the stall as I flushed it while they pelted me with bits of cake. Later that year, the boys threw me in the garbage can, took my hat, ran to the bathroom, and took turns peeing on it. I was socked in the stomach and mocked and catcalled from the school bus as I walked home alone. Later, at age almost-18, I was bullied into doing sexual things I didn't want to .... otherwise known as rape.
That I was so bullied makes it worse that I bullied right back.
This boy: when we were 15, my friend and I bought him a pair of plastic costume breasts. We wrote a pornographic letter to an adult newspaper and signed a feminized version of his name, and then, when the letter was published, we showed him a copy. I didn't understand why he wasn't laughing; my friend and I were.
Even if this was garden variety "teasing" (more like torture), it would not have been okay. But this, with its strong sexual edge, clearly crossed the line into homophobic bigotry and bullying.
I am so sorry. I am so ashamed.
For those of you reading this who don't know me, I won't spend the time here justifying how I spend my life, or my good character now. Just know that I am no longer a bully, and I will stand up to anybody who is. I also don't write this today as a way to make you hate me, or so I can hate myself. I'm not interested in Oprah-style outing or confessing my sins so I can be absolved.
I write this because I'm hearing a lot of accusing with a self-righteous edge: "What kind of monster would do such a thing?" and I believe we're all more culpable than we take credit for. Until we all really examine our own roles in bullying, it will not get better, it will not go away.
Bullies are not just the "obvious" ones. Look at me. Sometimes the bully is the unhappy little girl with the innocent face and the mean, mean tongue.
Look at yourself. Perhaps you were one of those girls throwing cake at me, or one of the boys peeing on my hat.
And to the boy I bullied, now a successful man: I'm so sorry for adding to your difficult high school years, and I'm sorry for being your friend but acting like your enemy. I hope it has gotten better. From the little I know of your life, I think it probably has.