Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHAT TO DO ABOUT BULLYING—PART ONE

A “VICTIM” IMPACT STATEMENT

I don’t think I ever used the word bully while I was in school. I had conflicts. There were people I avoided, even dreaded, especially when I was by myself. I was a perfect target, younger, scrawnier and more timid than my classmates. I was the type who would quietly “take it”, wise enough to know fighting back wouldn’t turn out so well and dim enough to only think of a decent retort hours later. I did get into a physical fight once in sixth grade and, gasp, “won”...if anyone really wins when a dispute comes to blows. I felt shame after the scrap. It was a completely out of character. I could not watch animals catch prey on Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”. I turned away from boxing bouts, even if a Canadian was in contention for an Olympic medal. Pacifism trumped patriotism. Crime shows gave me nightmares. I even took detours in our living room to distance myself from my father’s display of antique rifles.

As a person trying to figure out my sexual identity, the years from twelve to twenty-four were the worst. I didn’t have to face one bully or a clear succession of bullies. Instead, I dealt with a culturally condoned mindset of hating gays. It seemed to be everywhere. In my high school in Texas, “fag” was the more common putdown than today’s automatic “gay” utterance. Common sense told me that the word was tossed around regularly, but anytime the slur hit me, I reddened and wanted to quit school, even quit life. “Fag?” Who me? No, it can’t be. I go to church. I hold doors open. How could I be a societal pariah?!

I couldn’t talk to my parents about the “fag” taunts. It’s okay when it’s not true, but as much as I tried to deny my feelings, I knew the word might have some validity. Fred was hotter than Daphne on “Scooby Doo”. I lingered too long on the wrong underwear ads. I marveled at Peter Frampton’s hair, not Farrah’s. Faggot. What if this hateful, belittling word truly defined me? How could I open up to my parents about something I hadn’t figured out myself? How could I tell them about something that made me feel such shame? I couldn’t talk to a counsellor or teacher. Compassion? Hell, no. Ninety percent of the town was Baptist. Church and Republican leaders made it clear: To be gay was to be a product of the devil.

I NEVER heard an adult address the constant “fag” remarks. I hypothesized that adults sanctioned the taunt as part of a survival of the fittest process. Let the real fags die out. Gays were the modern witches,...that was how I identified with Hester Prynne in our class novel, The Scarlet Letter.



Instead of fighting others, I fought with myself. How could I like boys? The inner conflict continued into university. I wrote suicide notes and dramatically held handfuls of pills in the palm of my shaky hand. I latched onto the common hypothesis that homosexuals were the product of domineering mothers and absent father figures. It was true! My father had played little part in my growing up, after all. I tried to cure myself, thinking a strong male best friend would satisfy the need to connect with a guy and quell the sexual urges. I put unrealistic expectations on my guy friends. They constantly let me down. I blamed them.

If they were better friends, the urge would go away.

I battled anorexia during my sophomore year of university. Everything seemed beyond my control and I found satisfaction in having power over my body. The routine was simple: diet sodas as meal replacements all day and then a big meal around four in the afternoon. Already thin, I lost fifty pounds in three months. Still, I viewed the wrinkles on my shirt as tufts of lard. I felt fat. No matter how much weight I lost, the plan stayed the same: Just five more pounds…

My friends held an intervention. Despite the fact I still failed the Special K Pinch (Kellogg’s should have been sued for this outrageous pitch), they insisted my face was gaunt. “You look sick,” they insisted. “You look awful.” And, as always, the external judgment hit me hard. I twisted “awful” into “ugly”.

I could very well have killed myself twenty-five years ago during one of those nights when I sat and wept on the bathroom floor. Stabbing, shooting, jumping from high places all presented too violent scenarios. Being a lifelong wuss saved me. I’d never be able to pull off an overdose. I’d mess up and then go through stomach-pumping torture in a hospital. Maybe they’d hook me up to tubes and jab me with needles. Maybe there would be an obstruction and they’d cut me open. Thankfully, I feared all things medical.

Somehow I made it through. The best decision I made was moving from Texas to California to soften the stifling religious judgment. While I survived, I have battled with my body image for four decades. Calories and fat weigh on my mind during every meal, every snack. I am currently trim, having implemented a six-day a week workout regimen over the summer. I have a four-pack in the abdominal area, a six-pack on particularly good mornings. My ribs show. And yet I still can pinch more than an inch from my sides. Damn Special K.

Over time, I turned self-hate into self-deprecation. I mock myself before anyone has a chance. There was once an edge to it, but now it’s pure humor. I think the comments even when there isn’t an audience. I react with a smile, even a chuckle. What once scratched off old scabs now serves as a reminder to not take myself so seriously.

I don’t wallow in my past, but the impact shaped who I am. There is greater acceptance in areas where I choose to live. Some instances of intolerance are harder to identify as overt homophobia has gone underground. I remain guarded during any interaction with any seemingly straight male. My voice and my gestures may instantly expose my gayness. I’m fine with it, but is he? Yes, there is a fear of the unknown. That fear exists on both sides of a fence that still divides. That fence may be lower than I perceive it to be. Like it or not, my past experiences help define my present outlook.

NEXT UP: UNDERSTANDING THE MINDSET OF A GAY TEEN

4 comments:

Bob T said...

Powerful RG. Self loathing, unreasonable societal expectations, hypocritical religious bogarts are tough things for an adult, let alone a child without the right skills and protectors. I'm glad you're helping yourself this way. Glad to listen and be a friend anytime. Followed you back on twitter also :)

Rick Modien said...

Wow!

It's been a few days, RG, since I read this, but, if I remember correctly, what struck me was how much closer you're allowing your readers to get to you.

You've included so much detail about your own experience that I feel I know you so much better, and I appreciate the risk you're taking. It's not easy to lay your life out there, but I believe it's necessary to get to the real issues of some of the things you and I write about as mature gay men.

As much as we'd like to leave behind all the negativity we've been through, it's all very much a part of who we are today. And I believe wholeheartedly writing about it in a blog like this is instrumental in letting it go (believe me, have I learned that in writing my own blog).

Anyway, I just want to say I'm impressed with your writing as always, and I sincerely appreciate your honestly and openness. Don't think of it as a risk. Think of it as helping countless other people who are in the same situation as you.

Believe me when I say, you write for many of us. Your truth is our truth, and we appreciate you giving it a voice in the very capable way you do.

Rural Gay said...

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Bob. Thanks as well for following. I hope I can continue to post entries that will be of interest.

Rick, I appreciate how you frequently comment about the writing. Writing endeavors are solitary exercises, yet another part of life that brings self-doubt to the surface.

Yes, this entry did involve a risk. I prefer to write about amusing, semi-tragic coffee dates, but I've been getting my coffee to-go lately. Alas.

I've had more time to think about bullying and I felt that, if I wanted to write a series of posts, I first needed to establish my own background.

In addition to the fact that most of us have no one to confide in during our initial years of coming to terms with a gay identity, I also dealt with severe body image problems which manifested in the form of anorexia. Of course, whenever I read an article or saw a news clip on anorexia, it was always about females. Here again was another journey I had to work through on my own. I am very aware of how food and body issues continue to impact me. Perhaps I'll write more in a future post.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

Rick Modien said...

Your comments about living with anorexia, I believe, took your blogging to a deeper level, and I applaud you for having the courage to do that. Again, there's always a risk in being so honest, but I believe it's worth it.

The idea of blogging on your relationship with food and body image issues is an EXCELLENT one. As you said, virtually all the information on the subject relates to girls or women, and young men going through the same thing can't relate to them as much as they could to a male. Thinking you're the only male going through anorexia I imagine adds even more shame to how you already feel about yourself.

I heartily encourage you to write about these experiences. I have no doubt whatsoever you would make a significant difference in a young man's life somewhere in the world, who thinks he's the only one.

Finally, your comment about writing is so true. I've learned writing, like so many things, is about having confidence in oneself to do it well. Someone won't always be there to confirm we're good writers, so we must give ourselves what others don't.

In other words, we must believe. As long as we can communicate reasonably well, I think the issue is less about how well we write and more about what we say and how we touch other people's lives. That, to me, is the only reason to write. Otherwise, it's an experience only about the ego, right?