It’s often hard for me to find a way to be funny about topics that can be deadly serious with people. When I was told by my editor that this month is GLSEN’s “Day of Silence,” I found myself unable to really come up with anything really funny to say about the topic of bullying. I’ve tried several times in the past to write jokes about the topic, but none of them ever seemed to pan out the way I wanted, or just came across not in my cynical way, but in a cruel and heartless one. I’ve probably deleted, erased, or gave up in frustration with this article about six times.
One could have easily given up on the topic and wrote something flighty and silly and completely off topic, but wouldn’t that in a way be ignoring the issue?
There’s really nothing that I feel I can really contribute to the topic that hasn’t been said by more eloquent, or sensitive people, of which by now, you know I’m not. My personality leans towards the dark and cynical, with more than just a touch of vulgarity, and it seems at this point, that part of it comes from my own background of being both bullied as well as a bully in my youth.
When I was younger, I knew something wasn’t “quite right” with me. In that time frame, there was no internet, no TLC or Bravo reality shows, or sensitive personality profiles on Dateline, there was really nothing. As I came to realize that I wasn’t inclined towards the athletic, or to that rough play boys are often want to do, I became frustrated. My brother, being an older brother teased me and tormented me, not for being effeminate, but for being the youngest of the family. You know, older brother behavior. The more frustrated I became with my inability to be like the other boys my age; the more I came to realize I was emotionally sensitive, often jealous of the girls, and often simply feeling out of place, the more I projected it back onto others and onto myself. Soon I became a bully to the kids who were odder than I, beating up on them at recess or teasing them in line because it made the people I wanted to be more like pay attention to me, and think I was even slightly cool. At the same time, I loathed myself. There had to be something wrong with me to not be as focused, as confident, as much of a budding young man as my peers. Anger grew inside me, and a hair trigger of temper developed. By the time I was 13, it was not uncommon for me to be sitting before the principle, negotiating with her to stay in the school with my peers. I’m sure that if my dad wasn’t head of the school board, I would have been thrown out of that Catholic School at least four time that I can remember.
When middle school rolled around, I became even more ostricised, more uncomfortable, and even more frustrated. By the end of the school year, I had to sit in the councilors office during breaks so that I could be separated from my bullies. Had not certain tragic events happened that summer, the next year, I was on my way to a private boarding school; my parents understandably at the end of their rope trying to help me. Instead, I suffered through high school; angry and confused. For as much as I was treated cruelly by the other students, I could be even worse. When I was told that a certain girl began to cry after overheard me making fun of her for being overweight and unattractive on the bus, I simply shrugged my shoulders. Even the people who were my bullies couldn’t understand my cruelty. Later, as I struggled to be part of the “jocks” in high school, already knowing that my gender and sexuality was not the norm, I was part of the group that mocked the not so closeted gay male cheerleader we had in school. Mostly because it made me feel that I wasn’t the only target out there.
Truth be told, I can’t honestly say that I’ve become much more sympathetic or empathetic to people, at least in my personal view of myself. I’m quite easily a cold, unfeeling, and very cynical person at times. That anger and frustration that I attacked myself with and turned on others is still there; I just don’t attack like a petulant teenager. Instead I’ve become a sardonic and biting commentator. I honestly am fully capable of being a world class bitch.
That to me I think is what can be so terrible about bullying. We all know it’s a form of abuse. Psychologists agree that abuse often begets abuse in a never ending cycle. Children who are abused end up becoming abusers. But that’s the easily seen effect. I think what can be even cruller than that, is that it can damage the soul. Between the verbal abuse I received as a teen, along with the sad circumstances of my life, a lot of who I was as a child is gone. I tell jokes, but I don’t laugh like I did. It’s harder to be hopeful, to be able to push myself to achieve, to have a sense of worth. Bullying doesn’t have to cause one to be driven to suicide to kill, it can be just as effective killing the spirit.
What a bummer, right? I promise to be funny next time.
A version of this article originally appeared in the April issue of The Gayly