September 28, 2011

Sticks & Stones

Before I danced at my first gay club, experienced my first kiss with another man, pranced around in nothing but glitter and a thong, before I even knew I was gay or what being gay even was. There was this preconceived notion that I was a Faggot. This of course caused the daily relentless torture from the kids in my school. From 6th grade until I was a senior in high school it didn't stop for one day. I know why I was a target. Middle school and high school is all about blending in and no matter how hard I tried I could only stand out. I was a chubby redhead with bad skin! I was just as round as I was tall. Kind of resembling an apple with Ronald McDonald hair! And to top it all off my voice was so high it was like someone constantly had my balls in a vice. (Voice hasn't changed much, but at least it's at a lower octave. I no longer make a signal only dogs can hear.)

Being teased is normal for everyone while growing up, but for some it crosses the line from teasing to heinous acts. It is no longer just harmless playground teasing. My life everyday felt like a living hell and at times I felt like there was no escape. I felt helpless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise just as easily.

I dreaded school every single day, but before I even made it to school I feared the bus stop and bus ride. As I waited for my bus to arrive, kids would throw rocks at me. One time someone threw an ice ball at my face. It actually gave me a black eye and split my lip open. The kid got a detention, but that was it and then went back to bullying me more. I remember having live worms put down the back of my shirt. I got even when a girl started laughing at me. I flung the worm at her and it stuck to her cheek. She screamed and didn't tease me again after that. Because of all the issues I had at the bus stop I used to try to arrive as late as possible even if it involved me running down the hill to catch the bus. The bus ride was just as bad. By the time the bus came to my stop it usually was very full and everyone had to share a seat. I was treated like I had a horrible disease and no one would let me sit with them. Sometimes I had to sit on the floor. Thankfully it was only a ten minute drive. The bus driver did nothing! In fact he yelled at me not at the kids that taunted me, even after I explained why I was on the floor.

My school days involved being pushed in the hallways and daily use of the words gay, fairy, faggot and homo were screamed at me. Soda was poured in my book bag and there was one time Gatorade was poured on my head. I still hate Gatorade to this day. I won't drink it. Kids also had cruel nicknames they called me which I'm not going to share because they haunted me forever! Kids would harass me even in front of teachers and again most teachers did nothing! I had only a few classes I felt completely safe in.

I will admit that thoughts of suicide did enter my head. When people constantly drill into your head 60 times a day that you are worthless you start to believe it. So how did I get through it all? Well, it wasn't easy. Fortunately for me I had a wonderful teacher that looked out for me. She had a no tolerance for bullying and disrespectful behavior in her classroom! I used to eat lunch in her classroom and spent study halls and free periods there. I escaped from my troubles with writing (Still do! Even though my creative writing teacher hated everything I wrote.) and I was big into art. I always turned to my creatively and it kept me going. Whenever I got home from school. I left school at school. Which means I left all the negatively and hurtful remarks there. I had a great support system at home. My mom was always there for me. She doesn't know half of what I went through, but mom's always know when something is wrong and she did the best she could. By the time I was a senior things got better. I just kept thinking that it's almost over and I never have to see any of these assholes ever again! Now, I rarely see my old classmates and when I do they usually don't recognize me.

If you experience bullying or violence because you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender just remember:
•You matter and have a place in the world. You're important!
•You are not alone - help and support is only a phone call away or online.
•Be proud of who you are!

Over a ten-year period more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students (aged 13-21), were surveyed:
-Eight in ten LGBT students had been verbally harassed at school.
-Four in ten had been physically harassed at school.
-Six in ten felt unsafe at school.
-One in five had been the victim of a physical assault at school.
-Unfortunately, these types of experiences with violence also occur outside of school and may continue into young adulthood.

One of the biggest problems today is that the word "gay" is used in a derogatory manner in every day language. One of the most popular phrasings is "That's so gay!" The word "gay" is used in place of stupid or weird. It's used by adults and by kids. Adults that use this phrase even if it is in a harmless manner are still causing harm. Adults that say "That's so gay" are teaching their children at an early age that gay is wrong. Kids associate the word "gay" with being weird or stupid and then are more likely to tease kids that they perceive are different. Parents need to realize that not only do children learn their behavior in school they learn it from you. My advice to teachers that hear gay being used in a derogatory manner is not to ignore it! Chances are it's worse when they leave the classroom. Tell the student that you will not torrent it in your class. If there are any LGBT students in your class this will show them that this is a "safe place" for them.

Kevin states, "People do say "That's so gay or he's so gay" a lot, not meaning to be offensive usually, but when children hear it they are so impressionable!" Faggot is also another word that is being used and it's unacceptable! Kevin says, "Faggot is worse than the word "gay" and thrown around a lot jokingly. It's not funny. Kids say that way more than they used too!" In my discussion with Kevin I said, "You're right! You know gay guys never refer to each other as faggots. We don't use that word to describe ourselves. Well unless its a dirty porno." Kevin laughed and said, "Yeah, when they say... "Yeaaaaa you like that you little faggot?" Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! I've seen that before in porn!" Then I had a visional of what he was saying and lost my train of thought... Oops!

Another issue contributing to bullying is technology. My mom says, "Computers are evil! I swear one day they will all come to life and kill us while we sleep!" Unlike when I was in school I could escape the torment by going home. Now the bullies follow the victim everywhere! They use the Internet, social media and texting. Cyber-bullying is increasing at a rapid rate. The victim feels like they have no escape from the harassment. No way out.

A survey of over 400 middle school, high school and college students between the ages of 11 and 22 (including 350 self-identified non-heterosexual subjects) found:
-54% of LGBT youth had been victims of cyberbullying within the past 30 days.
-45% of the respondents "reported feeling depressed as a result of being cyber-bullied."
-38% felt embarrassed.
-28% felt anxious about attending school.
-More than a quarter (26%) had suicidal thoughts!

If you are a victim of cyber-bullying there's things you can do.
 1. Most states have cyber-bullying laws in place and you can fight back. Here's a link that can help:
2. Don't respond to the bullying remarks.
3. Make copies of what they are saying to you and save everything in a file. This way if they delete their profile or the conversation you have proof.
4. Delete all the negative comments the bully posts about you.
5. Block them! Almost all social networking sites like Facebook have a blocking feature...use it! There may also be a feature where you can report users.

The gay community has made a lot of accomplishments since I've been out of the closet. With the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Maybe now I can be a towel boy for the army. "I'm sorry! I'm all out of big towels, here's a washcloth to dry off with.") and all the states that are slowly getting on board with gay marriage. (Accepting applications for a husband now!) I feel we are slowly headed in the right direction. BUT there's still so much yet to be done and so much negatively towards us that needs to be shattered.

Mostly everyone has heard of the recent suicides among young teens. The gay Rutgers student who took his own life after his intimate encounters were broadcasted over the Internet! Then there were the tragic suicides of two 13-year olds who experienced constant ridicule for being gay. A 14-year old that made a heartbreaking It Gets Better video on YouTube and then 4 months later felt his only way out was to end his own life! These of course are just a few of cases that the media latched onto. How many others must die before something is done? How many others are facing daily harassment as a result of their sexual orientation? Are you one them? When will it stop!? Unlike being born gay, bullies aren't born bullies they are taught. We can end this! We can change this! Stop the bullying.

For those of you that are being bullied please stay strong. It sounds cliche but it does get better. Those bullies will probably all end up being fat, bald and pumping your gas. "That's alright, that's okay you're gonna pump my gas someday!" The popular mean kids never stay popular after school. Just remember there has to be a little rain before there's a rainbow. Don't you wanna be around to see it?

Here's messages from the Queer Dirty Laundry characters:
"From 5th grade to 7th grade I was bullied cause I was "girlish" and it was pretty intense for a while. But then I kinda learned how to fade into the background until school was over. Then it all got better. Although it seems really bad school doesn't last forever. It will be a distance memory one day!" ~Bobby

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” ~James

"Bullies are the people that feel the need to take out their own insecurities on other people. While being bullied can be hurtful and scary just remember that you are a stronger and much better person than those doing the bullying! Don't let them bring you down, let them bring you up to being an even better person! Don't let them take your life and your soul! STAY STRONG AND ALWAYS BE TRUE TO YOURSELF!"

“The sun always rises the next day.” ~Knockers

"People may call you a fag, a girl, a homo, but screw them because you are being just who you were meant to be. There's so many others out there that are just like you! Welcome to the world! It's a shitty place, but stick around long enough and you will find happiness. When you don't think anyone will love you for you I guarantee you someone already does!" ~Kevin

"No matter how bad things get and no matter who puts you down, you can always rely on yourself. Love who you are because when you love yourself, you are letting someone else look up to you for guidance." ~Derek

"YOU are strong as shit!" ~Jules

"You do not need to put on a brave face when you are in pain. Talk, find someone, anyone and just talk. There are people out there who will listen. Trust, believe, there is love..." If you need someone to talk to email me: ~Edward

"Each day allows you to begin writing a new chapter of your life, whether it be a short one or one that extends for years, the important thing is you're the author and no one can change that!" ~Bethany

"If you want a rainbow, you have to get past the rain." ~Sean

"Us old farts need something to look at when we go to the bars. There's more support from the gay population now more than ever, with countless ways of reaching out. We've all been there, and know what it's like, but it does get better as life goes on." ~George

"Bullying won't stop. It will happen throughout your life in many different shapes and forms...But being aware and remaining positive will get you through it. You won't ever be alone!" ~Lynn

"Hold your head up high and when they're not looking, pee in their water ice!" ~Sven

"You can always count on your friends and family!" ~Lola

"Few blows feel more devastating than an attack on our fundamental self, whether that's sexual orientation, skin color, gender, family, or even our mannerisms. How can we adequately defend the circumstances of our birth, for better or for worse? More important, why do we feel the need to defend, meeting the aggressor on his own uneven playing field?

There are no easy answers – and to dwell on negativity can diminish our confidence and lead us into self-doubt. So, what to do? How to respond?

Do this: Hold your head high. Be proud – never ashamed – of who you are, where you're from, or whom you love. It's not easy to ignore repeated taunts and insults. But your only real fault comes by refusing to embrace yourself, by not growing to your full potential.

My promise to you: It ends. Guaranteed. You don't believe that now, and you can't see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But your light is there. Embrace yourself. Be proud. Never apologize for who you are. Because it ends. I promise." ~Tristan

***All the photos used in this post are linked to sites that can help. Just click on them. Remember you are not alone.