Bullying-A Preventable Epidemic: A Personal Journey

The recent suicides of our precious young has or should have affected each and every person whether you are pro- or anti-GLBT, or you hover somewhere in between undecided whether because of religious beliefs, personal preference or some other reason.

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I made a comment to the link posting Nicki Minjah’s after watching the segment, http://bit.ly/cyLBxU and despite the fact many may admire or compliment her on her statement I did find it somewhat condescending and dismissive, “Suicide is never the answer”, but I realize it was not by intention. Certainly the suicides of late have strongly brought painful yet necessary attention to the growing problem of bullying but it’s been around a long time as many of us intimately and brutally know. It is appreciated when anyone steps up to help and jumping on good “bandwagons” even in latter stages can only serve to bring more attention but I think it’s important people not minimize the very real feelings young people or others have by making statements like “Be Strong. Fight hard” is this manner, although those are fine things to do of course, if you can. If you can, is the key.

It is much more psychologically and emotionally complex than merely pumping someone on the shoulder and telling them it’s going to get better, or even telling them your own experiences with cheerful even sincere encouragement of how you finally “made it”. It is much more complex than that because for many young people who are suffering depression of various kinds or stages, when you hand out statements like I mentioned above, for some is just another reason for them to feel like failures. When their state of critical upset and feelings of worthlessness are so great they cannot see beyond the next day or in some cases the next moment and ending it is all they can think about…simply saying “It gets better” is not enough to suffice. As a individual who as a child and youth happened to survive multiple attempts at suicide, I know this personally.

“I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I should be able to do better than this.” “I shouldn’t let them or their words bother me.” But they do. It does. Be careful of minimalization. Even the 100% healthy and balanced individual not suffering from any repetitive or negative thoughts can also have times of anguish over their life and how they are treated.

Our Story:

These rash of suicides especially hit home for me, very close, as for the past three years I’ve struggled to keep my son alive despite the apathy of his former school, the indifference of authorities and very little support, though unintentional by his grandparents and family. Every school day felt like mortal combat, and inevitably I knew I was going to get a call from the assistant principal or counselor so learned to not make any definite plans or schedules.

If you’ve read anything of my profile here or elsewhere online, you’ll know I’m an intersexed person, androgynous for the most part, and depending on your own perception, I can come across different ways to different people. My son chooses to identify solely as male though we look very much alike. What does that seem to translate to his other peers? “Fag”, “gay”, “he-she”, “he-bitch”. For us commonly, we don’t grow the same amount of facial hair, we tend to have shorter statures than the average XY, depending on your body type you can have more secondary “female” characteristics such as some breast development, yet we’ve taken steps for him to develop only as male. His choice, having my full support. A choice which my parents took away from me. (In another article I’ll discuss how “reverse” discrimination from other gays because we’re not really male in their opinion. It can be infinitely tiresome, believe me!)

My son went to an American middle school with an eagerness both of loving to learn and being with others for as an only child, he was of the variety who actually likes other kids. Day one the name calling began, the mockery of his usage of the boys bathroom. By day three he was beaten up and bashed in the head with a locker which wound needed several stitches after being taunted as a fag. His total attitude towards school changed. After being referred to the school counselor and suggested he visit whenever he was having problems or others were bothering him, at least a few times a day he was there.

Instead of monitoring the situations where the abuse occurred or the ones carrying out the bullying, he was told he needed to be stronger and not let them bother him. “Middle school children were harsher than any other stage” was one of the excuses provided. I seldom curse. Bullshit, I said. “Some children will always have more of a problem than others and their sensitivities will be focused on and exploited, rightly or wrongly”, said they. “It was just a fact of life.” My fact book is different than yours obviously, I replied, and that’s not something I’m going to accept nor any child should have to. Stop making excuses….

After the return from autumn break my son’s handwriting had deteriorated to the point it was almost illegible. His naturally high energy personality had also fallen into dark sullenness, a propensity for tearful outbursts at the least thing, nightmares, and every morning was a battle to get him off to school. He said the bullying was near constant and the “perpetrators” knew when best to do it: lunchroom, hallways, during P.E. when not closely monitored. Who were the ones doing it? Not the stereotypical bigger or taller boy with the two smaller henchman demanding lunch money on the playground, it turned out to be a small group of A honor roll students the leader of which was a boy and sister twin duo. The principal was incredulous and disbelieving when provided with the details we had gathered, myself and the assistant principal who had asked for a list of names from my son, then had systematically investigated the students.

My son had had hope in the counselor’s words, the assistant principal’s declared intentions of ending the bullying. When my son was suspended the day before December holidays because he’d finally spoken up and told the male bully he would beat him up if he didn’t shut up, he was crushed when nothing was done to the bully for explicitly detailing in P.E. class to the laughter and derision of others how my son liked to be “fucked up the ass like a bitch”.  The school, with their motto, “Leave no child behind” had done so. They lost my son. They lost his trust, his admiration and belief in their empty words and slogans.

Soon I noticed my son “cutting” and other self-inflicted wounds. In addition to psychology therapy we began sessions with a psychiatrist suggested by our pediatrician. After a few weeks my son adamantly refused to go any longer. The doctor has said this was a “phase” my son was going through. “Suicide wasn’t the answer. Things will get better.” As patronizing a statement I would have never expected from a professional, but I should not have been surprised. I booked tickets to return to Germany. we needed a break from the “Land of the free and home of the brave”.

When scarcely weeks into seventh grade after we returned from a brilliant five months in Europe in which I saw his smile return after what seemed years and he played again like the boy he was free of care, and he’d looked forward to trying school again…I found him near death in his room. It was another blow. A sight no parent ever wants to see but it could have been worse as the parents of the precious young people lost this week should not have had to experience. I was thankful to have found him in time and assist with saving him.

The bullying had not gotten any better, nor had the response by school officials to complaints and negative behaviour and verbal patterns. The taunts had only driven deeper making for self-hatred over something he had no control over. And while I thought he had been doing better, so said he also, as he’d come to speak up for himself more. The sense of hopelessness, that it would always “be that way” since the school was doing nothing. I addressed and was given a medically backed request to have my son home-schooled as he was scheduled for related surgery from which he would need to recover several weeks anyway.

The School Response (or lack thereof):

The assistant principal which had helped us identify the bully was not longer serving at that school. As my son’s return date neared, I wrote the principal asking for a conference to address what expectations we had for changes but her schedule was too busy. She was of the type cool, dismissive, and patronizing when I questioned what exactly they were doing and going to do about the situation for I’d contacted an organization willing to give free, history supported help in assisting GLBT students, the reply was, “My staff is one of the most educated and knowledgeable in the state. Our students are some of the top scorers both in sport and academics. We’ve received many awards….” Empty platitudes and some of the useless drivel too many principals, school systems and education staff are spouting across the country, across the world.

I went directly to the source, the school superintendent and laid our the history of my son’s bullying and the inability or possible indifference of the attended school stopping it not just for my son but others who I knew were also experiencing bullying. The next day I got a call from the principal and a conference date and was gratified to see representatives from the school board, the senior guidance counselor and an administration representative who assured me they were there to make sure my concerns were addressed and definite answers and course of action determined.

The principal assured us all the steps we determined were going to be carried out but it would take a certain amount of time. Deadline of three weeks. They would get back to me definitely and let me know. Nothing was done. No phone call, no email message, absolutely no response from that principal or that school’s staff.  Like rats from a sinking ship, transfer from the school my son had attended were some of the highest in the city, fortunately for another young person who had received severe bullying attacks based on believed sexual orientation, he was graduating the level and going on to high school.

A petite and cheerful young immigrant recently arrived from Nepal, he was mercilessly hounded about his small stature, frequently pushed and assaulted, verbally abused and laughed for being a “fag”. He too after threatening to hit someone if they didn’t leave him alone was suspended. Nothing was done to bullies. I know his story personally because driving through the neighbor we share, still during normal school hours I saw him sitting dejectedly on a curb. Not just flashbacks to the random assaults I endured as a youth brought me to his side. He was too ashamed and dejected to go home and tell his parents what had happened. Later he refused to explain to them the nature of the taunts he received too afraid of their reaction, anticipating their disappointment.

My son was able to transfer to another school willing to implement the few very simple guidelines which could be added especially for gay youth or others. There will always be children ill-trained at home or one’s who have not been corrected from verbally or physically abusing, threatening or intimidating others, but how the school staff reacts if the key. This school is on top of it. Why couldn’t the other school have been like that? They took their cues from their dismissive principal. The first day I spoke with the one at our school and was given the firm reply, “Not a problem. We will get it done.” That’s all it takes. Attention, dedication, willingness to act.

But it is becoming an epidemic because bullying towards GLBTIIQ youths continues to escalate. An entirely preventable epidemic.

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity deserve a safe and supportive environment in which they can achieve their full potential.”–Harvey Milk

Is the bullying of GLBTIIQ people dismissed as not as serious, as not based on hate because of popular religious interpretation because of some subjective book’s opinion that “men who lie with men” or “those kept for unnatural sexual purposes” are not worthy of life, of respect, of love of their choice, of simply the right to go to school and NOT be assaulted, abused, harassed, humiliated?

Yes, some people do not hate GLBTIIQ people but do you laugh when someone makes a sexist joke about them? Does your behaviour and choices place them in the category of second-class citizens who should already be thankful of what they have thus far even when it is in no way equal to the basic rights any “hetero” person enjoys?

The case of the two 18 year old who thought it would be a good laugh taping a roommate having sex with his male partner and then broadcast it for the whole world to potentially see is especially deplorable and sickening to me. There has been the debate on whether it was a hate crime or a bias crime, as it has been noted they were not hateful towards other gays in general which could be established. That they choose to do so to a gay youth, as opposed to a guy with his girlfriend for example shows me the farcial and laughable category they choose to view and place gay relationships into as an object of derision. Beyond stupid is what I would apply to them yet they have their whole lives, unlike young Clementi, to remember their criminal obliviousness which drove a person to suicide.

Whether it’s through direct bullying or complete lack of common sense, decency and ethics using pranks gone deadly wrong, society as a whole despite too often empty platitudes are still sending the wrong message about GLBTIIQ people, young and older. We are not laughable. We are not jokes nor should be made to be the butt of jokes nor should anyone have to accept that. We do not want anything else above others. We want and deserve equal rights in all things. I don’t even understand how anyone can formulate protests against gay marriage or adoption, etc. except they choose to base it on a religion because fundamentally anyone wishing to try to help another or solemnize their love and devotion should not be disallowed because of sexual orientation or gender in all its ranges.

I’m trying to keep my son alive. We are trying to keep valuable, precious members of the world alive. Discrimination, bias, hatred, prejudice of any kind is unacceptable. Even and especially the kind shown within the GLBTIIQ communities too often does not accept the variation of genders and physical body types when individuals choose to impose discrimination and derision to others who are struggling just like them but have unique barriers to overcome. As a Native American, I don’t understand discriminations Native against other Natives of any kind. As a gay person I don’t understand discrimination against other gays or two spirited people of any kind. As a human, I do not understand hatred and discrimination against other humans just to be alive, just to live! Check yourselves. It doesn’t make sense.

Why I really wrote this article:

I made the decision to finally sit down and create this article although it had been forming in my mind for some days after I stopped to watch a typically American autumn scene outside my window: a group of boys, half a dozen or so, mentored by an older male neighbor were playing a game of “touch” football in the park area at the centre of our cul-de-sac.

The boys are all between eleven and thirteen and as one ran for a touchdown untagged then turned to taunt, “You’re so gay. Pansies! Pansies! Couldn’t catch me!” And so the refrain was taken up to specifically focused upon one of the smaller boys who’d fallen down, momentarily hurt or something. “You’re the fags” he shouted defiantly, pushing up to his feet finally. “Faggot!” “Fag!” rang out over and over.

I watched a few moments more to see if the mentor and a parent standing nearby might say anything. Nothing. I turned back to laptop and tired of the strident voices turned the volume up high enough to cover them. The song playing brought a smile to my lips helping me lighten my disquiet mood: “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

Chorus:

“Don’t worry about a thing,
cause every little thing
is gonna be alright….”

When we first moved to this neighborhood and my son saw a group of children playing, with a bright smile and quick step he went out to introduce himself hoping to make some friends. I watched from the same window as above. He returned within minutes, head down, slow step. I awaited him. He refused to answer my question on what happened directly. “They’re stupid”, was all he said and never went among them again. A couple of years later he finally told me what transpired, they said he looked and sounded weird (accent speaking English) and they didn’t play with weird kids. Same kids as then playing touch football. Now it all makes sense.

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2 thoughts on “Bullying-A Preventable Epidemic: A Personal Journey

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s beautifully written and heartbreaking. I wish you and your son peace and joy.

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