“One day when my dad said he wanted to play me a song I hadn’t heard in a long time, that I used to like so well, I was excited, wondering what it would be. But as soon as I heard the first notes, it was like someone punched me in the stomach. Tears filled my eyes, and I got so mad I could barely see. I didn’t know how to explain why it made me angry, and the expectant look on their face just made it worse.
“It’s too loud!” I said, even though it wasn’t. “I hate loud music.”
Dad blinked, the disappointment on his face hurt me even more. “That’s not true. I have to tell you to turn your music down at least three times a day!”
“I don’t like that song anymore,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “I’m sorry, but you don’t have like this. I was trying to do something to please you.”
We had sat down to watch a film together, and while he was going through the DVD case, he’d put in the CD to pass the time and please me.
“I don’t want to watch a movie anymore,” I said. “I’m going back to my room.”
“But you just came in—!”
“I changed my mind.”
That song. That song with lyrics about hope, redemption and believing in oneself no matter what, had crushed me because I’d been trying not to think about it. Trying to forget about the time I used to play it every day on the ride to school.
“Hope dangles on a string, like slow spinning redemption, winding in, winding out, the shine of it has caught my eye…”
It was my sixth grade year, and I was so excited about going to middle school. I was so stupid! I loved my new backpack and new clothes. I even had new glasses and hoped to see some friends I used to know, that I’m missed over the summer.
My dad went with me the first day, like a lot of other kids’ parents, but I didn’t mind, and I didn’t mind when he left because I wanted to go to my classes because they sounded so cool.
“And I am: vindicated. I am selfish. I am wrong, I am right. I swear I’m right, I swear I knew it all along, and I am flawed! But I am cleaning up so well, and I am seeing in me now the things you swore you saw yourself…”
But on the way to class, a couple of the kids pointed at me and one came up and said, “You’re new, aren’t you? Are you a boy or girl? You look like a he-bitch.”
I’d never heard such language before, especially not by kids though I knew what it was suggesting. I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. I was embarrassed, too, because some other kids laughed who’d heard what they said and they repeated it.
My next class didn’t seem so interesting. I kept thinking about what they’d said. Next break when stopped to go to the bathroom, somebody must have said some things around, because when I tried to go in, someone said, “You’re suppose to go in the other one!”
But I knew which bathroom I was supposed to go to.
I was taller than most kids of my same age, and my feet were a lot bigger, but that wasn’t a problem. I like to wear cargo shorts and t-shirts, like a lot of them, girls or boys, but I wear my hair long and always back in a ponytail. I’m Native American and I am, what I later knew to be, gay. I am also what some call transgender, but it is really being intergender, and I hadn’t thought about the way I looked before, because that was just how I looked.
“So turn up the corners of your lips, part them and feel my fingertips, trace the moment, fall forever…”
By the third day of my sixth grade year, I didn’t want to go back. In class, it wasn’t so bad, most classes, but in the hallways or at lunch, someone was always saying something. Asking questions that I wondered why. They acted like they wanted to know but whatever I said, they only made fun of me afterwards. And my face always felt like it was red.
I had liked the challenge of the new school because it had two levels. I liked feeling more grown up, but there was more time away from any teacher’s eyes, and that’s when so much was said and done. I felt like everyone was looking at me and laughing.
“You looking for a girlfriend? No, I bet you want a boyfriend!” One said to another.
The friend laughed, “They want both!”
I didn’t want either. I’d never thought about anything like that! And some of the girls would sit and talk about their boyfriends, and what they did together. And some of the boys would do the same about girls, but each used a favorite word for me, “He-She”, and I got so angry but I couldn’t say anything. They made me sick.
When my dad picked me up from school and asked, “How was your day?”
I always said, “Good,” but when I got in my room and closed the door, I would scratch my nails down my arms until they almost bled and imagined if I could just punch one of them in the face I would feel better. I just wanted them to shut up but they never did. They were like flies, always flying around just bothering you, buzzing in your ears or trying to get in your eyes.
In the second week, two of them in particular would always make fun of me when I went to my locker, theirs was close by. I just tried to ignore them, keep my eyes on what I was doing. If someone had a top locker they were supposed to wait until the person with the bottom locker was finished, if they happened to be there at the same time. It would switch next semester, but one of them had the locker over mine. Though they weren’t supposed to, they moved it over my head one day when I was standing up.
I hit my head so hard I couldn’t help but cry. Instead of helping or apologizing, they laughed at that, too. It bled a lot and I had to go to the clinic and I told them what happened. The nurse spoke to the assistant principal and the girl was spoken to when I was there because she wasn’t suppose to do that, but she didn’t say sorry and didn’t look like it either. It bled for days and I had headaches for a long time after that. Maybe because I’d told, the mocking became more nasty and mean.
The assistant principal told me separately that if someone was bothering me, and I said that they were, that I should go to the school counselor and let them know right away because they didn’t allow bullying. Each time it happened, I was supposed to go tell someone, a teacher or the counselor. I had to go several times a day. They said they were going to make it stop. They said they were going to tell the teachers to watch, and maybe they did, but they didn’t help any either.
Every night I had nightmares about school when I could sleep, about having to go, about their faces, their laughter and finger pointing, the fact they keep saying more and more sexual stuff. I couldn’t understand why the teachers or counselor wasn’t making it stop. These same kids didn’t just bother me, they bothered others, too. If you were different, or smaller, or were foreign looking, they made fun of you. I know I made my dad’s life hell because every morning I would cry or act bad, or pretend I was sick so I didn’t have to go.
“Defense is paper thin. Just one touch and I’ll be in too deep now to ever swim against the current….So let me slip away, so let me slip away….”
And many days we would get in the car anyway, and that song would play. And I would sit lower and lower in my seat, and try to look a little eager, because I knew how bad my dad felt. He didn’t understand. He would tell me that the first year of middle school was always hard, that he had lots of problems, too, and that not many people liked him because he was different. Different like me.
The school counselor said I needed to see a psychologist, that there seemed to be some problems at home. She was a stupid bitch. I don’t say stuff like that outside because I was taught not too but she was, because I told her it was the kids at school, not at home!
I found that nails hurt too much, they ached afterwards in a different way. Something sharp and metal was better. I was angry with the idiot teachers. I was angry with those kids, but I was angrier with myself because I thought I should have been able to say something smart to make them stop. Or something mean, or I should have been stronger. I hated myself for looking too much like a girl. I hated my hair and skin because it made me stand out even more. My grandmother always said how good-looking I was but everyone else said I was ugly. Even though I knew I wasn’t ugly, I wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed, so I could look like them. Then maybe they would stop.
My dad found a psychologist. She was really nice and I liked her okay, and she said there wasn’t anything wrong with me but that I needed to learn coping skills and some techniques to lessen anxiety, and she said I was seriously depressed. She gave me some pills that didn’t help that I could tell.
My dad was furious because the school wasn’t doing anything. Every day, almost every class I had to go to the counselor. My dad wrote the school. He called. They didn’t return his calls or return a reply after the first time. Later, the counselor said the principal had actually told her not to reply to any of my father’s message, that she would “take care” of it. Teachers stopped talking to me, and they stopped talking to him. When I went to the counselor now, she said other children could see my weakness so that’s why they picked on me. She said I needed to get stronger and get a “thicker skin.” She said I should even answer them back, but I was raised not to disrespect others, or call names. Especially racial or sexual names, using words adults used sometimes.
The bullying and harassment got worse, and one day I told the worst boy that said things to me, that I was going to beat him up if he didn’t shut up. He told on me, and I got sent to the assistant principal’s office and got suspended. They didn’t do anything to him though I told them what he’d said, he and others boys in P.E. who were making fun of and talking about my body. I usually didn’t cry at school but that day I couldn’t stop, couldn’t do any work, couldn’t stop shaking. I felt so betrayed. I tried to do all my work, made good grades. I didn’t make fun of anyone, or cause any problems but it seemed like they made everything my fault.
I became so bad, I was having anxiety attacks and would cry and get angry and couldn’t stop myself. I had missed so many days my dad was turned to school services that suggested I go out on medical leave. I didn’t come back after Christmas break. I had gotten suspended the day before anyway. I couldn’t believe they suspended me, and everything he said and did? They didn’t even say anything to him. It was so unfair I wanted to die! I started trying to kill myself. I was afraid of blood though, so I would hit myself in the head or run into the wall to make myself dizzy, so that would hurt worse than what I felt inside. I tried to choke myself because I thought that would be quiet and someone wouldn’t come in and catch me.
Even though I was out from school, what happened still needed to be talked about. The principal never returned any of my dad’s calls until my dad wrote the head of the school board, and miraculously then, the cold looking bitch called the next day, citing family emergencies that had kept her from doing so, but since she’d forbidden the counselor to answer him, and no one else would, I know she was just lying. My dad knew she was lying, too.
You see, my father used to be a police officer before he got hurt, and one day he had to speak to the principal when he was working. The principal had gotten really ugly and tried to threaten his job, but what she’d been doing was wrong, so his warning had been legal, and that had been shown. She didn’t like him, and once she found out he was my father, I knew she didn’t like me either. With the times bullied kids had come in and shot up the school and killed people, my dad honestly told me they probably considered me high risk. He said, though it wasn’t always the case, kids like me didn’t do that. Unfortunately too, this was the time so many young guys who felt they were gay or called gay had committed suicide. Again my father was honest with me, he said he didn’t want me to do that for any reason, especially because of ignorant people.
I didn’t come back through the rest of sixth grade, and tried to come back in seventh but again I had too much anxiety, and it was suggested I be home-schooled yet again. Near the end of the school year, my doctor and psychologist thought that I should go back for the last couple of weeks to get a little confidence before summer break. Before that happened my father had made some important contacts.
He had contacted an organization of family supporters who dealt especially with GLBT young people, and specialized in helping school staff learn how to deal better with these kids because other kids especially picked on them. They volunteered to come to the school and speak with the counselor or have a conference call to discuss some things that could help kids like me.
This principal said HER staff were highly educated and knew how to deal with ALL children and she would run her school as she saw fit. She said how many awards they’d received for achievements and sports, but I thought to myself, but these same kids were making others lives miserable and you didn’t even care! You always congratulated them, but if anyone were different, the teachers and staff seemed to ignore or you treat them in a wrong way.
Because this principal was so stupid, that’s my word for it, both the Guidance Counselor for all the schools and the GLBT support group suggested I transfer to another school. I didn’t want to go back to school in eighth grade, but though it was my heritage and I liked it anyway, I got my hair cut so people wouldn’t automatically start saying things, but I didn’t have to really worry.
My father talked to the new school principal’s and counselor the first day of school after asking for an appointment they immediately granted. The principal was agreeable with all the GLBT supporter’s suggestions, and the counselor…I came to like her so much. I could tell she really cared because she looked at me when I talked. She didn’t say stupid things like the other ones. She was always there for me, and the principal always had a kind word for me even if she was busy and didn’t have time to talk. It wasn’t just for me, either, if a kid was getting kinda picked on or some kids in a class were bothering another, the principal or assistant showed up in that class very soon and talked to everyone. They meant business and I felt proud to go to that school.
I want to know how one school cannot care so much, be so stupid and arrogant and let nasty bullies do whatever they want, but then punish the kids that got picked on and even said it was somehow their fault? And then another school can be so good? How can schools be so different? How can teachers and principals and counselors care so little for some children, ignoring their needs, and treat the secretly bad bullies like they are so great?
I came to hate people like that. I came to hate a lot of things. I hate most kids my own age but I have to admit sometimes it’s because I am afraid of what they might say, and I don’t want to hear it anymore!
My dad says I still shouldn’t be so hard on people, and try to look at things from a different viewpoint, but I only know they did little or nothing to help me and they thought that was okay. Principals and teachers like that are the ones who let kids get bullied so much they kill themselves. Then when the kid is dead they try to say sorry, but they could have stopped it in the first place! And saying sorry or that they’ll now do better won’t bring those dead kids back!
It used to be my favorite song, but whenever I hear that song now (Vindicated), it reminds me of how stupid I was, getting dressed for school and looking forward to going, and how I kept hoping that kids would stop making fun of me and that I might at least have one or two friends, but I never did. The song makes me think of waiting in the drop-off line and feeling like I was going to throw-up because I didn’t want to go in, and how I had to anyway, and how I went from eagerly walking to class the first day of school to walking like a zombie not looking at anyone or responding.
I still love the song. I always liked the words. They used to make me feel so good, but now I listen and I think how false they are, and they were lying like everyone else except my dad maybe. The stuff he said was just trying to encourage me until he really understood how bad it was, and then he was disgusted with that school, its principal and the way people like that are still allowed to stay in their position.
They said I was weak, but I at least know I was stronger than they were. They didn’t break me, and they’ll never break me now. My dad tells me I need to go out of the house (I hate to), that I need to make some friends my age (but I don’t like anyone my age), and that one day I’ll look back and it won’t hurt as much, but then he said that’s not true. Not that last part. He remembers school was like that for him as well, and it can still hurt as much sometimes when you think about it, but that you have to do the best in the present, and make yourself happy and live a life that makes the things they say false, without having to say anything to them at all, ever again.
I am fourteen years old now.
“Slight hope dangles on a string like slow spinning redemption…”
Red’s Notes: Written by my son and I, edited by me, mostly for clarity. Just last week we had another crisis regarding suidical thoughts after an incident. The fight goes on, and sometimes it so frustrating and angering people continue to be so bigoted, biased and hurtful to others, gay or otherwise. I specifically went back to university, studying Psychology, to try to help children like my son and their loved ones. To view the Goodreads.com thread with multiple comments, please click here.
We lost another, Phillip Parker, 14 years old. He recently committed suicide after anti-gay bullying.
The italicized lyrics are from the song by Dashboard Confessional, “Vindicated.”