I want to talk about bullying. But I’m struggling with it, because even now, when I am in a safe, happy place in my life, when I am bully free and strong, I still feel hurt and fear. Just thinking about what I suffered at the hands of bullies plunges me back into all of those emotions, even though rationally I know that I am safe and strong.
But I HAVE to talk about it. Because not only is it good for me personally to voice all of these demons that bother me, but because being open about it, putting out there into the world what people are suffering every single day, and calling it out for what it is, is needed to help battle the very deeply ingrained bully culture of our world.
Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post.
Bullying is by no means a new thing. It happened to me all my life and I’m 38 this month. As a child, as a teen, and yes, even as an adult. And I know it’s been happening for so long in history one couldn’t pinpoint an origin. But I do think that it is particularly vicious in our time now. I’m not saying it’s at it’s most vicious now, or that it we haven’t had equally/more vicious periods of bullying in our history. I do think it comes and goes in cycles perhaps, as society finds excuses, until the inevitable backlash comes along. It’s time for that backlash now.
I am of course, right now, spurred on by the It Gets Better project, which is in response to the suicide of several young gay men who were bullied to the point of losing all hope. However, while I do want to send a message of support out to the young queer folk out there, and talk to them about the bullying they go through, I want to broaden this to anyone who has suffered, or is suffering at the hands of bullies. Whether that be because you are GLBT, fat, shy, female, small, different, just an easy target… whatever reason the bullies have chosen you, I want to talk to you in this post. And that goes to those of you who have been bullied in the past but are doing ok now.
So let’s start with my story.
As I mentioned, I was bullied my whole life. I came from an abusive home, so perhaps I already had the mark on me of being a suitable victim. I don’t know, but it definitely started before I got fat, so it’s not just my fatness that was the reason. I can remember being pushed over at Kindergarten by a boy who was bigger than me on more than one occasion, for no good reason that I knew. When I went to primary school, I got it there. Menaced by bigger boys for any money I might have (which was very little if any), or my stuff, even if it was cheap and crappy. I was made fun of for being poor, for being dirty, for being fat (even before I was fat), for being stupid (which I have never been), or just because I was available for bullying. When I got a little older I would stand up to the bullies if they targeted my younger brother, but if I was just on my own, I seemed to lack the confidence to do so. They would push me around, throw food or anything else gross they could think of at me, steal my school stuff and hide it or destroy it, make fun of how I looked or what I was wearing, or lie to teachers and get me in trouble when I hadn’t done anything.
But, in primary school I had friends, a couple of lovely teachers, and my beloved school library (complete with teacher-librarians who I still idolise today), so I survived. It was much harder surviving what was being dished out at home than dealing with what was happening at school.
When I got to high school, things changed. I got fat. Puberty hit at the end of primary school so I was far more developed than my peers. Added to the mark I already seemed to have on me labelling me as a perfect bully victim, it equaled 5 years of living hell. For the first time, the girls started in on me. Say what you like, boys might be rougher and bigger, but girls are far, far more vicious bullies. There was one girl who had a pair of twin sisters as friends. Think of the two oafs that Draco Malfoy has as his henchmen in Harry Potter… Crabbe and Goyle. That’s what these two twins were like. Twice my size, mind numbingly stupid, but would do anything that the Malfoyesque girl told them to do. They beat the shit out of me. They burnt my stuff. They followed me home (across the street from the high school, fucking great huh?) and stood there on the corner for hours on end, menacing me. They told the older boys that I liked them and that I’d sleep with them for money. They rang the school pretending to be a concerned parent and dobbed on me for doing things I didn’t do. They told my violent father that they caught me smoking. They stole my lunch and ground it in the dirt. They cornered me in the girls toilets and forced me to stick my fingers down my throat until I vomited, and told me that I had to do that after every meal because I was so fat and disgusting. They found a boy to piss on me, which he would do every couple of days. They got other boys to ring my house and ask me out, and then laugh at me no matter what reaction I had. They spat on me, they stole my school books, they tore my school uniforms, they just never fucking stopped. All the while the main girl just told them what to do, and spewed hateful words at me.
One day when I was about 14, something snapped. I lashed out with a steel ruler that I happened to have in my arms with my school books, and hit the main girl across the face with it. I was horrified but I had just snapped. The deputy principal took me into his office and said “I know you’re not that girl, you’re not violent. But I know what goes on at home, and that you don’t want to be that person. Don’t ever come back into my office for this reason again.”
They never bothered me again. In fact, even the oaf twins gave me a wide berth.
But the bullying didn’t stop. Older kids stepped in. Boys got worse. They grabbed my breasts, forced me into corners and grabbed my crotch. They pulled down my pants. They asked me out and then screamed with laughter at the mere thought of dating me. They spat on me, pissed on me, threw dog shit at me, you name it.
I changed schools in my Senior year because my mother moved us to a new town. The bullying happened there too, just with different kids. But they could have been the same kids. They looked and sounded like the same kids to me.
Teachers never helped. They told me not to be so sensitive, not to engage with the bullies, not to take things so seriously, to mind my own business, to get a hobby, to lose weight, to apply myself better in school. My parents didn’t care, they were too busy fighting each other and bullying me themselves.
By the time I was 16, I wanted to die. It was the only way I could see an end to it. But for some reason, I never did it. I just wanted dying to happen, I couldn’t do it myself.
After I left school, there were some good years, but soon after more bullies found me. One of my first full time bosses bullied me for fun. A neighbour bullied me. I had some more good years. Then a colleague bullied me for a couple of years that were absolutely hellish, and which only stopped when a bullying complaint was filed on my behalf (when I simply asked for help) and while that complaint was dismissed because of a technicality, for some reason the bullying stopped too.
I got help with my self esteem and the depression issues (which I believe are part chemical, part result of constant abuse and bullying my whole life). Things are good for me now, and I know I would never, ever take the shit that I once used to tolerate. But in those bad years, time and time again I wished for death to claim me, a few times I got to the point of attempting it myself.
So I know, oh believe me I know how it feels.
Now, to those of you who are young and think it never ends. It does. You are not what they say you are. You are not worthless, ugly, disgusting, gross, nothing. You will survive this. And it WILL get better. Please, please don’t give up. Talk to someone. Call or email something like The Trevor Project, or Kids Helpline, or Lifeline, or something else in your state/country along those lines (anyone who knows any services, please share links in the comments). But hang in there. Hold your head up and know that you DO deserve better.
And I promise you this. I am working to MAKE it better. It’s not fair of people to just say “Hang in there, it will get better.” without doing anything to make it better. You shouldn’t have to just ride it out and tolerate being bullied. But if you can hang on, I and a lot of other people who care, will work to make it better, to change things. I will fight to change the cultural attitude of permitting bullying, or excusing it. I will ask others to stand beside me in that fight. It has to change.
Now to those of you who are adults and have suffered bullying in the past. Or those of you who maybe have or know kids you’re worried about when it comes to bullying. I need to talk to all of you.
It’s not right that we ask kids to hang on, to suffer through the bullying with the vague promise that “it gets better”. We need to MAKE it better. We need to teach our own children, and all of those around us, that bullying is never, ever acceptable. I’ve seen posts over the past couple of days saying that bullies do so because they hate themselves, or because they’re the victims of abuse at home themselves, and a myriad of other reasons. I’m here to say that while I care that people feel this way, I DO NOT ACCEPT THOSE EXCUSES.
I hated myself my whole life, until I was past 35. I came from a violent, abusive home. Lot’s of us did/do. Lots of us have things in our lives that made/make us miserable, but do we turn to bullying to deal with that? No. Because we know it’s just a very pathetic excuse to be a cretin.
I do not accept any justification for bullying. I am not going to give bullies sympathy and hugs. Not until they stop bullying. If and when anyone chooses to be a good human being, and to treat others with basic respect, then I will encourage them and support them until the ends of the earth. But so long as someone is bullying others there need to be decent repercussions for that behaviour. We need to stop making excuses and enabling bullies. We need to speak up and say it is unacceptable, over and over and over again. We need to tell our friends, our families, our colleagues that bullying behaviour is not acceptable. We need to work to make it better for the kids that are coming up behind us. We cannot let the same injustices happen over and over again.
It’s time we stood up and said loud and clear that bullying is NEVER acceptable. Change takes time, but we have to stand up and start making that change. The kids of today will join us down the track, and more and more after them.
Let’s not expect young people to just suffer through bullying. Let’s make a difference.