Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SURVIVAL Part A: Bullying

As I described in my profile I am a gay man. Having been born and raised in the Midwest, being gay is/was unacceptable. Recently I was looking at some old photographs,  some of which contained images of me. I was struck by the fact that even in photos of as young as age seven or eight years old, my mannerisms appeared somewhat effeminate.

I  guess it should not be surprising that I was made fun of, called a sissy, even by members of my extended family. Of course at such a young age I knew nothing about sexually appropriate behavior, what would be considered masculine or feminine, I was just being myself.

Unfortunately, this "being made fun of" carried over into high school. Now as I reflect upon it, this was bullying, pure and simple. It made my high school days pure misery. I remember one guy in particular, who was in my homeroom who was relentless in his ridicule. He made it common practice to call me fag, queer, and homo out loud infront of thirty students --humiliating. It made me very sad and I felt defenseless.

I suppose as a coping mechanism, I  became what they called in those days a hippie. I grew my hair long and started hanging out with a different crowd of people. Being a member of that group of students, disguised my homosexuality to a degree. At least being a member of the "cool" group, meant my sexuality was not questioned, I was accepted. On the downside of that, we smoked, drank, did drugs and participated in all kinds of distructive behavior. I really believe that in order to escape the persecution of bullies in high school, I turned to a different lifestyle to cover up my sexuality. It worked.

As I became an adult I came to terms with my sexual identity. I also learned to act more masculine. Today I would not consider myself effeminate, nor do most other people.

Further, I met other gay people and discovered that there was an entire population like me. It was a joyous discovery for me. No longer did I feel alone, unaccepted or "different." I moved to Chicago in 1980, a much larger city, where gay lifestyle was more accepted by the general population.

Every time I hear or see stories of young gay men or women "being made fun of," bullied, I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I am catapultated into my past. My heart aches for those young adults and what they are going through. It is a trevesity of epic proportions, that other people through their relentless, inescapable bullying can drive young and even sometimes older gay men and women to suicide.Today with all the avenues of communication, the internet, cell phones, and texting the bullying is impossible to escape. It is heart wrenching for me to hear  of the horror and mistreatment they endure.

We as adults have a responsibility to stop the bullying in our schools and avenues of communication. We begin by modifying our own behavior and subsequently reinforcing it to our children--so that they do not grow up to be bullies. But even that is not enough, our young people must be taught compassion for others who may be diffeent from them. This also should include race, religion, height, weight, socio-economic status, hair color, and sexual preference. You don't have to agree with their lifestyle to realize that making fun  of someone just because they are diferent from you is wrong.

Idolly standing by while someone is being rediculed is like aiding and abetting. You as a human being have a reponsibility to others by interveening in these situations. Your lack of involvement, could inadvertantly lead to another person's suicide.

For me, I found an escape from the bullying by joining a group, as destructive as it may have been, I found relief from bullying. Had the bullying never occurred who know how different my life may have been.  I survived the episodes of bullying by graduating from high school early (I was also a good student). Some however, do not have the fortitude or strength I have and some have succumbed to the torture of bullies.

This torture can manifest itself in a myriad of ways from alcololism, drug addication, self mutalization, and sometimes the ultimate tradegy, suicide. Sad, very sad indeed.  

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