We have this amazing little girl that lives next door to us. Everyday when we take the puppies out she comes running over, filled with stories about her two younger siblings and frustrated that our oldest dog won’t let her catch him. She is 6. Today, I came home and she was dressed, from head to toe, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, complete with sparkling ruby red slippers. Her hair was tied back in braids and she was carrying a basket on her arm as she ran around the backyard, her sister, dressed like a beautiful princess in pink taffeta, chasing her around, reaching for her in the wind.
And I thought…what a wonderful thing to be a child.
But not for everyone.
Not for me.
I did have a great childhood, even magical at times, but school was often a place I dreaded and feared going to on a daily basis. I loved lunch time in elementary school, especially the cold, autumn days right before Halloween when we would glide into the gym which doubled as a lunch room to find bowls of tomato soup already waiting for us at our tables with peanut butter sandwiches, still one of my favorites to this day. Yet, those beautiful memories are glazed with the most hideous of scenes. Daily, the boys of my table would hold up their homogenized printed milk cartons and say, “see, homo just like you”, refusing to drink their milk. How could they have known something about me that I wouldn’t even know til much later in my life. And why was it so important at 6, 7 or 8. Which is probably why I hid out in the library of our school and into the pages of The House with a Clock in It’s Walls and Are You There God It’s Me Margaret. Those characters were my friends, because honestly, I didn’t have any.
Well, I had people I associated with at school, but no true friends. And this was how it would be for me, through the years, being called names, having people tape horrific pictures to my locker, write FAG on my car in lipstick, push me, shove me, call me names, elicit fake sexual innuendos. Several guys in my high school class even went so far that in our Senior Wills to our class, they gave me to the football team…ahhhh, what a gift! To be gangbanged by an entire football team. How funny. How humorous. How degrading. I was even afraid to walk across the stage at graduation for fear that my mother would be privy to what I had dealt with for 12 years if someone were to shout something at me on that sacred day. Thankfully, it never happened.
But the above…it all happened. Every day. Every year. After year. And not one teacher did anything. Not one administrator. No one. Not one damn thing. And that…is abuse.
But I made it, and thankfully am probably stronger than I would have been otherwise. And they were right. I am gay, but I didn’t need it shoved in my face. They made it the last thing I wanted to be. And I know my experience isn’t different than many other people, because this week, an innocent young kid walked into my office with almost the identical story to mine. Although he had been hurt with a shank and his life had been threatened. Because this isn’t 1990, this is 2010 and things are much, much different. And he was afraid. Very, very afraid. And he told me the only place he felt safe was at home. And that resonated in me to a level I hadn’t expected, because home has always been my safety net. And yet, he was even being threatened that he would be hurt at his home by some boys who promised to come there and get him.
The school’s response…they were doing the best they could. I’ve read the emails between the parents and the school’s vice principal. His lack of taking responsibility is sickening. Let him live a day in my life in school where I was called a fag, a faggot, a cumhole, a slut. A day where his safety is jeopardized as he is pushed into lockers, fingers hurt as he scrapes down stairs or across the floor. Food trays pushed onto the floor, books pushed out from under you, being slapped in the face…or the worst. No one talks to you because they don’t want to be part of that punishment.
Shame on you.
When I finally had the talk with my mom, she told me she wanted me to give her the names of all of the people who had done this because she was going to call their parents and tell them what their children were really like. I was 22. I told her it wasn’t necessary.
And then she showed me a video of an interview with Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, where she was asked, “When you walk down the street and someone calls you a nigger, what do you do?” And she eloquently responded, “I hold my head up high, because I refuse to be a victim of their oppression.” And I got it…but it still hurt.
And then Alex taught me that these are just words and we give power to words. He doesn’t understand why I get so riled by these words…but then again, our experiences are different. And I just want a world where children can go to school, and sit in class watching the snow fall outside into a blizzard, listening to their teacher read, “Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library”, and not pray for a snow day because the kid next to you is hissing “faggot” under his breath…in 4th grade.
And maybe my Dad’s to blame, because when I was four he knew how much I loved Wonder Woman so he made me a Wonder Woman costume complete with a lasso of truth and I proudly wore it around the house, carrying my raggedy ass baby doll. And I never wanted to be a woman. I still don’t, hell, I’ve never even dressed up as one. I just wanted the opportunity to spread my wings and be whoever my imagination yearned to be. And maybe I wanted to be Dorothy…but I didn’t. I was told who I was by those kids. And somewhere deep, deep down. I believed it.
And that…is the real abuse. And I’m not mad anymore. I’m way passed all of that. I’ve forgiven those guys and girls that made my life miserable every day for 12 years. In some strange ironic twist, they gave me the strength that I posses today. The strength that got me through my 15 years of recovery, my mother’s death and well, just everyday life. And 20 years is a long time to hold on to resentments. And one person has reached out and apologized…he knows who he is. And that made all the difference, because I realized that we all deserve a second chance…even the ones being bullied.
So today I stood out on our back porch and watched those girls run around the backyard, all dressed up and spinning around in the sun and I envied their childhood. And I don’t want to dress up as Dorothy, but I do want a world where we can be who we want to be and smile at each other over tomato soup and try to be a little kinder to each other every day…because you know, we’re on borrowed time as it is…