Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Take Back Your Power

Bully (noun) a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.

Bullies. We've all met one. We've either been part of those bullied or part of those bullying! Bullies are people who feel powerful when they put down someone else in front of a group of their peers. They thrive on the high that the laughter gives them. It feeds their ego and lets them know they’re alive.

I was raised in Carlisle County, a small county in the western part of Kentucky. I went to private, Christian school from 1st – 8th grades. In the fall of 1985, however, everything changed. I started public school. I hadn’t been in a classroom with any of my eventual classmates since kindergarten. I knew them. It was impossible not too in a county small enough to have less than 300 hundred students in the entire high school. So even though I had known some of them my entire life, as neighbors or neighborhood kids, I was the new kid. Let the picking begin.

Queer, faggot and sissy were their words of choice for me. I hated it. I hated it so much that there were days that my stomach was in knots just driving to the high school. I dreaded walking in the doors or down the hall. I dreaded walking into a classroom. I dreaded drawing attention to myself. Yes, attention whore me dreaded drawing the focus of someone in the classroom that would willingly, under his breath, call me some derogatory name just loud enough to incite laughter from those around him. Sometimes I think about the people who used up their energy deciding what to call me or what bit of nastiness to write on a piece of paper they planned to stealthily tape to my back. What if they had just taken the time to get to know me? Maybe we could have been friends.

I love clothes. I loved them then too. I would get made fun of for my clothing choices. I just couldn’t stand to dress like everyone else. I had to have something that was a little more trendy or out-of-the-norm. I needed to stand out. Of course, that ensures you’re going to draw attention to yourself. I might as well have ironed a bulls eye on to the back of every article of clothing I owned. There are no wallflowers in the world wearing this year’s hottest runway look. Wallflowers blend in. They don’t want to be noticed. They don’t want to stand out. I wanted to be noticed, but I hated what came with the noticing. So much of my life has been spent drawing attention to myself. Whether it's the clothes I'm wearing or the song I'm singing or, like now, the blog I'm writing.

The bullying that happened to me was mostly verbal insults. Sometimes the insults were words written on my locker. Once, in the locker room preparing for PE class, a basketball was thrown directly at my face. It hit its target! There was an instance at one of our dances where someone keyed the entire length of the hood of my parents' Monte Carlo SS. Jealousy? Trying to teach me a lesson? Who knows? Insecurity is probably more like it – the need to feel like the big man keeping the smaller in his place. Of course, the keying was done in the dark and to this day I don’t know who did it. Bullies are cowards, you know. They need the darkness or a group for strength. I was even bullied by my dad. I now know that his words were from a place of insecurity and fear. The man loves me. He always has. He just didn’t know what to make of me then.

I did have a few friends in high school who were genuinely nice to me. I can even call them my friends to this day. It took a long time to let them into my current life though. High school is a crazy, formative time. The desire for acceptance and popularity, with that group of people, is hard to shake off. I don't attend my high school reunions and I hardly ever make an effort to see anyone I graduated with, but it is getting easier and easier to hit the "accept" button on a friend request. I think it's because I’ve grown and am much more comfortable with myself. I like me most of the time and am happy with my choices. Life is still a learning experience. Just because I got the diploma doesn’t mean I stopped learning. I also have hope that former classmates might actually see that I'm a smart, sensitive, funny, creative, talented man that just happens to be gay.

As a young, closeted gay man, I was terrified of my sexual feelings and of burning in hell for eternity because of them. It was lonely with no one to talk to about it. I couldn't tell my parents I was gay and I was embarrassed to tell them about the name-calling. I couldn’t tell any of my friends about being gay either. And if I was going to hell, how could I talk to God? There was one instance I can remember clearly. I was in my bedroom in Bardwell, Kentucky, and I poured a bottle full of some antibiotic into my hand. I was crying. The reason for that day’s tears eludes me now, but I can still see that pile of pills in my left hand. For the splittest of seconds I wanted to take them all. Who knows what would have happened to me. I do know this much, I'm so thankful that I didn't take them. I'm so thankful that I'm still here to live life. I'm thankful to have met my niece and nephew. I love being their uncle. I’m thankful to have found love, once. I’m thankful to have an honest, adult relationship with my parents as an out, gay man. I'm thankful to have had more laughter and tears with my sister. I'm thankful for the cousins who turned into friends. I’m thankful to have chosen New York City as my home. I am envious of the kids today that have the strength to just be who they are. It's so courageous and honest. On the other hand, my heart breaks for those who feel they can’t be who they are and end their lives.

So I was picked on. Yes. Do I still hold a grudge about it? Sure, sometimes – I’m human. But high school ends. It’s not the be-all-end-all of your life. There is so much more out there to live for. I made it through high school and progressed to a wonderful, friend-filled college experience. Now I live in New York City and can follow any path I choose. I am simply an example of one person who stuck with life and moved on from the bullies of high school. Life is better.

Honestly, I’m still scared of bullies. They can be more terrifying now. They can take the form of: world leader, local politician, MTA worker, preacher or drug pusher on the street corner. I keep alert and aware at all times. Even with all the strides made in acceptance and equality, the world is full of scared, insecure bullies. But hey, they can only have power over us when we give it to them.

Take back your power!

©2010 Michael Rohrer