Bullies: The Wizard of Oz and Tomato Soup

16 Jan

fag bully_peterisms

I originally wrote the following in 2010 and it was later shared on The Bilerico Project and The Huffington Post (thanks to the amazing Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project!)  I ran across it tonight and while re-reading it thought it would be interesting to share again.  Enjoy!

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…

For now,

Peter

 

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.

12 Years of Dread

I had 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; it’s 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!” and refuse to drink their milk. How could they have known something about me that I wouldn’t know till much later in my life. And why was it so important at 6, 7 or 8?

I hid out in the school library and 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. I had people I associated with at school, but no true friends.

This was how it would be for me through the years: people taped horrific pictures to my locker, wrote FAG on my car in lipstick, pushed me, shoved me, called me names, and elicited 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.

School Administrators Look Away

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.

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.

I know my experience isn’t different than many other people, because this week, an innocent young kid walked into my office with a story almost identical to mine although he had been hurt with a shank and his life had been threatened. This isn’t 1990, this is 2010 and things are much, much different.

He was afraid – very, very afraid. 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 was they were doing the best they could. I’ve read the emails between the parents and the school’s vice principal. His lack of responsibility is sickening. Let him live a day in my life in school where I was called a fag, a faggot, a cumhole, and 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, slapped in the face or worse. No one talks to you because they don’t want to be part of that punishment.

Shame on him.

Hold Your Head Up High

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.

Then she showed me a video 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.”

I got it, but it still hurt.

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. I just want a world where children can go to school and sit in class watching the snow fall outside into a blizzard and listening to their teacher read, Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library without praying for a snow day because the kid next to you is hissing “faggot” under his breath… in 4th grade.

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. 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 whomever my imagination yearned to be. 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.

That is the real abuse.

Dorothy and Tomato Soup

I’m not mad anymore. I’m way past 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, everyday life. Twenty years is a long time to hold on to resentments.

One person has reached out and apologized. That made all the difference, because I realize that we all deserve a second chance – even the bullies.

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. 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.

Read more at http://www.bilerico.com/2010/05/bully.php#vF4UhtY9Di2Sod3v.99

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11 Responses to “Bullies: The Wizard of Oz and Tomato Soup”

  1. aguywithoutboxers January 16, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Thank you for publishing this here. It is a modern-day tragedy that many times results in suicide. We often wonder where the young people learn this cruel behavior. All we need to do is to look towards the hateful and homophobic clergy, civic leaders and elected officials who preach bigotry over and over, on a daily basis. Great job!

    • pamonn January 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      I like to think that bullying is partly responsible for making me the strong man I am today! Thanks for reading!

  2. Shell Flower January 16, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    This is really well written, Peter. I’ll never forget that day they wrote “fag” on your car and a lot of that other shit that happened in the hell of high school. It really did make us stronger to face that, but that doesn’t really make it okay. Kids shouldn’t live in fear like that ever. You are making the world a better place by writing about it.

    • pamonn January 16, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

      My friends, and especially you, we’re vital to my enjoying high school and getting through the tough times. Love ya! We were just a group of beautiful freaks!

  3. Adam January 18, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    This post was beautiful. Just beautiful. I feel honored to have read it. It really stunned me with its powerful message. Sadly, I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately, written by gay men, discussing extreme bullying in their childhoods. My heart aches for all of us. I was bullied as well as a child. Why, why, why are we so mean to each other? Really what is the point? One thing you said really resonated with me. My bullies also called me ‘gay’ way before I ever realized that I was. It still seems odd to me. How had they known when I didn’t till much later? Thank you, Peter, for this post. Keep holding your head up high.

    • pamonn January 18, 2014 at 4:14 am #

      Thank you so much! That means the world to me!

  4. Samantha Kuehne January 23, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    This was beautiful. Simple as that. ❤

  5. Rochelle January 24, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    I’m back on your blog again! This piece is so beautiful and sad. Thank you so much for having the courage to write it. You’re amazing and your speaking out about this will help others. I have two little boys now and when I imagine them going through even one day of this, my heart aches. You must be an incredibly strong person. I wanted to share a hopeful story with you. I’ve toured several elementary schools in San Francisco in recent years (about 10) and they are really getting a handle on bullying. The principal at one (who happens to be gay himself – I know, shocker, it’s SF, aka heaven in my opinion, but I digress) . . . he said they even have a system for supporting transgendered kids who want to start cross-dressing and using a different bathroom. Another school there trains all their kids to takes turns serving as “peace ambassadors,” complete with a little uniform. They’re trained to monitor the halls and playground, intercepting fights, bullying or exclusion and to broker peace agreements or get adult help etc. Can you imagine how that seed can sprout in the rest of their life? I think too few kids know how to intervene when they see bullying — adults too — and that’s always been part of the problem. They’re scared to act. I love the idea of empowering them to step in and solve problems. Thank goodness some schools are really tackling it in creative ways. (I know, I know. You kinda expect that in San Francisco but I think it will spread!) Thought you’d be happy to hear about it. Take care, your Hoosier fan in Berkeley 🙂

  6. Raj January 25, 2014 at 1:08 am #

    Hi Peter. This is a beautiful piece. I had my locker next to you for probably most of high school. I don’t remember what I was fully like back then, but after I left, I realized how sheltered life was in that high school — it is amazing how big the world is and how incredible and diverse people are — and how important it is to be accepting of people period. Thanks for sharing and keep doing what you do. Take care.

  7. Kate January 25, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Peter,
    I stumbled upon your blog on one of those start-out-searching-for-bath-towels-and-end-up-reading-about-someone-else’s-life kind of days. My heart hurts from reading how you were bullied, not only for you (of course), but for those countless bullies who sinned against you. What a painful world we live in. I don’t know anything about you, but will tell you that I follow a God Who is grieved by the sin we choose, against others and against Him. I’m thrilled to hear you’ve forgiven those bullies – they can’t hurt you anymore! – and I pray that you KNOW God made you fearfully and wonderfully from conception (Psalm 139:13-14)!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dear Annie, This is How Indiana’s Gay Marriage Ban Will Affect Me | peterisms - January 22, 2014

    […] *Also check out my post about my experience being bullied! […]

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