Here’s the big problem with bullying: Most of the folks upstairs are eager to keep pretending it’s the 1950’s. The standard advice on how to deal with being bullied runs mainly along the lines of going with it and allowing your tormentors to subject you to whatever abuse they have in store today. I told my babysitter on numerous occasions about the shit I had to take. Typical of the reactions: “Just ignore them, and they’ll stop making fun of you when they see that it doesn’t affect you!” “Talk to them about it, they’ll respect that and stop!”
Clearly the advice of someone who was decades removed from not only formal public schooling, but reality. Unfortunately, it also carries a certain form of shortsighted haughtiness one usually feels from Richard Dawkins giving you his step-by-step philosophical analysis for atheism before exclaiming “well, that about wraps it up for god.” That is to say, they’re so convinced they’re right and that this is how the laws of the universe work that they pretend that any afterthoughts you use against them were never even said.
A few days ago, a 14-year-old by the name of Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide on September 18. He had become, for lack of a better term, a kind of petty hero to many area kids and teenagers for his Youtube videos about the importance of acceptance. His uploaded videos on Youtube to assure people in his situation that it gets better and that they’re not alone. Long story short, it didn’t get better for poor Jamey. His final video was a goodbye message. They’re showing it all over the news, but I can’t seem to find the complete video on Youtube. If they took it down, can you really blame them?
Maybe the cuteness and precociousness of the very term “bullying” can be blamed for the way it gets treated. “Bullying” sounds like a petty initiation ritual young boys would instigate onto new inductees for their Private No Girls Treehouse Fort. That seems to be the definition authorities have latched onto, and so they all have adopted the mindset that a good talking-to and a 30-minute tolerance seminar are answers. But let’s de-kidify the idea and peer at what lurks beneath the surface of bullying. Good old Wikipedia defines bullying as a form of aggressive behavior which may manifest in abusive treatment, the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when habitual and involving an imbalance of power. It may involve verbal harassment, physical assault or coercion and may be directed persistently towards particular victims, perhaps on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality, or ability. The imbalance of power may be social power and/or physical power.
Let’s see here… Assault? Abusive? Harassment? Coercion? On grounds that are completely arbitrary? In the grownup world, there’s a term we use for people who perform such acts: Criminals. To be precise, these things are felonies, which if you need reminding are VERY SERIOUS crimes. And the arbitrary grounds which are frequently cause for bullying make the above crimes into hate crimes, which in the grownup world get considerable extra punishment tacked onto already serious punishments.
There you have it: Bullies are basically felons. They attack and subjugate people based on arbitrary differences like sexuality (Jamey was bisexual) or… Physical deformities. Like my right arm.
I see a lot of myself in Jamey. Both of us were relentlessly abused by other kids being paper-pushed through the same public school system (well, technically not the same – Jamey lived in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo, and I lived right in the city itself) and endured a horrid torrent of abuse. Jamey probably heard the word “faggot” a lot. For me, it was “retard.” We both probably resented being woken up in the early morning from escapist slumbers, the only real peace we both knew. I remember my parents going to bat for me, my teachers ignoring my my pleas to such an extent that I gave up, and stretching any sicknesses I contracted for as long as I could. While Jamey and me both had good, caring parents, Jamey had a support network of good friends who happened to be women. One of the reasons Jamey was such a target is supposedly because of his lack of male friends. I would have accepted a support network like that; I had no one. For the worst years of my life, my closest companion was Sonic the Hedgehog. I sought video games for the few times I could escape.
Trying to say bullying is a resolvable problem by asking the bullies to stop beating you up is not only useless, it ignores the psychological scars which stunt kids like Jamey well into adulthood. My first step on the outside of Follow Through Magnet School in Buffalo after receiving my junior high diploma still reigns as one of the sweetest moments of my entire life because I knew I would never have to go back there and endure all manner of vile rumors, vicious insults, and assaults, some of which came from people who tried to act like they were friends. But my experience was destructive and while high school was a lot smoother, I still wasn’t able to make a lot of far-reaching friendships. According to my family, I developed an unwillingness to give people any information about myself, and I periodically lashed out at people who were trying to be nice. Or as my sister put it, I talked like I was angry. It wasn’t until college that I started trying to reach out to people, and I took lessons in acting and a class in public speaking which probably helped a little. I started watching baseball, which allowed me a conversation centerpiece in my baseball-crazed college. But it wasn’t until my move to Chicago that people began to really accept me on my own terms.
It’s sad that Jamey won’t have the opportunity to tell people a similar story to that when he reaches 30. One of our other similarities, apparently, is that Jamey and me have both given serious thought to ending our lives at our own hands. I could have easily done it; lord knows Clarence wasn’t going to drop in to save me because my presence wasn’t making a difference, except to the masochists I saw in school every day. I retreated into a lot of wild, Schwarzenegger-influenced graphic revenge fantasies in junior high. Let’s just say it’s probably a good thing my folks were never gun owners. My fantasies revolved around being the original Columbine killer, so not only would I have killed myself, I would have taken my worst tormentors down with me.
The question is now being presented: Were the people making Jamey Rodemeyer’s life a living hell bullies? No, they weren’t. It’s time we ditched the concept of bulling and replace it with a handful which already exist: Abuse, assault, hatred. Little kids or thinking adults, it all needs to be stomped out of existence.
Jamey Rodemeyer told people that it gets better. If I could have met him, I would have said that very same thing to him.