Today, I witnessed something that broke my heart. Every day, I walk by the many kids that go school here in Midtown Manhattan. I see bullying and name calling all the time. For the most part, it seems relatively harmless, especially when the kid being picked on can fight back a bit. I usually roll my eyes and keep walking, avoiding the after school energy of these 13 and 14 year olds. Today, however, I witnessed bullying of a different kind. The kind that churns your stomach and makes your truly angry. I was walking out of my building when I saw a group of boys throwing around and singling out another boy. When the victim tried to walk away, one of the others spat at him and called him a "faggot." I yelled to the kids the only thing that could come to my mind, "Don't use that word. Back off!" I wish these words had helped the situation, but the poor boy who had been harassed seemed to be more embarrassed than before. The look on his face hasn't really left me since that moment.
The sad part is, the story I just told is so common, it almost feels cliche to write about. Somehow bullying has become something that everyone simply accepts. We're told not to write about bullying in our college essays or papers because it's too "typical" no matter what kind of an impact it's had on our lives. I don't believe this is an issue that can be belittled so easily.
Perhaps the main reason I was so deeply affected by what I saw today is because of what I went through in my own childhood. Believe me, I'm not writing any of this for pity or for reassurance. :) It was a long time ago and I'm doing fine now! But for anyone reading this blog that has either been a victim of bullying or has ever bullied someone else, I feel the need to write a bit of my own experiences.
When I moved to San Francisco, I was 12 years old. I left behind many friends and a huge public school to move into a much smaller community. Much smaller. There were 12 other boys in my grade. All of them had known each other since kindergarten. The situation was hardly ideal.
At the time I was your typical over-wheight, pimply, awkward pre-teen with braces. An image that I only became aware of when I entered a class of boys that didn't even want to relate to me. They skateboarded, I painted. They listened to all the "cool" bands, I thought Ella Fitzgerald's music was the coolest thing I'd ever heard.
To make a long story short, I have never been more miserable. They were cruel in ways I didn't think were possible beyond the text of a bad teen movie. I never once heard my name, only the words "faggot", and "bitch." I was beaten up regularly. Once, I left class to get a drink of water, only to be beaten out-cold with a text book by a class mate of mine. Over the years at this particular school, I withdrew from everyone around me including my family. No one could help. If I tried to be like them, I was a "poser." I remember I bought a pair of baggy Jenco jeans and skateboard. My classmates laughed at the jeans and stole the skateboard. If anyone tried to help me, I was made fun of for needing the help. The sad part was, most of the time, no one helped. The day I hit rock bottom was when a group of boys continuously spat on me in front of my PE teacher. The teacher chose to blatantly ignore it, the more disgusting the behavior became.
When you're 13 and you truly believe that there is nothing you can do to be happy, it's a very scary place. At that age, you don't have the maturity to know that there is so much more to look forward to. With the help of my family and the finding of a new community, I was fortunately able to move forward. In many ways, I believe that theatre saved me. I found something new, I found people I could relate to, and I found my passion. When I hit high school, I stopped caring about what others thought (and went through some pretty wild stages of styles to prove that...really...) and often got myself into trouble calling out other students and talking back to teachers when they would try to make an example at another student's expense. This trait has followed me today. I have a big, brutally honest mouth and a very low tolerance for what I like to refer to as "bullshit."
The point is, you need to trust yourself. I knew that I was going to be fine as long as I went after the things I wanted. To this day, the moments I am most unhappy are the moments I doubt myself and listen to any one's "bullshit."
It's so easy to get caught up in bullying. Everyone is guilty of it. It's human nature to put others down to raise your own status. Speaking from experience, this is so damaging to the person you are putting down along the way. It's a sad game.
As the boy walked away with tears in his eyes today, I wanted to call out to him. I wanted to tell him that it was going to be okay. That everything he was going through was bullshit. That none of it mattered. I've been so upset since that moment because I know that no matter how many times people said all of this to me when I was in his position, I refused to believe it.
It is true. I don't care who you are, there is a community and a passion out there for you. There are people like you who will relate to you and support you. I am painfully aware of how cheesy all of this sounds but for god's sake, celebrate your individuality! Own it! I promised myself I would move to New York and do what I am doing. When I realized that everything else along the way was bullshit, I refused to let myself down. I don't give a flying fuck what those kids thought back then, I was a cool dude. Yeah, I had man boobs and haircut that made me look like I was Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, but I was having a great time until I let someone tell me not to. I'm sure the boy that walked down 9th ave today, so upset, has something very special to offer.
I know I'm being preachy, and I'm sure this entry will be met with rolled eyes by a few people who read it. But if you're reading this and you can think of a person who may be hurting from any kind of harassment, try to reach out to them. Trust that you don't need to put other people down to raise yourself up. That's bullshit. If you're someone who is dealing with this kind of harassment and is wondering if it will ever go away, know that it will. This is just one moment of your life. Own whatever "quirky" or "strange" traits you may have. I promise you will be so much happier for it.