Friday, March 25, 2011

on bullies and bullying

I re-read Elsewhere to write my story for Welcome to Bordertown. I had forgotten that a subplot is about a couple of gay kids getting attacked. It was inspired by gay friends who had been harassed and beaten.

And it was inspired by being bullied. I remember two bullies in particular, both bad students from working class backgrounds. I was a timid kid, bookish and bad at sports, and in sixth grade, I was fat, so I was just about perfect bully bait. The bullying consisted of insults and shoving and hitting, usually where it wouldn't draw blood. Blows to the face were reserved for the rare times I fought back.

Because I spoke up in school for integration and civil rights, the main name I was called by the first bully and his friends was "niggerlover," but I also heard "Shitterly" and "Yankee" and others. I took pride in "niggerlover" because my family had taught me it was right to love everyone, and "Shitterly" only made me pity them because it was so very unimaginative, but "Yankee" hurt. It said I didn't belong, even though I was born in South Carolina and I had lived in Florida since I was four.

My sixth grade bully added "queer" to the mix of insults. In that time, I seemed effeminate: my fashion inspirations were The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (more Ilya Kuryakin than Napoleon Solo) and the Monkees, and I sometimes carried my books in a briefcase that had been my grandfather's. That name didn't bother me, maybe because the earlier insults had taught me that insults are just what people do when they have nothing else to sustain their conviction; it's the most juvenile form of ad hominem.

When I gained some perspective on my life, I forgave my bullies. They never asked for the things that shaped them.

I've written one story addressed to a bully: Dream Catcher.

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