Recently, with the release of my debut novel The Before Now and After Then, I’ve been asked to write a bunch of guest blog posts about bullying. Most of the bloggers want to know why I created a main character who suffered being bullied and if I myself was bullied when I was growing up. If you’re a reader of my posts then it is probably no surprise that yes, I was bullied during all of my years of school, but what you might find surprising is that today, I’m actually grateful for the bullying.
I can’t speak to the experience of all LGBTQ teenagers, but for this guy, my high school years were a mixed tape of songs both filled with angst and excitement. Already an outsider, I was allowed the opportunity of dancing to my own rhythm and not feeling the necessity of trying to fit in. Of course, there were many times that I thought it would be wonderful to be popular and accepted by everyone, but in reality, I relished the fact that I found comfort in a small group of freaks who were my best friends. They didn’t judge me for who I was and I was allowed to define myself and discovery my own identity any way I desired. If I had been part of that “popular” group, I’m not sure I would have felt so inspired to spread my wings and find the words and songs that liberated my heart. Maybe, I would have been just a bird on a wire, waiting for the turn of the storm.
Flying in a small flock, often solo, I had to take the beatings of the wind and the harsh weather on my own, but it built a strong exterior and forced me to take a look at my feelings. Today, I’m a highly emotional person and I think that is a strong trait. I”m not afraid to actually feel emotions, because for so long I hid them inside until I was in the private recesses of my own bedroom where I could be myself. Often, I danced and found liberation to the beats of the music and the steps of my feet, and often I cried, longing for a love of my own and a world more accepting than where I lived.
Today, I have found that world, and I relish the fact that I might not have recognized it if I hadn’t been bullied, terrorized by words and actions that tore ruthlessly at my inner self. You can only hear those words for so long before they start to become your own reality. Faggot, Homo, Gay Boy, Fairie, Queer, Fudge Packer, Twinkie, Gross, Disgusting…Just Plain Wrong.
That quote that sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me is total bullshit. The art of bullying, to use power to intimidate, is founded in the very medium in which the artist creates. Words are the paint the bully uses to create a manipulated vision on the canvas of the human soul. My canvas was tortured with words that over the years became a thick glop coating the inner beauty of my soul, until I started to claw my way out. Slowly over time, the picture changed until even the nastiest parts became beautiful and it became a painting that I could even admire and enjoy.
It was important for me to write a character who was being bullied because that was my experience. It was also my experience that being bullied was only one part of my experience, much like my character Danny. It didn’t define me and in fact, helped me to grow as a person. I wanted other teenagers to realize that bullying doesn’t have to be your whole story, it only has to be a chapter, wedged between a love story mixed between the music of a beautiful soundtrack.
The art of bullying is not just painted on the canvas of gay teenagers either. Husbands, sisters, employers, co-workers, strangers, pastors and even best friends can sometimes paint the harshest words with the lightest stroke of their brush. Compassion, understanding and kindness, from the bullied, is often the way out for both the bully and their victim. Through the years I’ve had the privilege of knowing many bullies and their stories are deep. Their pain fills the chapters of almost every story of their lives.
Someday, I hope those that have struggled like me, will claw their way out and start painting their own picture, turning the harsh words into a beautiful portrait. You are not those words and you are not the pain, but you can become the painter anytime you want. Life is waiting for you, don’t stand in the way of your own story.
Oh yeah! And go buy my book. It’s getting pretty amazing reviews and write-ups. Check it out at the places below!