This past week my social network sites have been full of news clips about Ronin Shimizu, the 12 year old boy who took his own life due to bullying for being on a youth cheerleading squad. I see so many of these stories anymore that I almost feel immune, probably like many others, to the reality that the pain of bullying still exists in our society. For some reason though, I couldn’t rid my mind of Ronin’s face. In pictures of him cheerleading, he looked so happy and so full of life that I couldn’t take my thoughts off of the fact that a 12 year old…12 year old, had killed himself, for any reason.
Obviously, I’ll never know what took him to the edge but it did remind me a lot of the turmoil and brutality that I faced on a daily basis in school. My story of bullying is no different than many people out there but I do question why I survived while so many other people didn’t make it. Our stories and support networks seem very similar at times, but I just don’t remember suicide ever being an option in my mind.
I do remember feigning illness for days so I didn’t have to go to school. I do remember my locker and later my car being vandalized with words like fag, faggot, homo, etc being scrawled across the metal in lipstick or sharpie marker. I remember being verbally assaulted with these same names and the “jocks” in my school even making fun of my name by referring to me as “Pater”, as if I wouldn’t know they were talking about me. In our senior wills, several of them even made a joke of my existence. I remember being scared to go to public events with my parents, out of fear that they would witness they same brutality I had learned to deal with regularly. I remember being made fun of for how I dressed, walked and talked. Sometimes, I still am, but as a successful adult, those insults don’t seem to have the same power and maybe I’m not looking for the same validity. The more I think about it, I remember times my parents did contact the school for issues I had with other students and I was instructed to ignore the insults.
But for me, the most profound moment ever was when an obviously lesbian math teacher called me a fag under her breath to two football players, her obvious need as an adult for their approval. How completely sad and pathetic. If we as adults miss opportunities for teaching experiences we’re really missing out on the purpose of life.
It makes me think a lot about Ronin and the fact the news is reporting that his parents contacted the school several times for the bullying and it was dealt with per their “protocol”. What is this protocol? Is it correct? Is it powerful enough? Because to me, I think that if someone is being bullied to the point of seeing suicide as an option, the consequence to their bullies should be expulsion. Period.
Having worked with teenagers for most of my adult life, I’ve been pretty compassionate and tolerant for bullies, understanding that they have their own issues to deal with and maybe that’s how they display them. But I don’t care anymore. I’m not OK with one more child dying so that we can make up a bunch of excuses about what was done or should have or could have been done. It needs to change now. Kids need to realize that suicide doesn’t have to be an option.
I’m not even sure people want to stop bullying. Schools implement these crap standards but do they mean anything? I didn’t and wouldn’t have gone to anyone to talk about being bullied. Part of being gay and having the shame of being gay was realizing that I had to endure that kind of abuse; but no longer.
This past year I wrote a book, The Before Now and After Then, about a gay teenager because I wanted to share part of my story and write a book that I would have wanted to read when I was in high school. I’ve been asked on many occasions why the bullying is present in my life but it isn’t a focal point and the answer is simple. The bullying I endured became like a rash that wouldn’t go away; it was there and it bothered me but I forced myself to get used to it. That is the truth about bullying.
When my book came out, I contacted over 50 high schools and 20 colleges in my state as well as the local LGBTQ youth group about coming and speaking about my experiences, my book and about how to help LGBTQ kids accomplish their dreams. The youth group never responded, even after several emails to the director. Neither did the youth groups of surrounding states. Of the 50-60 schools I contacted, only 3 high schools responded and 2 colleges and the follow up was not great.
I had offered my involvement free of charge, obviously.
So I wonder, do people really want to stop bullying or make things easier for kids suffering from bullying. My experiences with the school systems is small, but I’ve heard the same from other people. What really are schools and organizations doing and are parents really getting involved? I only hear from parents after the fact so I don’t know. I do know that if you’re a parent of someone who is bullied for being different or unique you are in a very lonely place.
I was always an eccentric kid, but I was lucky enough to have parents and family who didn’t question my desires and supported my passions. One year, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. To many fathers this would be absolutely terrifying. To my father, a conservative Republican with love in his heart and an understanding of the human condition, he went out and made me a complete Wonder Woman costume, complete with a golden lasso of truth. It is those moments of my youth that taught me to love myself and realize that anything is possible, even my being Wonder Woman.
Sometimes I wish I still had that lasso of truth and that I could throw it around all of these supposed do-gooders and supporters of anti-bullying campaigns. Maybe I’d call their bluff. Maybe I’d just look at them and smile knowing what was true in their heart. I think for us who really want to fight the fight, we must start taking risks and doing something about these atrocities. Bullying in our country is a war. I’m not big on talk, I’m big on action. I find it today in the teenagers who are out there making a difference, fighting these issues from the heartland. They are my heroes. Ronin is my hero, even though he isn’t with us anymore. I always wanted to be a cheerleader, just like him, but I never had the guts. And maybe this summer, when the moon is full and the air is still, I’ll do a cartwheel in my front yard just for him!
Shine on little guy, shine on…