Thursday, March 05, 2020


A Facebook friend recently posted a request that people share their experiences being bullied. And, having been horribly bullied as a child, I thought about responding there until I saw some responses that made me think, and respond here instead.

The responses that I saw had very little to do with the actual bullying (which appeared to be in the form of ridicule) and quite a lot to do with the reasons for being bullied.

Now, I was made fun of, sure. I was called Gomer, Shrimp, a great many experimental racial epithets that didn't really work (my schools were overwhelmingly Black and I was a minority White), and quite a few other things. The names never made much of an impression on me. But I was also stuffed in more than one locker, given a "swirly" (held head-down over a toilet while it was flushed), given an "atomic wedgie" (if you don't know, you don't want to), and physically pushed around quite a bit. Until my Junior year I was among the (if not the) smallest guy in my class, and at graduation I still weighed under 120 pounds (that's 8-1/2 stone). But my retrospection also yielded this interesting fact:

No bully ever lied to me.

This, I think, is the major reason I had no problem with the names.
  • They made fun of me for being small. I was small.
  • They made fun of me for being weak. I was weak.
  • They made fun of me for being smart. I was smart.
  • They made fun of me for liking Star Trek. I liked Star Trek, long before it was fashionable.
  • They made fun of me for being weird. I was weird. I made puppets, and did magic, and drew pictures, and read fat books from the adult section with no pictures, and wore boring clothes and Pro-Keds, and kept to myself.
No bully ever told me that I was something I wasn't. And my take-home message was never to not-be the things I was. I couldn't help being small or weak or smart, for instance; and I wasn't about to give up liking Star Trek. Rather, my response was to recognize that these were the attributes I had to work with. I got jobs where being small and weak didn't much matter, and I grew up a bit physically over time. I used my intelligence to stake out work in areas where I could in some small way advance technology and get us just a little bit closer to the Star Trek universe I loved. And I realized that my weirdness just makes me distinctive and memorable. Kids make fun of weird, but adults are intrigued by it.

I was helped along by the fact that my parents were neither blind nor foolish. They knew I was small and weird. They never told me I was something I wasn't, or that I wasn't something I was. They acknowledged me, very matter-of-factly. In my house it wasn't weird to be weird. Nor was it weird to be not-weird (like my brothers). My parents were a lot more honest with me than guidance counselors, who lied incessantly, with facility and transparency, and were easily ignored because of it.

But as for the bullies, not one ever lied to me.

The physical abuse I received was embarrassing and uncomfortable, but I was fortunate in that it was non-destructive. I was never physically injured, so I rarely think about it, and never with dread. The name-calling...? That was the most negligible, easy-to-dismiss of abuses. Because every word of it was true. And it taught me to see myself as others see me, but more importantly it taught me not to lie to myself. Today I can look in a mirror and see someone who's still weird, and still smart, but old and grey and fat, and own it. Being overweight reminds me of the years when I couldn't afford to eat... I don't mind it a bit. Old doesn't mean decrepit and fossilized. What it does mean is someone with a shit-ton of hard-won life experience. I'm not about to whip out the Botox and Grecian formula to cover that up. It's mine. I own it. And I use it.

So... your mileage may vary. Your experiences may differ. They're yours, not mine. For my part, I'm not going to look back and name names and dish out micro-retribution on social media. My bullies know who they were, and that they're not my bullies anymore. They were kids being kids and they don't have to feel bad about it for the rest of their lives anymore than I have to carry around silly names for the rest of mine. But they do deserve a shout out for being honest with me. The least I can do is be honest about that.