Sunday, July 17, 2011
I was bullied as a child before it was cool.
When I was growing up, there were no anti-bullying publicity campaigns, no clever slogans, no Dr. Phil episodes, no support groups. It just wasn't cool to be bullied. Awkward, bespectacled, unfortunate-looking, a-social kids these days at least get to feel as though the mental torment, physical punishment, and psychological anguish they're enduring is something special, or at least kind of neat.
I don't talk much about being bullied because I try to imagine that it didn't effect me very much. However, I guess I'm beginning to accept that it's resulted in me being kind of damaged goods. I know this because, whenever I'm out and I'm around thickly-built, sports-oriented guys with square jaws who are kind of loud when they've been drinking, and I see the reddish eyes and the sneering grin and even just a certain type of wardrobe, I get anxious. Afraid. Actually, it's not even that, it's more a feeling of impending doom-- I'm going to get assaulted, either physically or emotionally.
So I try not to be noticed. It's not so easy when you're 6 feet tall and wear neckties with little goats or bunnies on them. You get noticed. I haven't been overtly bullied since college, but I remember it well. I remember a jock asshole using my office shears to trim his pubic hair on my bedsheets, right in front of me, daring me to do something about it. A different person might have waited until he was finished and then jammed the scissors into his jugular or, better, his crotch, but he knew his prey well enough, as experienced predators do. The type of predator who puts up anal porn screensavers on his prey's computer and rubs ejaculate on his prey's doorknob knows his prey well.
He knows. It's part and parcel, you see, of being a predator in the first place.
They tell you you're supposed to advocate for yourself and be assertive. I teach this in the groups in the hospital where I work. And I must sound like an immense fool to these people, who live with profound mental illness, who live on the streets, who live in the real world.
"Be direct in your relationships, voice your opinions, let people know what you're feeling. Tell them, 'I feel angry because you aren't respecting me.' You have to say something."
Tell them, "I feel disrespected because you are clipping your pubic hair onto my comforter."
I went to a training last week. For two whole days. 16 hours. It was a group comprised mostly of individuals with mental illness and/or addiction issues, and a couple mental health professionals like myself. Like most trainings, I expect, it was 90% ridiculous and 10% valuable. One component of the ridiculous came right at the beginning when we were discussing Group Guidelines, how we were to conduct ourselves at the training. One individual suggested something called, "Ouch. Oops."
"If you say something that hurts somebody else in the group, the person whose feelings are hurt says, 'Ouch' and you're supposed to respond with, 'Oops'."
"That's a great idea!" said the facilitator, as she wrote it up on the white board. And I wanted to scream,
"NO!!! THAT'S A TERRIBLE IDEA! You're supposed to be helping these people function and advocate for themselves in the real world, using real, grown-up people language. How the fuck does 'Oops! Ouch!' help anyone? How about, 'That comment made me angry because it was insensitive and thoughtless, and I'd appreciate an apology'?"
But I stayed silent, because, unless I've donned My Masonic Apron, that's kind of what I do best.
The bullying started in elementary school but it's stayed with me. I'm hyper-cautious about what I say and do in public, what I look like, the signals I'm sending through my body language and my off-the-cuff comments. Never say the wrong thing, never make a wave, never stand out too much. Just come in quietly, do your thing, and leave as fast as you can. Every conversation. Every moment.
At mini-golf on Friday night, my wife and I were having a date. She played blithely in her brightly-hued dress emblazoned with depictions of toy robots. She crafted this dress for herself after hours and hours and hours of meticulous labor, and it looks absolutely adorable on her. She's adorable, beautiful, precious. And I am protective of her, and scared that someone will hurt her feelings, because she's different-- even though, in this culture, that's what we're ostensibly encouraged to be.
And I was wearing my blue and pink striped dress shirt and my Converse and my old-man pants.
And we golfed.
Behind us, separated by one hole, there was a bully from my past. Well, not a real one. A douchebag of maybe eighteen or nineteen, there with his rail-thin hottie girlfriend in her gray tank-top and neon green bra straps. They were being loud and obnoxious, tossing around the flags and laughing and cursing and my bully-meter skyrocketed. I peered surreptitiously over my shoulder at them and they were looking at us, looking at my wife. On the 14th hole, they had their cell-phones out, extended in our direction, as if they were taking pictures.
Of my wife.
To put on Facebook.
Ha-ha. Look at this crazy bitch in the robot dress and her skinny dork husband.
This is all in my head, mind you. I don't know what the fuck they were doing, but this is where my brain goes. Thank you, Bullies of Christmas Past.
I wanted to stride up to them and call them on what they were doing but, on the drive home, I talked it out with my wife and came to the conclusion that,
"There's no way that would have gone anywhere good. If I had said, 'Excuse me, are you taking pictures of my wife?' they would have said one of three things:
1.) Uh, no, you superparanoid fuck.
2.) Yeah, we were-- what the fuck are you going to do about it, you little faggot?
3.) Yeah, we were, I really love her dress-- I'm a seamstress and I want to make it for myself.
Any way you slice it, I lose. The game is rigged. It's not like they would have said,
4.) Yes, we were. We're so sorry we were doing that. In our societally-driven lust to find the next meme or thing for people to comment on or "Like" we deliberately invaded your privacy to further our own narcissistic gains, and it was wrong and we hurt your feelings and we sincerely apologize."
Maybe I should have just walked up to them and said, "Ouch" and hope that I would have gotten an "Oops" in return.