20 April 2008

Bullying: How the "Other" Grows Up

This is from a comment I made on a blog about bullying. It describes some of the physical violence done to me (hence the angry tone), and has a few expletives. If you believe that all bullying is "just a part of growing up", "makes the victim stronger" or that "victims just ask for it", then please, by all means, read this.

I was bullied throughout from kindergarten through 8th grade when I transferred to a charter school whose students are more accepting. Mostly the kids made fun of me because I'm autistic and I don't wear "popular clothes" - just jeans and a T-shirt, can't afford anything else. One girl harassed me for not going to church, which I didn't at the time. There were many rumors that I was a lesbian, which was true but I still denied. They also made fun of my seizures. The worst thing about that year, though, was that the physical violence elements of the bullying I'd experienced all my life intensified much more compared to previous years.

There would be usually five boys ganging up on me, beating me and at times trying to rape me. Luckily I could get away at that point, but it was pretty awful. They would slam my head against the water fountain and the sinks, and push me to the ground, and one time because of this for a week I could barely walk (all the while I had to listen to my sister complain that she needed a chiropractor because of pain from washing dishes). They made fun of my special interests, which at the time were quantum mechanics and UFOs. One thing I learned at this time is that when you're dealing with serious bullying, even when it's still just at the verbal stage, ignoring just makes things worst. Maybe it works with little kids just making typical insults, maybe they tire quick, but I know that I spent three weeks not even acknowledging them, just looking through, and it just persuaded them to up the ante, so to speak, to try to provoke me.

Running away and fighting back were my best bets, though as I was out of shape running wouldn't do me much good (in elementary school and junior high I most often did not get to participate in PE because it was easier for the school to sit me out than to deal with the bullies on the field, and I was in adaptive PE anyway, and motor tasks are difficult to co-ordinate). Fighting wasn't much good, either, since I hadn't been formally trained (though my dad did teach me the right way to punch) as we couldn't afford lessons, and I wasn't nearly as strong as five boys.

When I reported these things to the office (I would litterally spend a couple hours out of class each day in her office pleading to have something done about this, but I was refused the right to file a report, and she would just ignore me, lecture me about the importance of being in class, or tell me it's all my fault because I rock, walk oddly, have seizures, and don't wear designer jeans. Yes this is really what I was told. And they told me I shouldn't defend myself because it doesn't get me anywhere.

Well, as long as they're taking me down, I'm at least going to cut them down a notch too. Cussing at a jerk can be all you have when they otherwise have grabbed so much control over you. Throwing things at them, hitting them, threatening them, sometimes it's all you have to keep yourself from lashing out in more drastic ways. It's been five fucking years and while I no longer have flashbacks and nightmares about it, it still makes me angry.

An exact quote from the counselor: "There are three things you don't talk about: religion, politics, and space aliens". The visiting counselor agreed with a nod and an mm-hm and then added, "Abortion, too". She echoed, "And abortion." These are the people who are supposed to be advising me?! In the United States of America? Fuck that! It's not even me who would bring these things up; I rarely spoke at school before high school, and approaching someone I don't already know to expend the huge amount of energy it takes for me to talk; these people are just unbelievable. They broke into my locker and saw books about UFOs which is why they knew that interest, and I usually had physics books with me.

When I was being bullied ferociously in 7th grade, I told those guys in a serious, yet shaky voice that I wanted to fucking kill them, and that I could do it, too. Not a wise thing, of course, and if I were an adult and knew that someone had said that I would contact the authorities. But because someone says that, while it's wrong and warrants attention, doesn't mean they are the bully whose "fault" this is. I in no way antagonized those kids throughout my life, yet I was driven to that point (though fortunately I was able to resist actually doing something like that - I doubt that I could've done it, even if I had access to a weapon).

It's not okay when you saw a rape victim had it coming because she was attractive, or was in a certain area. Likewise, it's not okay when you blame bullying on the victim because their behavior was odd.

To people who think it makes the victim stronger - when you see and hear people who became stronger for their experiences, mind that these are the ones who survived and who have now overcome it to the point that they can be successful. That doesn't mean they represent the reality of all - or even most - people who are bullied. The only purpose that bullying and discrimination have served me in my life is to motivate me to fight against them.

And, while to some extent "bullying" (as in insults and general nasty things) is a part of growing up. However, being terrified to go to school (or other places, and rightly so), living in an environment where fear and intimidation are your only tutor of social skills, and where you are consistently, sometimes even quite blatantly, told that you are an inferior kind that deserves this treatment - no. This is not "common". This is not "encouragement". This is not "natural".


laurentius rex said...

Well I was bullied, I guess I was bullied at home too, I don't know the memories are still painful.

There are things I just cannot talk about, certainly not in a public arena like the internet.

Do I want revenge on the bullies?

Not now, I had revenge on one of them, the others just grew up, they did not mean what they did, they were no more guilty of the torture they inflicted than I was for being what is the current version of autistic, they were victims too, of something far wider and deeper, something that in essence was perpetuated by the teachers, and the local education authority and ultimately the government, who persist this day in unjustly persecuting difference.

I am still bitter about it no point denying it, and I guess there is still a hate that festers against the authorities that not only allowed it but created the conditions. I do not hate the bullies though, they were innocent, they were victims too.

Axinar said...

Oh, yeah ... I got a staggering amount of crap from classmates.

My grandmother and various teachers always told me, "Now, don't hit them back."

I think it was in fifth grade I pretty much had finally had enough of it and I put one of them in the hospital.

I didn't get any flack from them after that.

I guess it's sort of like how autistics are sometimes sensitive to loud sounds and strange smells.

Same sort of thing with neurotypicals ... they just can't respect you until you've broken at least one of their bones.

abfh said...

What a horrible school. Ugh.

For something more cheerful, I've tagged you for the Five Things Meme.

geosaru said...

laurentius rex: I know what you mean. At first, I really felt I wanted revenge on the bullies. But, as a few years passed, I started wondering why this had left such a scar on me compared to previous years. Sure, it was more intense and pervasive than bullying had previously been, but I was so dramatically affected that year.

I started to realize that it wasn't even what the bullies did that made me so angry, but the way I was told I should just accept it as "the natural order" or something. That year it was just so blatantly obvious that they weren't respecting my rights as a human being the same way they'd do for other people.

That also was the year I realized that the only thing they seemed to care about was my attendance and my test scores; and while just the year previously I invested a great deal of my self-worth in grades, that year I became almost completely apathetic to school. Now I am somewhat more balanced, as I don't view grades or test scores as at all reflecting the worth of a person, but also I am realistic enough to understand that my own goals require that I put up with educational systems. My high school and the college I'll be attending are schools that are far the lesser of evils as far as public schools are concerned.

When I was bullied in first grade I would dream of the bullies being in a fire or other such disaster at school and I was the one to save them. That never happened, though.

Anonymous said...

Death threats, swearing, fighting back. That is exactly how I felt, being bullied horrendously in grades 6-8. But i felt so defenseless, because I really didn't want to get office referrals nor be reported to the cops. The most I could do was rant about why they are full of 909, walk away, tell a teacher, or freeze as still as a statue.

When I told my mom these bullying stories, she told me that I should keep all my obsessions to myself and to just ignore the kids. She knew that I wasn't doing anything wrong, but she thought it would be the best of my interest to fake myself when I got to school. I said "No! I shouldn't have to hide the true me for the acceptance of stupid kids." We got into a few arguments over this, so I promised to never tell her anything of my odd interests again. Luckily now, though, she doesn't really care anymore.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you had such horrible experiences in school. It certainly puts teasing over wearing glasses in perspective.
Schools nowadays are taking steps to address bullying. Some of the things they're doing seem to work in getting kids to accept differences.
Oh yeah! By the way, I loves me some space aliens. And ghosts. I can't get enough ghost stuff.
For Axinar: Not all "neurotypicals" are bullies. And breaking bones doesn't produce respect but it just might land you in the slammer.
-Nora Typical