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Confessions of a Schoolyard Bully

Cross-posted on Daily Kos

I have never endured a more difficult experience than the cliquey, judgmental, make it or break it middle school crowd of my childhood years. I’ll be perfectly honest, at 20 years old, those memories are quite fresh in my mind. I’m sure you can relate in some way.

I know, I’m well aware of the demographics of Dkos, however I also am aware of the universality of assholes, bullies and jocks throughout time, culture and class. If not middle school, then high school or certainly college. So many of us Kossacks can recall those dark experiences of school harassment in the form of intimidation, humiliation and sometimes violence.

Some of us, like me, remember those days as perpetrators. I know it may be hard to imagine, but for us reformed bullies, the experiences can sometimes be far worse than anything we dished out. Please allow me to explain.First the facts:

A 2005 study found that gay-bashing remains a major problem in the nation’s schools.

Three-quarters of American students surveyed by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said that they heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school in the previous year. Nearly nine out of 10 reported hearing “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” – meaning stupid or worthless – frequently or often.

My middle school functioned as a hierarchy, and I was nowhere on top. I remember my 1st month of 7th grade clearly as my efforts to blend in and remain unnoticed were foiled by a botched haircut.

My aunt, a now very successful Port Richey, Florida hairstylist, botched giving me some highlights in my hair 2 days before the first day of school. First off, the mere attempt of getting highlights in a semi-rural, conservative-esq environment was a risk in itself. Needless to say it was horrific when I saw that I instead had bright orange streaks.

I was instantly identified as a possible queer, to be ridiculed and isolated. I still remember my lunch room group, we were WITHOUT question the reject table. The crowd that couldn’t afford the commercialization of our cafeteria (ice creams and fast food restaurants moved in early into our cafeteria), and were stuck with a limited free school lunch selection (that is, on the days where I wasn’t able to steal money from my grandmother to play rich for a day).

Over a third of students said they experienced physical harassment at school on the basis of sexual orientation and more than a quarter on the basis of their gender expression.

There was another kid on the same hierarchal level as me, Michael Johnson, I remember his name to this day. He was a pimply kid, and wasn’t known for his fashion sense. Like me, his family (then) couldn’t afford the designer jeans and stylish clothes. We were relieved that the baggy clothes movement could be our excuse to rock hand-me-downs with a little less shame.

Anyway, he was my ticket up. After all, if I bullied someone too, I wouldn’t be the bottom of the food chain so to speak. As a side benefit, I also could fortify my heterosexual credentials by questioning Michael’s sexuality and taking the heat off lingering questions about my own.

Note to readers, those bullies you remembers that loved to call other people faggots or dykes, or always seemed to work a homoerotic joke into every conversation. A lot of the time they’re using those insults to convince themselves of their heterosexuality. I know, I’ve been there. For further reference check out Rev. Ted Haggard or Larry Craig.

Anyway, middle school for me embodies social hell. I pushed away any means of normal socialization for a kid my age in favor of books. Books, after all, never judge. To this day, I often find myself declining to hang out in favor of curling up with a nice book. It’s a defense mechanism against societal judgements that I so feared in middle school.

To this day however, the fact that I was bullied is something I barely remember. The memories that are seared into me from middle school are the instances where I myself was the terror, the bully, the instigator. Most bullies never have real power, they just have huge insecurities and are trying to compensate. For me those insecurities still exist, although I have oddly enough found myself transformed from a homophobic school terror to a queer identified LGBT rights activist.

To those who have been bullied, you have suffered and I understand. But us ex-bullies live with the knowledge that we subjugated other human beings to living hell.

Nearly one in five students reported they had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and more than one in 10 reported assaults because of their gender expression.

The study also showed that bullying has a negative impact on learning.

LGBT students were five times more likely to report having skipped school in the last month because of safety concerns than the general population of students.

My repentance exists in the form of my impassioned activism in favor of LGBT (especially the L the B and the T) civil rights. Anti-bullying legislation is an issue dear to my heart. My concern, as much as I think about those being bullied, is also concern for those very same bullies who instigate the terror. When you come down to it, victim or bully, they’re all children, sometimes without a full understanding of the effect their actions will have on themselves and others in the future.

As I vacation in Florida, knowing that Broward county in this state just passed one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying policies, I look forward to seeing the day when every school district in America has protections. I especially hope to see those protections address sexual orientation, and equally as important, gender identity/expression.

Broward county, this is a cheers to you. This former bully applauds your move to correct the foolish actions of bullies everywhere. Sooner or later, we realize that the strength of the victims we once harassed stick with us throughout our lives as examples of the durability of the human spirit, of humanity.

The Broward County School Board passed the strongest anti-bully ing policy in Florida this week.

The policy contains a full list of prohibited forms of harassment, bullying and discrimination; prohibitions include targeting victims based on their sexual orientation, as well as gender identity and expression.

The law was passed to comply with new state requirements that school districts develop and enact anti-bully policies by Dec. 1, 2008, and that those policies to protect all students.

“This is the ideal policy that other schools should replicate. By fully listing all forms of prohibited harassment, Broward County is making crystal clear what the legislature has repeatedly said, that all students must be equally protected,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.

“Not only does this policy provide the best protection for students and teachers, but it also protects the school district by demonstrating that they are fully complying with the law,” she said.

The state requirement was passed earlier this year and signed into law last month by Gov. Charlie Crist (R).

Under the requirement, individual school districts decide specific categories of students to be protected, although lawmakers stated on the record that it was designed protect LGBT students, as well as other minorities.

Districts who do not comply by Dec. 1 risk losing state funds.

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Author’s Note: My name is Travis Ballie. My area of activism centers particularly around queer activism. My goal is to write diaries on DailyKos as a regular update concerning issues facing the queer community and occasionally other issues dealing with race, gender and class. I sincerely hope to gain a readership base of committed LGBT activists and our supporters. Such a base will only enhance DailyKos and provoke greater thought. Just as a note, I may use terms like gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender (GLBT) or queer (a substitute for GLBT).

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