Cross-posted on Daily Kos
I’ll be frank, my previous diary on school bullying touched a nerve both here on DailyKos and also at Pam’s House Blend. I want to share these comments with my readers and also use this opportunity to respond. Emotions were (rightfully so) very raw on this issue, and to understand the full context I do encourage all readers to check out Part I of this pair of diaries for background. I want to thank every single commenter for sharing their thoughts. More than anything else, I appreciate your time and thank you for adding to this very important discussion.Commentor Lurleen asks a great question about how mature adults can aid children dealing with bullying and how children themselves can deal with a bullying scenario:
i think you’re the first former anti-lgbt bully i’ve ever heard from, and i really appreciate your honesty. if many anti-lgbt bullies are themselves insecure about their sexual orientation or place in the pecking order, how can kids they pick on diffuse an active bullying situation? or does it always require outside assistance from caring adults?
First, the best advice is expert advice (which I am not). I highly recommend visiting The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s website, which is surprisingly very easy to navigate and very visually pleasing. I’m not sure how to deal with the lgbt specific part of your question, but you should find parts of an answer to your question on that site. My answer to the question however is that I’m really not sure.
It’s very complicated, especially because I don’t necessarily believe in the bully/victim framework. Of course bullies are reprehensible and should be punished, but it’s not black and white. There are, for instance, bully victims. Bully victims are individuals who react to bullying directed at them by taking out their frustrations by bullying others. I would definately have fallen under that category in middle school. Bully-victims may be facing physical or verbal abuse from parents, other adult figures or even peers. Punishing them for bullying others isn’t dealing with the fact that these kids are trying to find outlets to express their frustration. In my mind, anti-bullying activists and educators need to focus more on this aspect of bullying.
QueerinSoCal expresses mixed feelings on whether bullies can ever really atone for their actions:
What you put yourself through now, as an adult, does not and can not in any way make up for what you did to other young people who were just as awkward, insecure and unsure as you were. That’s a cop-out. I bullied kids in school…
And indirectly I learned what damage I caused, from a source that I love and care about and would do anything to protect from hurt.
You were a bully, and that sucks. Please don’t try to tell me that you can somehow make up for what you did by feeling bad about it now. You can’t. You can make different choices now, you can do your best to make other people feel good about themselves, but nothing you do or say will undo what you did before, and nothing you feel now can compare to the hurt you inflicted. That’s what you have to learn to live with.
Many readers and commentators of my post believed that I was implying that my anti-bullying activism today absolves me from my past misdeeds. Indeed that came up a lot, often in very raw, emotional language:
I can try to appreciate your efforts and thoughts, but your mea culpa does nothing to erase the years of pain and humiliation your kind inflicted upon me. You can ease your conscience by apologizing, but your apologies do nothing to mitigate or excuse the damage you inflicted upon all of us.
Your apologies may satisfy your conscience; I’m sorry to say that you can not undue the damage you have inflicted.
I would like to be a better person, but you stole too much from me.
I believe that [the author is] sincere or that he thinks that he’s sincere but the whole piece came off to me as a bit arrogant. This is as much a failing in me as in him. It takes a big person to make such a public confession but he’s not my bullier(s). I can only forgive them. This gentleman seems to be seeking absolution, (and a fan club). I can provide neither. I wish him the best of luck and I encourage him to look up his victims and give them his contrition. He’s only twenty years old and though he seems very mature for his age, I hardly think he understands pain or struggle yet. Unless he grew up under far worse conditions than I did.
Sorry, I’m all tapped out of pity and sympathy for people who made a habit of terrorizing people throughout their school years.
Big thumbs up to those who, like you apparently have, realize what they did and work hard to change society’s environment to make sure fewer people go through hell during grade school and high school and college.
So, I have no problem giving you respect and credit for realizing how damaging your behavior may have been to some peers of yours in school, but you’re sorely mistaken if that respect and credit translates into sympathy.
My own story as a former bully seems to have been co-opted by other people’s very traumatic experiences with other bullies. I’m not asking for forgiveness or believe that somehow my record is crystal clear now just because of my activism. I do not dislike the emotional outpouring of these commentors (in fact I appreciate it), but rather it is the “white/black, good/bad” framework of it all that I disagree with. Such a simple “good/bad, white/black” framework may help people with their emotions, but it does not help in crafting comprehensive anti-bullying policies and legislation. Such a simple framework of understanding bullying would lead one to simply punish the bully for his actions.
That’s simply not enough. Too many hierarchal systems, peer pressure, cliques, divisions and forms of social interaction are in play in school environments to just simply punish the bullies and hope the problems goes away. Bullying others can be a way of acting out against other people bullying you, as it was in my case. In other words, it is this unrelenting system of peer pressure, personal insecurities, social divisions and lack of adult oversight that breeds an environment for bullies.
Tony does a wonderful job of explaining something that I’ve been trying to get across. As a bully I cannot seek forgiveness, I can only get that from my victims if they decide to grant it. As a former victim however (because I was also bullied in addition to bullying others), I can forgive the people and pressures I dealt with that made my middle school experience hell. In the process of forgiving, even if the scars will always be with me, I find a space where I am able to grow beyond that young, scared 7th grader self and into a more mature activist and compassionate human:
I am really surprised that so many people have not moved beyond the hurt of their school days. I have I-was-bullied stories that rank with the worst of them, but, at some point, I realized that we were all kids. Immature, not-fully-physically-or-mentally-developed kids. We were influenced by the wrong people and did things we would not as adults. Truth be told, I sometimes cheated.
It was an effort to make myself smarter than I really was. It was a misguided effort to make myself stand out in a positive way; to be thought of as something other than “the gay.” It has taken many years to get over the bullying I experienced. But at some point, even those who were subjected to it have to understand that it was kids (often guided directly or not by adults) with their own problems and own desires to “fit in” who were the bullies…
If we don’t forgive those who hurt us when they were kids, then we cannot move on. Giving up the bitterness over the experiences I had in school– and forgiving the kids who hurt me, whether they asked for it or not– is one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and comments. Please don’t stop there. Post about your experiences, follow and lobby for comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in your school district. Check out more information with the links below:
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).