A few weeks ago I was approached by a young woman yielding a clipboard at a mall.
“Could you take a moment to sign this petition against bullying in schools?”
“You know, no. I believe bullying made me who I am today.”
She looked at me like I had just told her that I strangle puppies in my crotch. I walked away and thought a little more about what I had just said and gave a silent little thank you to every bastard that ever teased me, pushed me down, beat me up, spread rumors about me, wrote slanderous remarks about me on bathroom walls, laughed at me both behind my back and to my face and refused to sit anywhere near me because I was infected with a germ that only other kids can see, a germ that somehow made me stick out like a neon flashing sign that said, “fuck with me.”
I was a relatively normal child until about the third grade. Up until that time I had attended the same school since kindergarten. During my third grade school year my Mother and I moved two times and I attended three separate schools. One of the places we lived at briefly was a senior citizens trailer park in a remote area on the outskirts of a depressing city. I was the only child around for miles. We lived so far from the school that the only bus that came anywhere near us was the handicapped bus. Arriving to school on the short bus is a sure-fire way to get teased relentlessly.
After that the reasons seemed to multiply without any effort whatsoever. I wore dresses every day, that made me an unfashionable outcast. I had frizzy hair, that made me ugly. I had a big gap between my two front teeth, that made me even uglier and obviously too poor to afford braces. I was chubby, that made me fat. I was tall, that made me fat. I was quiet, that made me stuck up. I got good grades, that made me the teachers pet. I read books at recess, that made me a nerd. I fell down when forced to participate in gym, that made me a klutz. I didn’t have any friends, that made me a loner. I didn’t fight back, that made me a pussy. I never cried, that made me hard.
By middle school the teasing had reached an all time high. To make matters worse I was maturing at an incredibly slow pace. I didn’t have the slightest interest in boys and my body was even less interested in developing breasts or anything else resembling that of a normal twelve-year-old girl. I didn’t understand what was going on around me, the girls spoke a language I knew nothing about and the boys uncomfortable laughter made me think there was a joke that I wasn’t in on, would never be in on. The sign that glowed all around me was just as bright as ever, tempting everyone from the popular kids to the outcasts to tease me, berate me and threaten me. I kept quiet, the silence building a wall around me, I was becoming impenetrable.
No matter what they did I never said a word; not to them, not to my teachers and especially not to my parents. When I came home covered in bruises I said I fell down in gym. I didn’t dare tell my parents how I had been jumped at the park near my house, how boys from another school happened to see my glowing “fuck with me” sign and beat the shit out of me for no reason at all. They laughed the entire time, as they kicked me in the back of my head and smeared dirt in my face.
I never said a word about the boy who threatened to rape me every single day for years beginning in the third grade. I had no idea what rape was but the way he would hiss the threat into my ear sent shivers of fear and dread down my spine. I was relieved of his torments for a year or so, after he physically attacked a teacher in the fifth grade. By seventh grade, he was back and I endured his unpredictable verbal attacks well into high school.
High school, I couldn’t bear the idea. I still felt like a child, or rather like someone more ready to be an adult than to be a teenager. I found the entire situation ridiculous. I still didn’t understand the language, the posturing or the general idiotic behavior of adolescents. But there was no way of getting around it and I had to figure something out. I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I had been, quiet and accepting of my fate. Something had to be done, I knew there was no point in expecting the situation to take care of itself, they would always be assholes, I couldn’t change them but I could change me.
I made a dramatic transformation between middle school and high school. I cut off all of my hair and dyed the remaining few inches bright black. I went thrift store shopping and got an entirely new wardrobe of old man clothes; baggy polyester plaid pants, over-sized golf shirts, paisley ties and dirty sneakers. I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time but what I created was a “don’t fuck with me, I am a bad ass lesbian” costume. It worked. I mean, I was still laughed at and the rumors ran rampant while I did nothing to suppress any of it, but I found that it is a completely different experience when people laugh at you for something you have control of. When they laughed at my hair, I took it as a compliment. When they called me a dyke, I laughed because I had fooled them, I was playing a trick on everyone and I enjoyed the spectacle that I had created. This was a way better coping method than being quiet and looking at the ground. I paraded myself proudly and soaked in all the ridicule hurled my way.
My costumes changed over the four years of high school, from old man lesbian to ultra femme frills and lace with a little Morticia Adams thrown in from time to time and I not only kept them guessing at who I actually was but I was constantly figuring it out for myself as well.
For a period I needed the taunts and teases to keep me going, to validate what I was constructing or deconstructing. But near the end of high school I felt a sort of contentment within myself at what I had created, I began to realize that I had accomplished what I set out to do, to make myself inaccessible, impenetrable. The process that began so many years before was complete, the wall was up.
Up until now I have been grateful to have become the person that I am and I always gave some credit to the kids who teased me, taunted me and beat me up for helping to create that hard wall of “you can’t fuck with me anymore” attitude that I have carried with me ever since. But now that I am going to be a Mother, I am rethinking…well, everything. Am I too hard, too closed off, too self-sufficient? My wall that took so many years to build has served me well, perhaps saved my life but it might be in my way now. Maybe as I focus on bringing a new life into the world I should attempt to shed some layers from my thick exterior, not too many, just enough to let a little more light in, let a little more hope seep through and let a lot more love pour out.