Monday, March 24, 2008


My old school district in New Jersey had a strict "no tolerance" policy. Once, in ninth grade, a boy (admittedly, a friend of mine) decided to put powdered sugar in his locker and then report it to school officials, claiming it was anthrax. He later told me he did it out of boredom, but I sensed something deeper in his motives.

"Mike" had been bullied as a kid. We went to the same elementary school, and I still feel guilty today for standing by as other kids called him names and goaded him into fistfights he could never win. When someone found a condom wrapper on the soccer field during a fire drill, rumors swirled that he had been responsible. Even though the blatant bullying had died down by the time we were in high school, "Mike" was never well liked, and when I would give him rides home after Drama Club rehearsals, I secretly hoped nobody else was watching us get into my car.

I'm sure that makes me a bad person, but we all remember the social laws of middle and high schools: if you weren't the one being picked on, you stayed out of it and felt grateful that the victim wasn't you.

I guess you could call me lucky. There were other gay kids in my high school, and students with disabilities, and the occasional downright ugly person. Boys and girls alike were tormented by bullies and the popular set. Surprisingly, I was not one of the victims.

I never formally "came out" in high school; rather, by the time senior year rolled around, if someone were to ask me if I liked guys, I would answer truthfully. But nobody ever did. The two other outed fags were picked on, called names, and one time, one of them was beaten up, showing up to school the next day with makeup covering his black eye. Sure, everyone probably knew I was gay, and I'm sure people trashed me when I wasn't around. But for whatever reason, I was never outright picked on.

Some kids aren't so lucky. I read this story, shocked of course, but also somewhat surprised. Call me judgmental, but from the pictures, he looks more like one of the kids who would do the teasing in my hometown, instead of being teased. Billy Wolfe isn't gay, whatever "learning disability" he has doesn't seem to be that big a deal, and he isn't a minority. So it confuses me as to why he's bullied.

And then I see articles like this, and I get pissed off. Bullying is not natural. It's not an aid to the growing-up process, nor should it be ignored by parents and administrators. When a kid like Billy is punched to the point of unconsciousness, it's not a boys-will-be-boys situation. If anything, it's more like adolescent terrorism, only the goals are more social and ritualistic than political.

It becomes a ritual. Even though I was his friend, I made my share of "Mike" jokes back in elementary school. Often the jokes wouldn't even be about him; rather, he served as an easy punchline. He represented anything repulsive: "Would you rather have sex with your mother or with Mike"-type "jokes" were all too common.

So when administrators ignore blatant and violent bullying, like they have done in Billy's case, the problem won't go away on its own. If anything, with the advent of the Internet, it will be easier to collect gossip and trash-talk about people like Billy, providing further fodder and easier plans for his tormentors. If adult authorities don't put a stop to it now, it will never stop. Billy will go on to college, a damaged boy due to his harsh childhood treatment. Eventually he'll take out his frustrations and anger on someone else, someone who never did anything to him, someone who could be an easy target for his pent-up rage. And the bullying will continue, with lucky kids like me barely dodging my peers' fists.


1 comment:

TJ S. said...

Hey Josh. If you don't remember me, I'm TJ, that annoying sophmore from drama club?

Anyways, after reading this post and the articles, I heartily agree with the hypocrisy the school system follows by claiming it has a "no tolerance" policy, yet kids still get bullied. And it does have damaging effects.

I was bullied since 5th grade because of my height. You probably remember the times in Music Man when Justin Devery would get on his knees and "impersonate" me and when I was framed for some internet thing that happened. And what happened? Absolutely nothing. In fact, because of these events, I was the one who was diagnosed with "OCD" and I've been on meds ever since.

It's funny. I always thought I was a somewhat normal kid. But no. Someone flips a shit, and I become the mental case. And like your friend "Mike", I had my incidents where I tried to make a statement to the authority in charge, but never prevailed.

All in all, it's pretty easy to say that East Brunswick is full of shit. And probably a whole bunch of mediocre suburban townships. But the problem is, bullying never stops. As long as people are different, in bad ways and good, bullying will be around. It's the same as the alpha male complex within the animal kingdom.

In my case however, once you realize the pettiness of the "alpha male" and the charade they put on, you start to slowly turn into the predator rather than the prety. As they go on through life, believing they are amazing at everything and congratulating themselves over petty tasks, those who are bullied put pressure and standards upon themselves to rise over that.

Yeah, that was a pretty long comment. But this is coming from experience.

Oh, BTW, I'm attending NYU in the fall and your posts have definitely made me more aware of what I should look out for, mentally and financially. So thanks.