On Bullying — A Spirit Day Post

October 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm (real life) (, )

I don’t remember enough details of my childhood bullying.

I remember a few events, of course. I remember, for instance, the day of pre-school when I was told by a classmate that I was “too big” to sit at her table.

I remember kindergarten, when bully S decided to start a “cool kids” club, only letting in the elite few. She then decided to extend her invitations to the uncool — and proceeded to use them as personal servants, humiliating them as a cost of membership. When I was invited into the club as part of the second group and used my uncool servant-role of messenger to pass secret messages between my friend L (assigned by S to sit alone on the blacktop all through recess) and his friend C across the playground, I earned an enemy for life. We were 5.

I remember third and fourth grade, when my group of “friends” regularly mocked and excluded me from activities, manipulating me however they could. I remember fifth grade, when Mean Girls Group #2 did the same. I remember frenemy N deciding my best friend and I weren’t interesting enough to participate in the rest of her sleepover birthday party, banishing us to another room for the night.

I remember being in 7th grade and accidentally sneezing on a popular girl, then faking sick and going home so I wouldn’t have to experience the torment that was sure to come. I remember high school, when I rearranged my routes to and from classes to avoid bully H, who was sure to push me in the hallway while muttering humiliating insults. I remember being afraid to change in the locker room. I remember being afraid of random group assignments for class projects. I remember feeling like who I was — too heavy, too smart, too shy — was going to consign me to a life of lonely self-hatred.

And this isn’t even including the cyber-bullying I experienced as the internet gained prominence toward the end of my time in high school. Or the teacher-bullying I experienced at the hands of my elementary school gym teacher.

But with every abortive attempt I’ve made to write this article, I’ve realized that I don’t remember half of what I know I went through. I remember my elementary, middle, and high school years as a time of constant terror. I remember the feeling of not fitting in. I remember being sure that everyone hated me. I remember feeling constantly suspicious of my friends’ motives in hanging out with me, even as I formed a solid social circle in 6th grade that lasted all through high school and remains mostly intact today. I remember long nights playing Hanson’s “Weird” on repeat as it spoke to my tortured soul — “Isn’t it strange, how we all feel a little bit weird sometimes?”. But I’ve repressed most of the specific events, despite my generally amazing powers of recall. And I think that says a lot about how those experiences affected me — and continue to affect me today.

I’m 24 years old. I haven’t been seriously bullied since I left high school. But in the 6 and a half years since, the scars those first 15 years left have not faded. I can’t walk past a group of laughing or whispering people without assuming they’re laughing at me. I automatically assume every person I meet is on the precipice of mocking me, that they already hate me the second they see me. It takes me a very, very long time to believe that a new acquaintance genuinely likes me. When I’m invited to parties by anyone other than a close friend, I spend the days leading up to the event in a state of paranoia, wondering if it’s some trick the party-throwers are playing, like I’m going to be greeted at the door by a bucket of blood. And when I run into some of those childhood bullies, I freeze up and begin to hyperventilate, fending off a full-fledged panic attack. I have never joined my hometown friends at a certain local bar because I know bully S is a regular, and even though I have not spoken to her in 6 years, her specter haunts me.

Today is Spirit Day. It’s a day for recognizing the effects of bullying, specifically on LGBT youth, in the wake of prominent LGBT teen suicides. In honor of that day, I’m wearing purple, as well as a rainbow “ALLY” pin. I’m not LGBT (though more than half of my high school friends were), but I know from experience what bullying can do to a person, whatever the impetus for that torture. And I do believe the message of “It Gets Better.” The fact that I’ve lived my life without torment for the past 6 years is testament to that. Those are words that need to be said to kids on the brink.

But more importantly, we NEED to recognize the effect bullying has — and stamp it out before it happens. Because while many children thankfully do NOT attempt suicide and survive the bullying to live to adulthood, those experiences and memories don’t go away, even if they’re repressed. And I don’t want any other child to have to go through what I did. Nor do I want children to experience the bullying my brother endured — bullying that led his school’s administration to suggest that HE, not the bullies, should seek therapy so he might better “fit in.” Or the bullying my mother endured, bullying severe enough that she had to change schools in elementary school — in the early 1960s. Bullying at all ages is not new, no matter what certain articles might imply. But the more aware we become of its horrors and its effects on children, the less excuse we have not to DO something about bullying. Wearing purple is a start, but it’s not enough. We cannot afford to ignore this problem. And telling my story here, today, is my first small contribution to that effort.


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An Open Letter to Meg Whitman

September 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm (real life) (, , )

There doesn’t seem to be any direct way to contact Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for Governor of California. Given that inaccessibility, I’m going to post publicly what would have been a private e-mail or letter. Ms. Whitman, if you see this, feel free to contact me at throughthebrush@gmail.com

Dear Ms. Whitman,

My name is Jennifer Smith. I graduated from Princeton University after the 2007-2008 year, which also happened to be the year of the grand opening of the Whitman residential college, whose construction was largely funded by your generous contributions. It’s a beautiful complex of buildings, and at the time I was proud to be the very first Princeton student to choose a room in Whitman College. When you spoke in the courtyard to dedicate the college, I happily attended the gathering. I still have my Whitman stationery, my Whitman sweatshirt, and my fond memories of the cozy bedroom, dining hall, and study rooms where I spent so much time that year.

I preface my letter with all of this information to cast in sharp relief my disappointment in your stated platforms as a candidate for governor of California — in particular your support for Proposition 8, which denies the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

As a Princeton student, I was heavily involved in the Pride Alliance, the LGBT organization on campus. LGBT rights have always been very dear to my heart, for I see no reason that my closest friends shouldn’t have the same rights and privileges I myself possess. I fondly remember late nights in college spent hanging up posters and encouraging activism, including pro-same-sex marriage activism, before I returned to the haven of my dorm in Whitman College. Now, I find that you are using the power of your wealth – the very wealth I myself benefited from – to drive a campaign that counts among its aims the barring of American citizens from the benefits of full equality under the law. This is wealth that could be better used to support any number of causes or platforms — particularly to bolster California’s schools, which are in crisis. As a Whitman resident, I believed you to be a self-evident supporter of education, but I see now that bigotry and the power it endows is more important to you.

There was a time I was proud to be a resident of Whitman College. But your recent actions have made me ashamed – ashamed that I took advantage of your donation, ashamed that the money that is funding your prejudiced political campaign also paid for my bed. I don’t want to feel this shame. I want to appreciate your generous gifts . But until you reject bigotry and hate, my shame will endure.

Jennifer Smith
Graduate Student in Communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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