When I was 14 a teenage boy attacked me and wrestled me to the floor in the library at the Parkway Program High School. He then told me to perform oral sex on him and I refused. Another boy who was hiding was taking photographs and settled for simply passing around pictures of me being held on the floor. That same semester a couple of boys held me against a car. I told them to get off of me and one of them said, “We’re not on you yet!” I wanted to kill myself.
I suffered through bullying my entire time in the Philadelphia Public Schools and dropped out because of it. At Wagner Jr. High School I was constantly beaten, my glasses were broken, my book bag was torn apart and my clothes were torn off. This would even happen in the classroom and the teachers would act like nothing happened. I tried talking to a teacher about getting transferred to another school and he told me it wasn’t going to get any better anywhere else. Instead they sent me to a psychiatrist who asked me why I thought, "boys beat me up?”
It amazes me that bullying has been tolerated in our schools. It is as though there are two sets of rules and boys know that the rules don’t apply to them. Childhood bullies become adult bullies and abusers because they learned that they will get away with it.
I bring this up because I have had direct experience with bullying and may have something to offer. While it is good for bullied students to know that it may get better in a few years what is a child to do today? Would you tell a domestic or sexual abuse victim to wait a few years and then it will get better? A child going through bullying may not be able to see several years in the future. I certainly couldn’t when I ran away from home.
A child who is being bullied needs action now. If you are being bullied tell your teachers and your parents. If that does not work or you are being bullied at home tell your guidance counselor, an administrator or your principle. If that does not work tell whatever department handles child protective services and the police. Bullying isn’t just about “boys will be boys”, it is assault and assault is a crime. You may find services online such as an LGBT community center or organization in your area that has youth services. In Philadelphia The Attic Youth Center (215-545-4331, www.atticyouthcenter.org) is a good place to seek support.
If you are effeminate, transgender or otherwise gender variant you should learn some form of self-defense such as martial arts. If you do learn self-defense you should be very careful how and when you use it since fighting back could land you in jail even if you are protecting yourself. I once took a non-violent self-defense course for women. There are simple ways to protect yourself such as not letting strange men within ten feet of you. That gives you time to move away or get out of range if he becomes violent. At night you may want to walk in the middle of the street (if it is not busy) rather than on the sidewalk where a hidden man can jump out and grab you. Try to sit in a subway car with a lot of people rather than alone. Carry taxi fare on you if you are going someplace strange (and even if you aren’t). Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t listen to your Ipod (or whatever young people use) when walking or jogging. You need to be able to hear if a man comes up behind you. Don’t get into cars with strange men. Don’t go home with strange men. An adult who is offering you booze or drugs is not your friend. Beware and very suspicious of men who want to buy you things.
I was suicidal also. Beyond a curiosity about the future and possibly an internal optimism I am not certain why I didn’t kill myself. I certainly planned it and I was very depressed. It did occur to me that if I killed myself they, the bullies and all the others would win and I refused to give them the satisfaction of my death. If you are thinking about or planning to kill yourself you don’t have to do it today. Tomorrow or next week is just as good. Get some fresh air and go for a walk. Go to the movies or find something to volunteer with to take your mind off of your problems. Find something you want to do in the near or far future. It doesn’t have to be grand. I once decided to postpone killing myself because I wanted to see Annie. You should also tell your guidance counselor or school nurse and hopefully find psychological and psychiatric counseling. Just because you’re being bullied doesn’t mean you couldn’t have an underlying medical condition. I understand that counseling services for LGBT youth is better today than when I was young. On the positive side it has been many years since I wanted to kill myself. There is also the Trevor Project a 24 hour hour LGBT suicide prevention hotline at 866-488-7386 (thetrevorproject.org).
You don’t have to go to a school where you are being abused. Though it was never offered to me there was tutoring when I was young. Pennsylvania has online public school at Connections Academy (http://www.connectionsacademy.com/home.aspx). Connections Academy is also a national online school (http://www.nationalconnectionsacademy.com/private-school/home.aspx). You can search online for other schools. Do your best to get into college but also make sure you learn a practical job skill as soon as possible (computer programming/repair, cosmetology, graphic design, hospitality, etc.). It can be very hard for obviously LGBT young people to find work so you need to be prepared ASAP.
We need legislation to protect students from bullying. Senator Bob Casey has sponsored the “Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2010.” The bill complements the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez. Focus on the Family accuses gay rights advocates of inserting their agenda into anti-bullying legislation. [http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_15932634] and that specifically naming LGBT students would create discrimination. Candi Cushman told TPM Muckraker that
"Listing certain categories creates a system ripe for reverse discrimination, sending the message that certain characteristics are more worthy of protection than others," [http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/08/focus_on_the_family_dont_let_gay_activists_hijack.php]
Who hasn’t witnessed the word “Faggot!” being hurled before someone was attacked in school? To deny that this exists is disingenuous at least and more likely a bigoted lie. Over the last several years there has been a long list of bullied children who have been assaulted, committed suicide and have even been murdered. If we do not specifically state perceived sexual orientation and gender presentation in legislation then this crime will never be taken seriously.