A friend on Facebook recently reminded me of my storied history with most of the people I attended school with from K-12. I was in a small town, so a lot of the people I went to school with either went through all 13 years with me, or at least from 5-12, when the three local elementary schools combined before junior high. I also had very few friends. I was bullied relentlessly. I have to say, from fifth grade on, I don’t think there was a single day that I didn’t think about taking my own life.
School was a horrid experience that involved fat shaming, other forms of body shaming, ableism, torture with rats, physical altercations (usually someone tripping me), verbal abuse by both peers and teachers, an attempt to flip me and my mobility device over, misogyny, threats, and so much more. I spent a lot of time begging my parents not to send me to school. I have no doubt some of the many illnesses I endured throughout those 13 years were further aggravated by stress, fear, and anxiety. I was hated by most of my peers. I was disliked by many of my teachers, who didn’t want to deal with a disabled student who needed accommodations. I had no idea at the time, but my legal rights were completely trampled throughout the entire 13 years, and my school broke the law many times by denying said rights to me.
When I was in seventh grade, the junior high I was to attended was not wheelchair accessible. The school wanted to send me to another district where I was told instead of being in honors, they would automatically put me in special ed, simply because I had a physical disability. I tried desperately to go to the local Catholic school, which was at the parish my family attended in my hometown. I was so close to attending, I was even fitted for my school uniform. You know it must be fucked up, when someone is begging their parents to go to the Catholic school.
Then a high school student suggested putting me in classes in the high school building, which was wheelchair accessible, and was also next-door to the junior high. My peers for each class, had to walk across an indoor bridge to get to all the classes in the high school building, as did the junior high teachers. The parents of these students were furious at this arrangement, and tried to find ways to force me out of the school. I pleaded not to go, but my parents did not listen to me. The bullying intensified. My only good classes were music (band and choir which were already held in the high school), an art class that I got to take with actual high schoolers (who were actually really kind to me – they thought I was funny), and study hall because I was able to skip it and go wherever I wanted in the high school without anybody noticing.
I was miserable. I sometimes ate my lunch in the bathroom, or sat alone in the elevator, my elevator, because I was one of the only people to have the key to open it. The only people I really talked to were the few teachers who were nice to me, and a few peers willing to help me, as I wasn’t allowed to have a aide. I honestly don’t know how I survived.
When I left the area for college, after my family rejected me for being trans and a variety of other reasons (one of which was my girlfriend, who they said would dump me because she’d learn what kind of person I was –- we’ve been together for 13 years as of November!) I never came back except to drive through town, so I can only guess how people felt about discovering I was transgender.
I had some people reach out to me, some who apologized, because while they knew I was bullied (and felt bad for not saying anything) they had no idea what kind of things I actually went through. I admit, I wasn’t the nicest person back then, and I took for granted a few of the people that were actually nice to me. However, I also heard horror stories from those friends about the reactions from others we went to school with…the furtive whispers…the horrible comments. I really have no idea who knew, who cared, and how anyone would react. I still don’t know much.
The Internet allows to connect in ways we never could have imagined when I was growing up. The Internet was still in its infancy, at least for the average American family, when I was in high school. Social media didn’t really exist, so when sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter started popping up, I started getting requests from people I went to high school with, once they figured out who I was. Some of these people bullied me. Some were bullied themselves, but none of us were close.
I remember in fourth or fifth grade the school decided to do a group therapy session, once a week. They included all of the kids they saw as problems from my grade. Many of my bullies were sitting in the same room with me. The school wanted us to talk about our problems, and work them out together. I resisted the entire process, becoming non-responsive when asked questions or to share my feelings. There was no way I was going to share how I felt with a bunch of kids, many of them who had bullied me. It was a complete waste of time, for all of us, but it was the school’s solution to try to “handle” us. Being on social media and considering whether to add the people I went to school with into my virtual world, kind of feels like being in that room, all over again.
Choosing who to accept as a friend is a difficult decision, because you want to believe your peers have grown up and matured. I have actually had a pretty amazing life, since I graduated. It kind of feels good to show them all what I’ve done with my life, but I also don’t want to be viewed as a spectacle. You never know who wants to add you just to gawk and make fun of you. I’ve actually had to delete people, because they were just there for the “shits and giggles” of following the “town tranny”. Those aren’t my words, by the way.
How should the formerly bullied child respond to requests from peers who either bullied them, or appeared to not give a damn when they knew the bullying was going on? There’s no right or wrong answer. In my case, I have not approved anyone who downright bullied me. The worst offenders have not even bothered to add me, luckily, but even some of the smaller bullies have been rejected. I just don’t have time for that. I don’t have time to figure out their intentions, and I shouldn’t have to. I have also had to remove a few people who didn’t bully me, but who were just there for the spectacle. They added me to gawk, laugh and make fun of me, but I’m the one laughing now.
As technology becomes more advanced, I believe these things will become more complicated for all of us who were bullied incessantly. Who we allow into our adult lives is strictly up to us. Though we are no longer bullied children, for many of us, the scars still remain, and some may never leave. Our first job is to protect ourselves, bullies be damned, and that’s what we’re going to do.