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  • Forthwith, I will enumerate all the instances of bullying in my youth, followed by an editorial.

    My parents were not violent people, yet they warned me, “Never start a fight, but if your back is to the wall end it with one punch.”

    I: How to Hit a Kid With Braces
    In the sixth grade I was forced to sit next to Clayton C, an eighth grader, on the bus going to and coming from our elementary school. My family had recently relocated from a large city in New Jersey to the suburbs. Being new, I was fair game for Clayton who was landed gentry. I don’t remember much about him other than he had braces and poor oral hygiene; his breath reeked of sour cream and his teeth looked as if they were caked with tartar sauce. I don’t recall at what point Clayton began to harass me, nor can I recall any particular bullying incident except the last one.
    As Clayton leaned over me spitting his sour reeking insults to the back of my head I stared out the window of the bus. It was a cold day and I gradually unwound the scarf from my neck and wrapped it around my hand. In the middle of the next barrage of insults I drove my padded fist directly at his mouth. His lips ground into his braces and he groaned in excruciating pain. He fell back into his seat and stared forward, stunned. I was poised and ready to deal him another blow should the need arise, which it did not.
    Clayton’s mouth began to bleed. A second eighth grader, who sat in front of us, egged Clayton to hit me back. But Clayton didn’t move. There was silence until my stop came, and when the door opened I pushed past Clayton, exited the bus and walked home with the scarf still wound around my fist. That was all I ever heard out of Clayton’s mouth ever again.

    II: No One Calls Me a Can of Beans
    When you’re a kid all bad things seem to happen on busses. This time I was in the seventh grade. I don’t remember much about the kid who had been calling me names, where he came from, etc. only that his name was Craig. I can’t even remember the length of time he had been harassing me before I snapped. But one day remains lucid even after all these years. I have a police report to prove it.
    During a particular bus ride home Craig had yet again been calling me names, specifically he was calling me Delmonte Green Beans. However unoriginal and ridiculous it seems today, back then it was a deep morass through which my childhood ego struggled to wade. I was on one side of the aisle and Craig was opposite me. As his vitriol increased I warned him (supported by several witnesses) that if he did not stop I would hit him. He didn’t stop, so I hit him. I threw an uppercut across the aisle and it landed on his nose.
    The bus driver, who had been watching this incident in her rear view mirror, pulled over just as Craig let out a horrifying wail and blood began to stream out of his nose. Long story short, there were too many witnesses to justify my punishment. A police report was filed and Craig’s parents tried to sue for his broken nose, but the case was lost.

    III: Sometimes It’s About What You Don’t Know
    Sometime during my freshman year in high school a boy in my class developed a weird fascination with me and began calling my house anonymously to harass my parents. Let’s call him Naught Bunny. To this day I don’t know what exactly Naughty Bunny ever said. In fact, I didn’t know the harassment was even happening though my parents were being bothered nightly. I discovered this because someone in this boy’s circle told me about it (was it guilt or a secret animosity toward his friend?). I actually had no idea what this friend was talking about until I went home that night and asked my parents about the phone calls. Yes, it was true about the calls; however, they refused to reveal the content. I could only guess.
    The next day between classes I passed Naughty Bunny in the hall and, seething with anger, grabbed him by the collar and began slamming his head into a nearby locker. “Don’t-you-ever-call-my-house-again-or-I-will-beat-the-shit-out-of-you.” Naughty Bunny never called again.

    IV: The Worst Type of Violence Does Not Deal a Blow
    I began letting people know I liked guys and not girls sometime in the tenth grade. My family, like so many other families in the 1980’s, followed the oil trail south to Houston where we settled in a manicured suburb north of Houston.
    To this day I know only parts of the story. It lasted my entire Junior year. During the first semester, between The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby, I began to engage in heated discussions about religion, the nature of God, etc. with my English teacher during class. It was utterly delightful. Frustrated students eventually reported this activity to their parents, who in turn began to complain to the administration. By Christmas break the conversations were abruptly halted.
    After returning from Christmas break, the same teacher pulled me aside and began telling me about her experience over break: she had been born again. She entreated me to accompany her to a revival meeting (and people accuse gays of indoctrinating) to become born again, as well. As an adult it is interesting to speculate about what had been going on the entire semester prior to this unpleasant, unwanted recruitment. I recall feeling confused and betrayed for I had lost what I believed had been a fellow traveler, an adult who understood me. Her covert pressure on me became intense. It was a violence that threw me into the terrible world of adulthood, a world where the throws from angry fists are minor in comparison the impact of betrayal. I began abandoning her classes in favor of the art room.
    I failed that English class and made it up during summer school. Years later, after regaining contact with a former guidance counselor, the truth of the incident became known to me: everyone knew what was happening that year, from my parents and teachers on down. They all stayed silent and watched me fail. How do you hit back at that?

    V: How to Sexually Objectify Your Oppressor
    Sometime in the midst of my delinquency that year (in fact it happened during one of my surreptitious sojourns to the art room) I had an encounter with Jeff S. Now, to be fair, Jeff was not bullying me directly. And truth me told, I did not even know he was bullying my friends until the day that Jeff followed me from the lunchroom to the art room. That afternoon Jeff was close at heel. “You better tell your faggot friend he better watch his self. I’m gonna kick his faggot ass.”
    I knew nothing of the story he was telling, but I did know that Jeff S was a side of beef squeezed into a tube of denim. I turned to face him. He had a square head and a tousled blond mop, and his eyes growled at me as if I had stolen his bone. His two thick arms bowed away from his body like elephant tusks. He wasn’t smart, and for some reason I thought he was really sexy. I should have been livid with fear, but I think I was blushing; it was difficult to confront his anger without imaging what he would like naked. Nevertheless, I stared at him and said rather bluntly, “Jeff, why don’t you just leave me and my friends alone?” I paused, waiting for a response. “Hmm?” He stared back at me puzzled, as if I had asked him anything but a rhetorical question. “Me and my friends really don’t have anything to say to you,” I continued, “Just leave us alone.”
    Our eyes locked for several seconds. I thought he might be considering killing me, but instead he nodded and said, “Okay.” Then he turned and sauntered off down the hall, arms swinging to and fro from the sheer force of gravity. I could only stare after him and wonder what had just occurred. I sometimes ran into Jeff outside of school, and many times I was with my friends, the same ones he had been harassing. Jeff never bothered them again, and to me he would always nod in a friendly manner. Maybe he liked a guy with confidence.

    In Closing:
    I don’t know what to make of all these gay teenagers committing suicide. Most of us held the razor to our wrist at some point. Some of the sadness was about the way the world treated us, sometimes it was about the way we treated ourselves. Some of us fell into drugs, and some ran away. And some, like me, fought back when we could and made the most of it by trying to find a tribe. Many hid it, many still do. I am not so sure that all of the incidents of bullying in my life were the result of my “gayness” but rather the perception of my “otherness.” These days I cling to that otherness as if it were a life raft. Never get boring, I tell myself in spite of having become a little boring.
    The bullying doesn’t end, really. My parents must have known I would be in for some trouble as I became a part of this world. One punch, make it the only one, they said. The tough little boy needed to strike back, if only occasionally, so people knew I meant it. But as I grew up I began to understand that the strongest weapon I possessed was my voice; at some point fists stop working, and even that one dealing blow can become an incredible display of weakness.
    What strength it takes to overcome and resist the violence of this world. What strength it takes to resist the devastating violence from your own hand. I look back to that day in the art room hall with that boy and I realize we could have gone to a very ugly place. Yet we did not. That was a year of fistless violence, which began with a misguided (and perhaps well-meaning) adult who abused her authority and mishandled a child she did not understand, and which ended with the strangest, most serene lesson in restraint and inexplicable compromise between two utterly disparate and willing children.
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