(Trigger Warnings: bullying, emotional and physical abusiveness, ableism, misogyny, mistreatment of persons who are QUILTBAGS and of people in the otherkin community)
When I was a child, I was bullied. If watching TV and videos is any indication, most people think bullies beat you up and take your lunch money. For the record, my lunch money never went missing, and no one ever hit me.
But it was bullying.
My circumstances were that I was a new kid, a smart kid, and a crybaby from a conservative family who dressed me with no regard to children's fashion. Because of my own issues, I didn't make friends readily or notice their fashion, so I'm not sure if "mother dressing me funny" was part of the issue. I was possibly also seen as a tattletale, since I trusted authority and talked to grown-ups easier than children. So I "told" when someone bothered me, until I realized that only made them mad. I had to get on that bus again tomorrow, and the grownup I'd told wasn't going to be there to tell them not to do that, whatever "that" was.
To come to a point, in kindergarten, I had one friend. In second grade (no first grade), I remember one friend, a Thai girl who also had no other friends. In third and fourth grade, I'm sure I had one friend, but because my dad was the headmaster, though I remember several other girls fondly, I don't know if they were just being "nice."
But middle school was hell.
In middle school, my only friends had no social status. Maybe they were poor AND smart, or mentally challenged AND dressed badly. Decades later, I finally decided my "best friend" who kept threatening to beat me up was doing that to attempt to climb the social ladder. I don't know what was supposed to be wrong with her. Maybe it was because she was a Yankee in small-town Georgia.
Other children rarely spoke to me. Any overtures of friendship I made were derided loudly. My clothes were tweaked. I was jostled. My foot was stepped on. Things were put in my way for me to trip on. Occasionally a chair was taken out from under me. If someone offered me said chair, it definitely wouldn't be there for me when I sat. If someone talked to me, it might be to distract me so someone could yank my pigtails. If someone made any social overture, it might be a trick.
When I complained to my parents they told me I wasn't being nice. If my nose wasn't always in a book, I would have more friends. Trying to explain that this was my only defense and they really didn't like me… well, I didn't have the words, and what I didn't understand was that my parents did not have the context.
In my parents' school days, my dad had pulled my mother's hair. This meant he liked her. Taking that approach with people pulling my hair led to the valentine debacle of 1981….
...Long story short, I survived. I got friends. I got therapy. I got past it, but I never learned what to do to defend myself from bullying except, as Mr. Miyagi said, "no be there." I could only get out of the way and let them go by.
I have come to believe bullying is not something we can make laws against, unless, as a society, we stand firmly against ideas like "might makes right." We're not doing that right now. From the rich influencing the making of laws to watching Simon Cowell mock people on "American Idol," we're setting the example to kids that bullying makes you popular. Having the power makes you the winner.
When I went to look up the definition of bullying on the Internet, it talked about intimidation, harassment, and humiliation. They got it right that it is mostly nonviolent, especially now, when American schools are known for their zero-tolerance policies against violence and weapons. But I don't think that is the reason bullying is nonviolent. I think it's more effective when it is nonviolent. This is what I think defines a bully:
1. They don't care what your problem is. All you need is to have less status.
2. They work around the rules. There's no rule you can make specific enough that won't be too invasive as well. Because status and power, the pecking order of the schoolyard, isn't something that can be legislated, and things that would be a joke among friends become weapons for enemies.
3. They're after your self. Hold your mask high, make it broad and long. They're looking for your weak spot. My folks used to tell me, "Don't take it personally." I never knew what that means. Of course, it's not personal, they don't care who you are--of course, it's personal, they're using who you are against you.
4. Bullying isn't an instance. It's a climate. Those on the bottom rungs, as we have seen, can be driven to suicide. They can't make friends, they have no support network, they become traumatized and cannot trust. That's a lot worse than any instance of having your books knocked out of your hands.
5. They make sure they're not at risk. This kind of goes with #2, but in addition to that, you can't get them back. Your taunts won't sting; they're just coming from a loser. You'll never get past their guard. And they're not ashamed of hurting you. They think it's their right.
(I'm still working on the mechanics of #5. I see it, but it's like a magic trick to me: Heads, I win; tails, you lose.)
Today, as I was trying to find something to sum up all this rambling so I could turn it in, something happened. I found out that while I was having Easter Sunday, feeling all the power of Love, both worldly and spiritual, a local morning show (The Regular Guys of 100.5 Atlanta ) was posting their pictures from a local private kink convention (Frolicon ).
What I hadn't realized before about Frolicon is that it's a smorgasbord for bullies: Fat people, transgender and transvestite people, furry fans, there are plenty of people who are completely safe to pick on, and they actually get together in one place.
The other thing I didn't know was that The Regular Guys had been working the angle of mockery and humiliation. I didn't realize they were bullies, professional and public, who used their morning show like a reality show; making fun of people is one of their big draws.
It didn't occur to me that, as adults, we were not all grown-ups. It did not occur to me that bullies were not just children. Bullying has become part of our culture. I was so flabbergasted by the idea that adults were being bullied by other adults… and that a third set of adults was defending their right to do it, rather than condemning this sort of childish display.
So, if The Regular Guys are evidence that bullying has moved to being acceptable in adult society, let's check off the list above. I think we just covered #1. They specifically picked smokers, gamers, fat girls, and trans people to make fun of, oh, and the "littles," grown-ups who want to roleplay being children. Their audience responded by gleefully mocking the losers, attributing any "loser" attributes they wanted.
#2. The "radio personality" bought a badge, so he was in the private party legally. On the other hand, the badge is an agreement to follow the rules, which basically add up to Wheaton's rule: Don't be a dick. There's already several suggestions that they didn't do anything anyone else couldn't have legitimately done, just with a different/larger audience, although I haven't done the point-by-point comparison with the actual rules. The main thrust seems to be that they didn't hurt anyone. Sticks and stones… No, he just violated their safe space.
#3. These are people who have let their guard down to be themselves, because they don't get a chance to explore these parts of themselves otherwise. So, #3 is a slam dunk.
#4. These guys have made a name for themselves doing this. It's what they DO. And now they've gone into folks's escape hatch, chased them to their private sphere, to make sure they can't get away.
#5. They're not at risk. Our outrage is part of the prize. We're never going to post pictures of THEM on Facebook that make them cringe…. But the jury is still out on making them fear for their jobs. They've even been fired once. It's part of how "edgy" they are.
I have so many other examples, like reality TV shows, “birther” conspiracy arguments, Dr. Laura, and Jerry Springer but I’d always comforted myself that at least those people knew what they were getting into, they put themselves out there and presumably had the thick skin to get through it. But making that space for them doesn’t seem to have been self-limiting. .
We're rewarding this behavior as a society. It's not just the kids, anymore; they're learning it from US, the grown-ups. And, like a broken oil line or nuclear meltdown, we’ve got no safeguards and no plans on how to counteract this. We can't make laws, and we can't punch them in the nose. What can we do?
It's uncivilized, is what it is. It's a monkey flinging poo at a smaller monkey. So I'd like to dismiss it, ignore them, believe it will get better, but I'm only living at the suffrage of civilization.
I'm 40 years old, and I've been ignoring them for a generation. Yes, it has gotten better, but I still get faced with the fact that the "normal" world and I are living in enmity. These bullies, they call themselves "regular," and prank people who don't live up (or down) to their "normal" standard. And they come after me and people like me. Ignoring them hasn't worked. How do I fight? How do I protect the children that have come behind me, and how do I promise them it will get better?
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