Thursday, October 21, 2010

It Gets Better

All the recent news stories about teen suicides and school bullying are really upsetting. Celebrities and public figures have been reaching out by posting their own videos on the internet where they share their own bullying experiences and send the message to kids that "It gets better." It's fair to say that at one time or another, we were all either victims of bullying, or were bullies ourselves. If you're reading this and thinking that you can't relate to what I'm saying, you must have had a cop for a dad or a big brother to protect you. You're lucky.

In high school, I spent two years being intimidated, mocked, glared at and threatened by an upperclassman. At times I was in fear of bodily harm. The reason? Her best friend liked a boy who dated my best friend, and my locker was beside the boy's. Six degrees of separation = six degrees of hell. I didn't even know this girl. I had to actually look her up in the yearbook so I would know the name of the girl who made my palms sweat and my stomach churn everyday.

When I was twelve, my mom took me to the mall and told me I could get whatever I wanted for my birthday. I chose a black cord necklace that had beads of every color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. I thought it was the perfect necklace. Since it included every color, it meant it would go with every outfit I owned and that I could wear it everyday. Twelve-year-old Samantha was practical like that. I've always been the kind of girl who finds something that I like fashion-wise (v-neck tees, maxi dresses) and I buy five of them and wear them all the time. That's what I did in sixth grade with this necklace and Gap pocket tees. I was a happy, yet socially awkward twelve year old...until somebody decided to make my life hell.
similar necklace
This classmate informed me that my necklace was a "gay pride" necklace. I don't know that she went so far as to call me gay, but it was implied. She basically let me know that by wearing the necklace I was sending a message that I was at the very least gay-friendly. This was apparently a bad thing, as indicated by the endless mocking from her and her friends. This went on for months. Unwilling to concede that she was humiliating me, I became indignant--I went from wearing the necklace just a few times a week to wearing it every. single. day. I wasn't going to let this bitch get the best of me. Why would I subject myself to further ridicule?
  1. I was sheltered and innocent, and therefore unfamiliar with rainbows being a symbol of "gay pride." I thought they were a symbol of "God's Promise". Or they were just colorful beads. It's like comedian Demetri Martin says in his stand-up routine: "How can one group own refracted light?" Basically, I thought this girl made it all up to hurt my feelings. I reasoned that, if I gave in and stopped wearing the necklace, where would the torment end? Would she then tell me that blue t-shirts, or green dresses symbolized a social taboo or cause that I supposedly should distance myself from? It's a slippery slope my friends, and I was not giving this girl the power to take my wardrobe and style hostage. 
  2. If I'm playing devil's advocate, so what if she's right? What if rainbows do symbolize "gay pride"? I'm twelve. I'm not gay. At this time, I don't know anybody who is gay. The necklace doesn't symbolize gay pride to me, but I'm not some homophobe who isn't going to wear my necklace for fear of what people might think of me. 
  3. Eventually my mom caught wind of what was happening. My mom is one of those crazy lioness moms: if she catches you messing with one of her cubs, she will maul your face off. Here's the deal: kids are bullied when they are perceived as weak. Nothing says "I'm weak and defenseless" like having your mommy fight your battles for you. My mom's threats and intimidation tactics were effective in this case, but it was a risky move that I would not recommend.
  4. I eventually did put the necklace in my jewelry box, never to wear it again. I told myself it wasn't because of her. I reasoned that enough time had passed, I had worn the necklace for two seasons, and it was time to update my wardrobe. I do the same thing with handbags.
Not long ago, I was shopping for a wedding present at Williams Sonoma. Near the register, a whisk caught my eye:

I was in a hurry, so I resisted to temptation to buy this whisk. I still love colorful things. But here I am, fifteen years after being bullied for wearing a rainbow necklace, and the first thought that crosses my mind as I hold this rainbow whisk in my hand is: "I wonder if what's-her-face would make fun of me today for buying this 'gay pride' whisk?"

People come and go from our lives, and we won't always remember the things they said or did, but we'll never forget the way they made us feel. I hope that school administrators work to put an end to the tolerance of bullying in our schools, and that the school bullies would have the foresight to realize that if they don't want their legacy to be that of an asshole, they need to stop making sport out of making other people's lives hell.

It gets better.

1 comment:

  1. I hate hate hate that kids bully..even though I had my moments of being mean. I look back at some of those cases and am so ashamed. All I can think of reading this post is who was it??? I have a couple guesses.