High School frightened me. Almost to the point where I felt like dropping out because I was so nervous about getting picked on.
It got to the point where I would beg my mom to keep me home from school ‘sick’, just so I didn’t have to deal with bullies.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a good group of friends in High School. But we were all part of the A/V and theater clubs. In English, that means we weren’t part of the ‘cool kids’ click.
Most days I would hang out in our Communications classroom. I considered it my ‘hideaway’. Despite attending a small town high school with an even smaller student body, we were fortunate enough to have a TV studio in our Communications class.
A TV studio? Are you kidding me? I was in heaven.
It was one of the only places where I felt completely safe and at ease in school.
Aside from spending most of my time working on our high school’s newscast, I would also participate in our high school theater group.
In order to be part of the theater group you had to stay after school a few days during the week for rehearsals.
One day, when class was finished, I was waiting around for the theater doors to pop open. Only a few people were passing through the hallways. It was clear mostly everyone had gone home.
That’s when I noticed someone kicking around a hacky-sack. That ‘someone’ was a person I was terrified of. He had picked on me before and I dreaded seeing him ever since then.
Out of nowhere that ‘someone’ decided to chuck his hacky-sack at me. I got up and walked away, but he continued to follow me. The only place to go was the high school locker room.
That ‘someone’ continued to follow me and continued to pelt me with the hacky-sack. He tossed it so hard it left small welts on my body.
Eventually he caught up with me, put both of his hands around my neck and began to choke me. I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to do. I tried to scream, but the pressure of his hands cut off my ability so speak or make any sort of noise.
A minute had gone by and eventually a teacher walked up to him. At that point the bully dropped me and continued on.
He had choked me so hard I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor told my mom if the bully had held on to my throat for a minute longer, I likely would have suffocated. In the end, the force of the bully’s grip tore some tissue in my throat. He also left a black and blue mark around my neck.
I never knew why he did what he did. And to this day I still don’t know. Looking back on it, I remember him calling me names such as ‘homo’ and other gay slurs.
I wasn’t out in high school. I kept it a secret. I was afraid to tell anyone. I didn’t end up coming out to my family and friends until the following year when I was a freshman in college. It took me 18 years to understand and accept the fact that I was gay.
Being gay in High School back then wasn’t easy. I’m not sure if it’s any easier now. I assume in some schools it is, because being gay is accepted more in society.
However, there are still schools in small towns (like the school I went to) where being gay is considered unacceptable. Some kids think it’s okay to make other kids’ lives a living hell because they don’t accept their lifestyle or understand it.
It’s unfortunate. And in some cases it leads to some kids committing suicide.
Every time I hear about kids taking their own lives because they were bullied for being gay, my stomach twists and turns.
I look back and think ‘that could have easily have been me’. Suicide never crossed mind, because the choking incident was the only physical attack I ever had to deal with.
If I could talk to a group of kids who are bullied on a daily basis, I would say the following:
Don’t let it get to you. Yes, it sucks. It’s awful. It makes you feel like you are worthless and no one cares about you. But the truth is, you’re more important in this world than any of the people who pick on you. When I look back on my life, especially in high school, I see a young, frightened, confused kid -- who was nervous about getting beat up at school. I knew I was gay, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Because if I did I knew there would be hell to pay. Anyone in that situation could have given up - and done something stupid. But it’s important to remember that’s what the bullies want you to do. So what do you do? The answer is simple. Keep telling yourself, “it gets better”.
How does it get better? I’ll use my own life as an example. Once I got to college, it was like entering a whole new world. I met other people like me and was accepted by them, my other friends and most importantly: my family. My mother and stepfather were so amazing when I came out to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parental support. Any parent who truly loves their kids will accept them no matter what.
After college I started my career. The last 9 years in TV news have been wonderful! I’ve had a lot of success and have met hundreds, if not thousands of amazing people along the way. Not only that, but I had the opportunity to fall in love a few times and share my life with someone else.
None of that would have been possible had I given up on my life when times got tough in high school.
Every once in a while I wonder what that ‘bully’ is up to. Does he still live back home? Or did he move away? Does he have a family? Kids, maybe? Who knows.
What I do know is this… If I ever ran in to him I would forgive him for what he did to me. Then I would thank him. At a vulnerable time in my life he knocked me down. But at the same time he made me stronger. Bullies are just a bump in the road on the highway of life. The nice thing about that highway is that eventually it flattens out and the rest of the ride is smooth.