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Cruelty, the uncoolest cut of all

First, a little music to set the mood...

...because I'm really going to try for rationality and detachment here. It's not gonna be easy, because everything about this just triggers the old blue blaze of rage and pain that I felt as an ostracized, bullied child. Every time I got shut out or picked on, that blaze is what I felt. And I don't like admitting that I still feel it every time I see someone else get shut out and/or picked on. You're supposed to get over that old kid stuff, you know?

Only, here's the sad part: You don't. You really don't. And if you're honest with yourself, you admit it.

And if you're really REALLY honest, and painfully so, you admit that this shit goes on everywhere.

Okay, I admit it: This shit goes on everywhere. It goes on in supposedly liberal, enlightened, democratic-socialist CANADA, for God's sake. I know, because it happened to me.

And no, it didn't happen for the same reason as it happened to Constance McMillen. I'm not gay. I didn't have a prom date at all (at least not for MY high school's formal), much less one of my own sex. I was a shy, introverted, bespectacled, skinny, pale, redheaded, frizzy-haired, unathletic, unhip, unhot, too-damn-smart-for-my-own-good geek. And in a small town, where the narrowest definition of "cool" prevails, someone like that stands out. And standing out is unforgivable. The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And yeah, I got hammered. All through grade school and much of high school, I got fucking hammered.

I won't go into any specific incidents. I've already been triggered enough for one damn day. There are more of them than can be named, anyway, and it made going to school nauseating. And this was for a kid who enjoyed classes. A kid who really wanted to be a doctor someday; a kid whose teachers kept telling her she really ought to be a writer. Being seen enjoying the use of your own brains is apparently utterly unforgivable in a place where conformist mediocrity is prized, other than of course in athletics.

So I got hammered. And I continued to stick out anyway. I bent, but would not be hammered down. I tried to hide my brains: useless. (I still got high 90s in French without even trying. I could have slept through that class and still aced every test.) I tortured my hair with a curling iron, to straighten and feather it into some semblance of fashion: useless. (One small whiff of humidity, and foof it went.) I got contact lenses, so people could finally see that I had a pretty face and not just four eyes: useless. (They were in the habit of seeing me through their own distorted, invisible funhouse lenses. Nothing I did was going to shatter those.)

No, the only thing that saved me from the whole thing was graduating. And going to university in a modest-sized city, where things were bigger all around. And learning to be myself, instead of some cookie-cutter knockoff of every other ditzy chick with Farrah Fawcett wings in her hair. It meant accommodating my curls, accepting my introverted, geekish nature, and learning to flip the bird at convention (and sometimes, at conventional people). And it meant becoming someone radically different not only from what the others were, but from what I had been and thought I should be.

Even a nervous breakdown and the realization that I wasn't going to make it to med school wasn't nearly as bad as being forcibly flipped out of the pond like I was all through my grade- and high-school years. Even realizing I'd fallen hopelessly in love with a gay guy, and being damn near suicidal at the ripe old age of 20, was a piece of cake compared to being shut out. I could get over my thwarted dreams, go beyond the misplaced romantic interest (he's still my best friend to this day--how 'bout THEM apples?), and even get past the desire to just go to sleep and never wake up. But this? No. It follows you silently everywhere.

I thought I had gotten away from it at university, good fucking riddance to small towns and smaller minds--only to find myself suddenly struggling with all the unresolved pain, anger and stark terror of those days. And sometimes, in the dead of night, when I should be asleep but just can't, I still have those moments where I forget who I am, who I've worked so hard to become. I even forget that the town has grown, and is not the same bigoted little place anymore. All I remember is what I have yet to overcome.

And what I have to overcome is that poison cruelty that seems almost inherent in people. The same that prompted Jean-Paul Sartre to say that hell is other people. It's not inborn; it's learned. And it gets passed down through generations. Each one gets beaten by the previous one until it bears the identical scars. Then it turns on the next and starts beating on them until they, too, bear those scars...

So when I read the obscene self-justifications that some people go through, presenting themselves, the bullies, as the poor little victims of a nasty, gay revolution--well, why not just wave a red cape in front of me and every other excluded kid? I mean, it's not as if you're not just asking to get your sorry asses kicked, is it now?

And yeah, I would so love to kick every ass of every person who ever did this to another. Doesn't matter for what "reason". I don't give a shit for your justifications; spare me the "explanations", I'm in no mood to hear any of them. Don't bother to comment here; I'll either delete it or declare you a Wanker of the Week, depending on whether my mood is fair or foul. You cannot explain or justify this. I know what you did. It has a name: CRUELTY.

Cruel isn't cool, and I'm not fucking cool with anyone who's cruel. I want to kick cruel people's asses, ALL of them. I'd wear out my trusty old cherry Docs doing it, no doubt about that.

But we're not supposed to kick ass; we're supposed to be meek, mild and forgiving. We're supposed to grow beyond all that. We're supposed to Forget. I mean, it's only a silly prom, fergawdsakes. For a bright kid with a future, it's supposed to be just a stumbling-stone on the road to Better Things. It's only important to those who peaked in high school. That ain't me, right?

Well, fuck it. I haven't forgotten. And I'm not sure I've forgiven, either. The fact that a fake prom so far from where I grew up has the power to trigger all my buried outrage and bring it crashing back like it only happened yesterday, is a testimony to the power that cruelty has. It has the power to make me forget, or at least minimize, the fact that I did go to a prom, in another town, with a guy not from my high school. He liked me more than I liked him. He was not the guy I'd have gone with, had I been "cool" enough to be offered a choice of dates; still, I showed him mercy, because he was an even bigger geek than I was. He didn't know what a loser I was to all my peers. To him, I was actually pretty. For his sake I put on a brave face and a beautiful outfit. How elegant I looked in my own hand-made royal-blue strapless moiré dress and my mom's black elbow gloves (a damn sight better than these tacky little prats, that's for sure.)

And yeah, I made the dress myself. Pleated overbodice, six-inch-wide sash, floor-length skirt, the works. And the black organdy ruffled shawl, too. See what happens when you apply yourself in Home Ec, girls? And don't you guys wish your girlfriends were hot--and SMART--like me?

But this makes it hard to remember that. It has the power to make me forget that I'm not the ostracized kid anymore, that I quit being that kid even in my last year at high school, where I began to morph into an adult whom other adults actually like. It even has the power to make me forget, for a moment, just how strong I really am.

And that strength didn't come out of nowhere; it came out of being that excluded, bullied kid. Maybe it's made me a better adult, a better listener, a more worthwhile person to talk to and with?

Maybe.

One thing it definitely HAS made me is glad that I don't fit in, after all. Because if fitting in among the bullies who made my youth hell is such a prize, I don't want it. I'd have to turn into a piece of shit just like them. What's that old saying? "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat", I believe is how it goes. Nope; no rodent here. Just a human being who doesn't need to pretend superiority.

And one who admires the hell out of Constance for taking you all on and showing you all up. She's got more class in her left pinky-nail than all of you have in your collective, pathetic, self-justifying carcass.

So yeah, bigoted kiddies, knock yourselves out claiming that you are the bullied ones, being shat on by northerners, gay revolutionary ACLUers, and people from the two coasts and God only knows where all else. Whine your sorry asses off about how everybody else looks down on you (as if YOU had a monopoly on pusillanimous shitheadedness!) Go play your smarmy phony victim card until it wears the hell out.

And it will, soon. Because it's flimsy. And because the rest of the world isn't stupid; it knows what lengths you went to in order to make sure your precious widdle prom was queer- and crip-cootie-free. That much secrecy takes planning and co-ordination. It takes a lot of complicity. It also takes massive amounts of cowardice. Not one of you kids had the stones to defy your parents, your school board, or your picky-picky peers; you are all a bunch of fucking wimps! You think you avoided "drama" by excluding Constance and her same-sex date, and a tiny bunch of disabled kids? HA! You just brought it on yourselves, ten-thousandfold. You deserve the shitstorm that you've got coming now.

And I, for one, will be pointing the finger at you and laughing when the verdict comes down against you. Because I love seeing the shoe go on the other foot, and pinching. It's not nice, I know. But it is satisfying. And it is so very, very richly deserved.

Sucks to be you, kids. Here, have another song. And try learning how to dance without that graceless booty-humping you did at your "drama-free" prom, 'kay? That shit's no cooler than your overt, deliberate cruelty was.

Comments

Thanks for this - in getting it out there you got it out there for me. They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We know that's not always true. Surely there are better paths toward strength and certainly toward wholeness and health.

Beautiful, Sabina. Really beautiful. And powerful. It brought me to tears - not because that was my wound, but because your writing made me feel like you were also writing about my deep old wounds. You wrote for yourself, but you also wrote for every one. Thank you.

While I am very sympathetic, empathetic even, to the plight of those who get picked on, bullied, and generally made to feel like dirt what I see as the greatest tragedy here is that you have become a bully in your own right, justifying your own hate and aggression and plain meanness the same way those you so rail against justify their own hate and cruelty. If hate and vengeance were the path to dealing with hate and cruelty then humanity would have solved that problem long ago, but as you can obviously see if you look around, it hasn't. Ask yourself if all the vitriol you lay down here is an honest attempt to make a positive change in the world around you or simply a vehicle for you to satisfy your own personal grudge against the world? Your anger and hate have already pushed you to make one racially derogatory comment below regarding Blacks along with slighting anyone who lives in a rural area, and those are just the first two instances off the top of my head after reading down through it all. Thing is, as I was reading your take on the bullying I saw a younger version of myself, so full of anger and self-righteousness, it could have been something I wrote 15-20 years ago. Take it from one who has been there, the feeding and following the hate just burns you out and leaves you empty, unsatisfied, it is the antithesis of building a life. Why not use that writing skill of yours to bring light and happiness and comfort into people's lives, be a source of positive energy. I hope you find your own "place" where you can begin building for yourself and leave the drive to tear others down behind.

hi Sabina...wow what a totally awesome post. So beautifully written, so powerful,so honest, so painful. I know why that story of casual cruelty affected you so much, because I felt the same way. And I bet so did many others.
I posted some pictures via another blog of those nasty little bigots at their queer-free prom. And all I could think of where was Carrie when we needed her. ;)
Very powerful.Very good. Once we were silenced now we are not.
And the bullies WILL be beaten...

Thanks for totally NOT understanding, Keith. I don't know you, and you sure as hell don't know ME. I don't have to ask myself if this is "an honest attempt to make a positive change in the world"--since when are "honest attempts" all sunshine and roses and rainbow sparkle ponies? Maybe it's better that bullies see just what harm their "innocent" little daily grindings against other people's self-esteem really do--ever consider that? And maybe then they'll gain some badly needed perspective on just how valuable their precious egos are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe someone will recognize that tearing someone else down bit-by-bit, by way of building themselves up, really isn't worth it if this is where that kind of behavior leads. And maybe even be grateful that I grew up to be a better person than my tormentors, instead of doing what a lot of other bullied kids do, which is get a gun and go postal, or kill myself. THAT is real negativity there.

As it turns out, I'm anti-gun. Go figure, I was a university student when the Montréal Massacre went down. And I've been suicidal, and gotten past it. Trust me, I know what constitutes real destructive rage, and I do not go there!

As for what you said, to wit: "Your anger and hate have already pushed you to make one racially derogatory comment below regarding Blacks along with slighting anyone who lives in a rural area, and those are just the first two instances off the top of my head after reading down through it all." WTF? I mentioned blacks absolutely NOWHERE here, much less in a derogatory manner. Unless you meant in some other post, and then you can take it for granted that I was being sarcastic about someone else's racism. But that's not relevant to this post. And I reject that amateurish analysis.

I'm also not a "younger version" of you, I'm ME, and I'm an adult. Have been for more than 20 years now. What you did there is called projection. I'm not having any of it.

Try to stick to the point instead of trying to diagnose hidden defects in MY character from some sarcastic blog posts lampooning other people's racism, and I'll stick to the point instead of calling you a pompous, patronizing twit who is out to tear me down by way of building himself up like all those other bullies. Because passive-aggression can take a "positive" form too, and I have learned by hard experience all the ways the bullies go about sneaking it in sideways. Some of them talk an awful lot like you. We call them Concern Trolls. (I'll leave it to you to guess why.)

If you came here looking for a Hallmark story about how I got over everything and became Miss Mary Sunshine, I'm sorry to have disappointed you. But get this one thing straight, dude: I'm not going to whitewash what effects bullying and ostracism have, not even in the interests of "making a positive contribution". To me, that's not what real positive contributions are about. Having done time in counselling and group therapy in the past, I know for a fact that it is NOT touchy-feely, it is hardcore. You don't get to health or wisdom by a saccharine "fake it till you make it" strategy. You get real, even if it hurts to go there at first. You get real, even if you don't look so nice in the process. You get to the bottom of things, and come up with understanding and insight, by allowing yourself to BE pissed off at whatever things piss you off, and not try to anesthetize your true feelings or rationalize them away. Anger may not seem like a healthy emotion, but trust me--it can be. As long as it's not drowned out in sugary rhetoric, alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy (but socially accepted) forms of expression, it's downright cleansing. Every time I've been painfully honest, with others or myself or both, about something that was gnawing me, I've slept better afterward. I'm sure that's no coincidence. If that's not "positive" enough for you, too bad. It works for me. And it beats the hell out of buying a gun and turning into a fucking teabagger.

The point I'm trying to make here, Keith, is that there is no nice, smooth, high road to mental health. A former "nice girl" who decided to spit instead of swallow--that's me. And I'm better for it. Sorry if you didn't grasp that the first time, or if my phrasing is too harsh for your liking, but maybe you'll have a better idea of it now. This is where I come from--take it or leave it, but don't you dare judge it or try to tell me what to do with it. I'm not paying you by the hour for psychiatric advice. The day I do is the day you may feel free to lecture and analyze me to your heart's content. But having seen the calibre of your analysis and advice, I'm gonna have to take a pass.

Yeah, the memories never go away. I read the news now more as a way to occupy my mind. If I let my mind drift, even for a minute, it all comes rushing back. But sometimes the news like this story just brings it all back like seeing it through a magnifying glass. It brings back all the impotent anger I had as a child.

I know the pain of being ostracized. It started in kindergarten when I was the only student in class that could read. Everybody was so jealous they didn't want anything to do with me. Later, even the teachers got in on the act and encouraged it in other students. It got so bad in second grade I just completely shut down. The bullying never stopped. I would be called names on the bus, get beat up on the playground and would be threatened with paddling by teachers for getting beat up. They would paddle anyone who was in a fight even if you never threw a punch. Being hurt was all the proof they needed to paddle you.

All of this was made worse by living in a home where I had to helplessly watch and listen to my father scream, beat and rape my mother until I was five. To listen to her cries for mercy made me feel so ashamed that I had done something to make my father do that and every time the cries stopped it made me insane with fear that she was dead. My father never spent a day in jail for what he did because, at the time in the U.S., there was no such crime as domestic violence. Just as the divorce was finalized, I was introduced to the American education system in a small unincorporated hick town of just a few hundred on the Ohio River called (and I'm not kidding) Yankeetown, IN.

I still do not know how I stayed alive. My mother was forced to work at a coal company after the divorce and I was shifted from daycare to my father and back to school as my mother worked third and second shifts. My mother had several breakdowns from the stress of working long hours in a workplace that hated her for being a woman, the abuse at the hands of my father and the child abuse she endured from her parents. My father is/was (not sure if he is dead and I do not care) a psychotic sociopath at the very best and a psychopath at worst. His favorite hobby was killing small animals with high powered hunting rifles to see how much damage he could do to their little bodies. I have to admit that, as a child, he had me enjoying that, too. I used to hate my father, but now I just pity him. He is/was a pathetic human being and is not worth my time actively hating.

By the time I got to high school, I had pretty much lost my ability to trust another human being. I spent my lunch hours alone in the school library every day and tried to have as little interaction with others as possible. Needless to say I did not attend prom or even my graduation party. I had a mental breakdown just after starting college and never really recovered as I'm not sure I ever knew how to function in the first place.

I've learned over the past few years to stop feeling the self hatred and shame my family forced me to feel as they always blamed me and my mother's failures on us. I have also learned to not dwell on what these people did to me. I found that actively hating others, even those that truly deserve it, only hurts you and not them. I believe in justice, but no longer hunger for revenge. It has helped me to stop having the thoughts of wanting to just die all the time. I still have great difficulty trusting anyone. Relationships are something I will most likely never be able to have.

I hope the pain that Constance has suffered isn't so great as to prevent her from becoming the person she wants to be. I am very glad this has gotten the attention it has. I'm sure it has helped Constance to know that she has nothing to be ashamed of for being who she is and that it is her school, fellow students and their family that deserve to face the public humiliation and shame for what they chose to do. Hopefully Constance will get her day in court and these bigots will have to suffer more than just some humiliation.

Wren, what you said totally resonates, and I get that--you've been through what I have, only more so. Simon, too--why does it always take a recovering bullying victim to really understand where another one is coming from? Damn. Imagine what this world would look like if we ever got our shit together enough to take it over and run it. (Don't anyone answer that one. LOL, darkly.)

BTW, in case anyone's tempted to pull what Keith did, I don't hate the people who did those things to me anymore, either. I've stopped seeing them as individuals at all (other than as pathetic ones with their own damn shit to work through), and just as embodiments of that destructive strain that runs through our society, the one that prefers power-over to power-from-within or power-with, as Starhawk calls the different types of power dynamics. I'm not seeking revenge against them, I'm seeking redress within society, to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else anymore. I really would like to see less power-over, and more power-from-within and power-with.

But sometimes, a person really needs to vent, and even laugh a bit when bullies can't get away with it anymore. I have to say I'm enjoying watching them squirm, not because I'm sadistic or vengeful, but because it's a good lesson for them, and one I didn't get to see taught to my own tormentors in my own time. Maybe now, they'll know what it feels like to be singled out, and be more sensitive and sensible and accountable in future. I do dare to hope.

It a long hard road to become a human being for most,if they ever make it and you were one from the get go.

Your depth of feelng and expression touches all who take the time to understand it.

Keep up the struggle

Awww, 'Bina, you took away all my fun. I wanted to be the one to lay into Keith until he lay bleeding on the floor, perhaps mortally with any luck. What the hell, I will anyway.
As to the original post, 'Bina, your teacher was correct; you should be a writer. I'm still waiting for that book you're working on. This is powerful stuff that grabs you at the first word and never lets go until the last word.
I understand the feelings of powerless rage that such slight's can build up in a person. I was the only half-gringo in my school which my parents wanted to insure were the very best so I got to go to the ones with all the little oligarchy pukes who didn't mind referring to me quite openly as 'that half-breed' or 'the gringo scum.'
I was shunned and not allowed to participate in anything by the little rabbiblancos, usually with the teachers' blessings because I didn't rate being sucked up to because my parents couldn't provide any political or economic aide to these people may they rot in Hell. My first escape was when I finally was put in schools that were mostly gringos like me and I had already developed my fighting prowess in elementary and junior high school to try and keep my self-esteem semi-conscious and breathing.
There I got to be involved with sports and activities and though I was never 'cool' at least I was no longer humiliated on a daily basis.
I was moved by my parents to the US, to a Deep South location that was in the throes of the convulsions of breaking down the racial divides. I spent my last two years of High School there. Coming from the Latin American culture and having been totally rejected by the rabbiblancos of that culture, I made white and black friends easily, although the high schools (there were 2 in this town) were still largely segregated. There were only 15 black students in my graduating class of 300 in an area with a 38% black demographic.
In my junior year, I was still too insecure to ask anyone to the prom so I stayed home. I didn't know much about school dances because I was still rebuilding my self-esteem.
My senior year, I was 18 and cocky as Hell and ask a girl that I had a horrible crush on (I wonder why now) to the prom. She accepted and my standing went up enormously as she was one of the 'cool' bunch.
Then I found out that the school board had decided, after being notified by the Department of HEW that the prom MUST be integrated, to cancel the prom and aide in the arrangement of a 'private' prom. I was outraged because one of my black friends and teammate on the football (US) team was going to ride with me, but was not invited to the 'private' prom.
I told the girl that I had asked that I was not going to the 'private' prom so that she could have time to arrange for another date. She angrily responded that it was too late that all the good dates were chosen. I refused to back down and for the rest of the year, I was shunned.
I didn't dare leave my lunch alone in the cafeteria to go get knife and fork or napkins, or it would be destroyed. My gym-locker lock was repeatedly broken and the locker filled with many pleasantries such as human feces or urine or dead animals from the road, etc. During graduation, I was booed as I received my diploma (although I was 4th in my class) as were all of the black students.
All in all, a very merry time was had by all.
Keith, unless you have suffered through this, and your post makes it sound very clearly as though you have not, please do us who have a favor and STFU. These wounds never heal, they merely form a thin scab over them and the case of the poor girl in Mississippi causes the scab to be ripped away and the profuse bleeding to begin again. And no amount of psychotherapy can put these behind you. Having spent 5 years in therapy, I can tell you that the therapist told me on the first day that I would never get 'better', I would be taught coping mechanisms to help me better cope with the wounds, but the wounds would still be there.
And where the Hell do you get off telling her that she has mad a racist remark. Simply because someone finds a particular form of expression offensive, whether or not it originated in a particular racial group, is not even close to being a racist remark. And I will put my racial chops up against yours any Goddamn day of the week and I KNOW who will come out on top.
For you to meekly say that 'Bina is getting too angry about all this and carrying this with her too long is proof positive that you don't have the first fucking clue about the kind of pain and its permanence that you are talking about. Let me spell it out for you at the risk of sounding repetitive: Since you don't and have already passed the age where these wounds can be inflicted, Shut The Fuck Up because you don't now know and you never will understand what this pain is.

It's alright Sabina, I've wrote a lovely article about you on my blog. (LINK DELETED, GET OVER YOURSELF, JAKE--ed.)

I'll look forward to appearing in your "Wanker of the Week" post next week, where you try and defend calling me a Nazi even though I'm Jewish and believe in nothing that the Nazis do.

Jewish? LOL. I guess you're one of those "It's not Nazism when WE do it" types, then. Or do you think you are special and deserve carte blanche? Liberty for me, not for thee, is that your game? Tough shit. I'm an equal-opportunity antifascist, and a Star of David is not a Get Out of Jail Free card, so go suck on that.

PS: Won't be reading your shitty blog; you flibbertigibbertarians are all so tiresomely conformist. You could have spared the electrons. Big State needs them for better things than your idiotic musings from your grandmother's basement.

Love you, 'Bina. Continue being true to yourself and standing up for what's right. The Constance McMillens of the world need more people like you.

Thanks, Ben.

And Jim, I had no idea...but somehow, I'm still not surprised. Amazing how many ex-whipping boys and girls happen to find each other on the 'net when one starts standing up.

PS to Jake: Your three strikes are up. Find someplace else to troll, dickweed.

Sabina, I have to say that this was one of the most effective and beautiful blog posts I've read in a long time.
Because I'm 17, ubergeeky, overweight, antireligious, bisexual, and just plain weird to the kids I go to school with. Kentucky isn't the state for me, and my town is one of the worst.
A guy got paid to dance with me at this year's prom. I have been asked out at least three times as a joke.
Yeah, real funny guys. I'll remember that when I'm your fucking boss.
Thank you for showing me that kids like me can grow up and gain elegance. Thank you.