Chavisa Woods

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STOP calling it “BULLYING”

STOP using THE word "BULLYING"


When my church tried to pray the homosexuality out of me, was I being “bullied?” When my preacher stood on the pulpit and compared me to child molesters and murderers in front of people I loved dearly and they nodded in agreement, was that “bullying?” When my classmate threatened to kill me repeatedly my senior year, describing in detail how he would do it, daily for weeks, was that “bullying?” When I went to the school officials and told them my life was being threatened. When they asked why. When I answered, "because I’m gay," and they stared at me slack-jawed, shocked and did nothing but edge me out of the room, trying to hide their embarrassment, was that “bullying?” When the high-school guidance councilor of my school took me into her office because I was having a nervous breakdown. When she sat me down in her chair, took my hands in hers and asked me to tell her what was wrong. When I told her I was depressed because of the way I was being treated for being gay. When she let go of my hands and scooted away from me. When she quit speaking to me. When a year later she did nothing to help me apply for college because she was not comfortable being in a room alone with me because I was gay. Was that “bullying?” When one teacher tried to have me expelled my Junior year for wearing a gay rights pen on my bag. When a girl in the drama club petitioned the school to get me my own separate dressing room. When older men insinuated they could make me straight again by raping me. When my girlfriend kept our relationship hidden while publicly having a boyfriend. When everyone was looking at me like I was a weird monster everywhere I went. When I was afraid I might lose my home and my family. When I was made to feel completely illegitimate as a human being, like a sexual freak, a leper, a contagious thing to be feared and destroyed by the adults and peer members of my community. Was I experiencing bullying? Bullying? Really.
  I did experience some homophobic bullying, sure. The head banged into lockers, the, “You’re a faggot, you’re a lesbian,” verbal taunting; a few punches in the sides, the occasional can thrown at my head. This was bad, hurtful, and difficult to cope with. But I know if I had had access to a community or societal structure that was not built on a severely homophobic, hetero-sexist foundation, I would have found more constructive means of  coping with the bullying than the self-destructive and brutal outlet I chose.
My experience was common and even somewhat tame for a gay teen out in the late nineties. Gay teens are dealing with the same situations today. Many, more severe. The events that have left the deepest scars, the kind that are not visible but will never entirely clear, are not the punches and jeers I received from wayward high school classmates with whom I had little relation, but the larger experiences of the systemic homophobia pervading so many of my interactions with peripherals who meant nothing to me, my intimates, and adults in positions of power, alike.
 The word bullying has become a catch phrase. Something the media shouts out when another gay teenager kills themselves. If these suicides are just due to bullying, then I wonder why there is not also a steady rash of chubby, teen-gamer suicides? Where is the epidemic of marching band members offing themselves? Why aren’t we having thoughtful conversations about accepting the ways of D&D players on 60 minutes?
   This is not to say that bullying is not serious, and sometimes fatal. The level of violence found in our (american) schools, perpetuated against myriad types of children by their peers, would be considered unconscionable in most parts of the world, and should be addressed immediately. It is already too little too late. 
Still, I know from personal experience, the events and conditions that are pushing our gay children to suicide go far beyond what is encapsulated in the word bullying, and it is a smack in the face of the dead to repeatedly address it as such. These children are victims of societal and cultural oppression. They are victims of severe violence, of bigotry. They are victims of severe harassment and outputs of the abiding homophobia that is deeply embedded in our society and its citizens. They are victims of prejudice, bigotry, oppression, and brutality. But these are not words the media is comfortable using, because they are not palatable to the homophobic public. Furthermore, the mainstream media is also systemically homophobic.
By focusing solely on the idea of bullying, they are telling us that homophobia and moral hatred of homosexuals is acceptable, but acting on these ideals (bullying) is unacceptable. It is the same logic that produced the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ creed. To speak of the current environment as bigoted, brutal and oppressive, would call out anti-gay oppression and homophobia itself as unacceptable at its core. The term bullying packages these events for the homophobic public, making it acceptable to be appalled by physical violence against gay children and to be simultaneously, morally against homosexuality and homosexual (and queer) liberation. Calling oppression “bullying,” does little to address the real issue as it does not dare to even name the issue.
 How absurd would it sound to speak of feminists as women reacting to centuries of misogynistic bullying? How sacrilegious to speak of black communities as having been bullied by whites? Would it pass to speak of instances of anti-Semitic violence, oppression or ostracization, even against a Jewish youth today, as bullying? But we have begun to come to terms with racism. At least most will not speak out openly against you if you say racism, at its root, is wrong and should be eradicated. With sexism also, we have made progress enough to be able to speak of it as a cultural flaw (although there is much work to be done on both fronts and in many ways, we are again moving backwards).
We must address the real situations that are leading our progeny to the most brutal final act against themselves. Many of these issues expand beyond basic concepts of  homophobia, tying into ideals of heterosexual, masculine and feminine identities, economic and patriotic insecurities, and long histories of cultural stigma. But we will not begin to delve into the issues that are creating the oppressive, homophobic climate that is painting the current world these children are being born into as an impossible place for them to live and grow, if we cannot even name the situations they are facing. We owe it to our children to stop the “bullying” talk, and start talking seriously about homophobia, bigotry, social oppression and the brutal, daily violence they (and we) are facing.
To name something is to begin to have power over that thing. Until we call it out by name and turn it to face, it will evade us in the shadows or remain camouflaged in its acceptably packaged box. But I think when you put your hand in, you will find that the jaws of the beast are much more powerful than the label has led you to believe.  

-Chavisa Woods




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