Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Words Hurt As Much As Sticks and Stones

“Bruises heal. Cruel words can make us cry for years”- Unknown

In comparison to other boys, I’ve always seen myself as different. I liked reading and being indoors. I enjoyed the arts: singing, dancing, drawing and acting. I preferred the company of girls because I felt more understood. I would often be seen at recess or lunch time, playing ‘Miss Universe’ or braiding someone’s hair. I saw no problem with any of this. I was simply unique. Then, I went to Secondary School and it all changed.

From the very first day, I was considered ‘gay’, and called every gay related term; admittedly, some were more creative than others. There were the usual, derogatory terms thrown my way, like faggot, panty-man, buller-man and girly-boy. Sometimes, the bullies used their imagination, coming up with stylised names, like Garvgina or Garvina.

When they were bored with the name-calling, they asked hurtful, mocking questions, referencing all my mannerisms and interests that made me less of a boy, in their eyes. They pinpointed my walk and shake, my high voice and use of Standard English, my pop culture references to Britney Spears and knowledge of pageants, my love of books and singing, and my hand gestures.

The torture was never-ending; morning and evening, from the first bell to the last. Usually, I’m an optimistic, charismatic and creative person, but the constant barrage of insults had taken all life from me. I was miserable and wanted to be invisible. I tried my hardest to achieve the latter. I would sit quietly, never answering questions. I would walk the corridors with my head bowed and my hands in my pockets, hoping that I would make it back to my classroom, unnoticed. I would try to dissimulate by walking with a ‘bounce’, deepening my voice, and talking about ‘boy stuff’, like the Premier League. The consequences were disastrous, to put it mildly.

I went in search of ‘comfort zones’; those are, places I could be my optimistic, charismatic, creative self. It was important for my sanity. The library was my go-to place during free periods. Silence was golden and talking was frowned upon, so although I got the looks, no one said anything. I quickly became friends with the library staff, too. I joined the school’s choir, where my creativity flourished. I met other individuals who shared my passions. Sure, the hecklers were in attendance when we performed at school, but for a few minutes, I was happy. Making friends- adults and students alike- instilled in me self confidence.

I made the valiant decision to stand up for myself by using snappy retorts. I told my bullies about ‘how their mothers made them’, ‘what I did with their mother the night before’ and ‘to make way for their new step-father’. I took it a step further, too. I noted their shortcomings, limitations and insecurities, and used it against them. Nothing was off limits; everything from their academic performance to their living situation became a weapon with which I could hurt them. Pretty soon, I was not only gay, but a smart ass, a meanie and a bitch with a ‘hot mouth’. I was unstoppable.

For a short time, it made me feel better. Then, it came to a screeching halt when I made a boy cry in the choir room. I hadn’t realised that, in fighting fire with fire, I had become a bully myself. I had projected all my hurt on not only the bullies, but others who reminded me of myself, like the snivelling boy in the seat next to me. What had I become? On the outside, it was all bravado, but the truth of the matter was that I was hurt, sad, angry and confused. In short, I was a mess on the inside. I cried that night, alone in my room, asking God, “Why?” This cycle would replay itself for four years.

I started to take a few steps in the right direction, after a school trip to Venezuela. During the trip, I overheard my roommates complaining that they didn’t want to sleep in the same room as ‘the faggot’. I was left reeling; until that point, I was having fun, making friends and being accepted/ respected, or so I thought. It was a rude awakening. With tears streaming down my face, I cursed the boys and stormed out of the room.

A few minutes later, I was seated in the lobby, waiting for a room change. I was going over the ordeal again and silently sobbing when a teacher sat next to me. Instead of cuddling me, she told me as it is. I was different from most boys my age, and there was nothing wrong with that. It was unfair that my uniqueness made me a target, but I needed to develop a thicker skin. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself. School was a preparation for life, and in life, there would always be persons or groups who would try to tear you down. She explained that only I had the power to decide how I allowed it to affect me.

I pondered her words on the remaining leg of the trip. Initially, I thought that she was stupid. She didn’t know what I went through every day. Her words had no bearing and heeding them would not have made anything better. I had another breakdown two days later, where I screamed at a cashier in a restaurant. I felt justified in my behaviour, until I registered the looks I got from other patrons, students and teachers. I was reminded of the crying boy in the choir room, and felt ashamed.  I had to regain control of my emotions and manage my anger. I needed a complete overhaul in perspective.

I began by muttering self affirmations. I am different. I am intelligent. I am confident. I am going to be someone one day. This stage of my life is not forever. God made me in his image and likeness. Eventually, I accepted and revelled in my circumstances. When I went to the library or attended choir practice, I did so because I loved it, not because I was trying to hide from everyone. I became more open-minded and accepting. I no longer felt the need to degrade others, and discovered that I had a killer sense of humour that was dark, self deprecating and sarcastic.

Most importantly, I didn’t allow the words to affect me. This was the hardest part because the name-calling did continue, and along with it came the desire to retaliate or cry. When I offered to help one of my bullies with his SBA, I was quite proud of myself. It would have been quite easy for me to turn him away and chastise him for being too dumb, but I didn’t give in. I was on the mend. I spent the next three years of my Secondary School career happier than I had ever been.

To this day, I remember the teacher’s words, and I use my affirmations. I surround myself with people who love and accept me just the way I am. The truth is- and I say this without any reservations of sounding cliché- circumstances really make you who you are. For, if I hadn’t gone through all of those things, I wouldn’t have been as contented and confident as I am today. No one is perfect, but I am proud of the man that I have become and I wouldn’t have it any other way.