A girl at Bloomington North high school committed suicide on Tuesday. Her mom said that she was being bullied, the principal said that he found no evidence of it. I’d just like to say this about that last bit with the principal.



There. As an administrator, you have a pulse on the trends at the school, you may even have a rapport with some of the students. Boffo for you. But here’s something that you and the teachers, and the parents are usually not privy to: anything said in the halls, bathrooms, lunch lines, locker rooms, busses, and class rooms. You are ignorant of the realities that swirl and collide before you every day, or you had better be, because if you actually know what is being said and done within the walls of your institution, you are complicit in the activities that are ruining lives. So, please, Principal Henderson, STFU before you say something else stupid. Shut up and listen. Listen to the kids, the talk in the halls when you’re not noticed, the niggling cruelties between each-other that eat like acid through the developing identities of your students. All of you, just listen, then, put a stop to it.

Kids will be kids, but they will be the kids they are guided into being. By ignoring or dismissing one act of bullying, you are condoning it. Nip that shit in the bud. Anyone seeing that, call it out for what it is – psychological and/or physical abuse.

I applaud Dynasty Young’s mom who tried official channels to curb the torment her son faced at Arsenal Tech high school in Indianapolis. She could get no help from the school, so she gave her embattled child a stun gun. Not a taser, mind you, which shoots out barbs, but a handheld device that produces a high-voltage but low apm shock that temporarily incapacitates someone. So Dynasty took this device (some call it a weapon) to school and one day gets enircled and threatened with a good sound beating, oh, forgot this, because he’s “flamboyantly gay.” So in a moment when he is fearing for his safety, he pulls out the stun gun, holds it in the air, not at anyone< and presses the button which makes an impressive spark and snapping sound. His attackers back off, and Dynasty goes to class, only to be apprehended by school police and suspended. He had an expulsion hearing where he was kicked out of school, and his tormentors, who had threatened him regularly and even followed him home, throwing rocks and bottles at him, are still at school. Some people get hung up on the defensive weapon being taken to school, but this child was fighting for his life. His grades fell from As and Bs to Fs, he was physically attacked, stoned no less, and repeatedly targetted at school, and the principal (sensing a pattern here) when asked about stopping the bullying, chose to blame Dynasty for being too flamboyant. Victim blaming. Nothing better to build up the student's spirits.

But, Melanie, why are you so emotional about this? Well, funny you should ask. You see, I was suicidal for about 8 years of my life, much of it due to hiding my intersex/transsexual nature, but largely because of the abuse I received every day at school for six years. From 7th grade through graduation, I was tormented and harassed and faced down an older kid with a switchblade whose intent it was to save me the bother of suicide. There were petitions, weekly questionnaires, a daily chart of what I wore, songs, pranks, daily verbal abuse, false accusations, attempts to get me in trouble, and graffiti in my honour. Those who were my friends had to be the best characters in the world to be associated with a pariah like me. It would have been easy for me to believe that I was the only one to be bullied, but I saw it everywhere around me. Rumours, whole concocted mythologies about some people, name-calling and small assaults when the teachers' backs were turned. Two kids at the high school reportedly had HIV, but a hundred were accused of being them. Even I participated on a counter-attack on a group that had hurt a friend of mine.

Screw love, Pat, school is a battlefield. I survived, not everyone does. Years of therapy, alcoholism, drug abuse, ruined relationships, eating disorders, and the smattering of suicides are the casualties of this war. Even nearing my 40s, I know peers who are still trying to recover from the emotional damage they took in high school. This is not something new, it's just coming into the light with the interconnectedness of our world, we know within hours of another child lost to inattention and callous reactions. But still, reaction is the norm, and its effects are only local. Someone has to die before the problem is recognised and discussions about bullying begin. We're not a very proactive species, as a whole, and American culture is quite cold to those who suffer emotionally, two very horrific realities.

My daughter has some physical problems that she will have to live with perhaps all her (hopefully) long life. They are already a source of shame for her in first grade, and I worry about how she will react to kids that may latch onto that and poke fun at her for it. Bullying even goes on in her school, though teachers and administrators are quick to respond when it is brought to their attention. Yet even in this very conscious environment, children find time and opportunity to bully. It may be as ubiquitous as book bags, but so too was tuberculosis, and look what we've been able to do with that. For starters, I am teaching that everybody deserves respect from the start, and that she should accept nothing less in return. I do add that once respect is lost, on one side or the other, it may never be regained.

That's one concept I find missing from many people I meet these days. Respect seems to have been retired sometime in the 60s from the general culture. Oh, everyone may demand it, but it is rarely given, and when it is, it is usually in short measure. Like sex-ed, I think that the burden has to fall on schools to teach it to the kids, because like sex-ed, the parents alone are not always sufficiently versed in the subject enough to adequately instruct their children.

I'm tired, the clothes are dry, and I'm ending this here. I've taken to rambling, but I do want to hear a discussion about this instead of a bunch of "it gets better" stuff. Obviously, the message isn't reaching enough kids.