I tell my adolescent bullying story in every painful detail in my upcoming memoir. I was ridiculed as a pre-teen upon entering Marshal Simons Middle School in Burlington Massachusetts. Once the other boys heard I was a tap and jazz dancer and a budding actor, I was fresh meat for hungry hazing. “Faggot”, “Fem”, and every other effeminate derogatory insult were hurled at me like boulders. My safety and trust in human beings was shattered. I was frozen in such a panic everyday and couldn’t wrap my oversensitive brain around such unprovoked hatred. I had no idea how much resentment was worming its way into the foundation of my life at that time. I so badly wanted control. I couldn’t take the horrible feelings of self-loathing that constantly bubbled up in me. One day I even began drinking with those same kids just so the pain would stop.
Of course back in 1988, when the terror began, there was no anti-bullying movement and there were no openly gay people on television to identify with. I considered suicide several times between the ages of twelve and fifteen with one serious attempt. That began years of burying pain and shame deep down inside of me. I used people and substances until I could no longer feel anything. However the shame was still there. It seeped into my core and became part of my personality. I overcompensated for it in so many ways - a loud and over the top personality, going through men like socks, looking perfect on the outside, and an insatiable appetite for success with an “I’ll show them” attitude.
My Amway upbringing only added fuel to my raging fire. My father would often say, “Success is your best revenge.” So I mimicked his quest for success and pushed myself harder and harder to become anything other than what I was. But no matter what I accomplished or who I made fall in love with me, it was never enough to quell the shame.
After years of running and a near fatal breakdown after turning thirty, I was forced to deal with the bullying I had experienced fifteen years prior. It was extremely difficult to even admit that I was still resentful over something that happened so long ago. I felt like a loser for not having the ability to let it go, which precipitated more shame. Even as the current anti-bullying movement emerged I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was a little thirteen-year-old boy inside of me screaming, “What about me? Where were you fifteen years ago?”
Since then I have done everything I can think of to become part of the movement. I am the Chairman of GLSEN’s New York City Chapter; I mentor gay teens at Covenant House and teach Anti-bullying workshops to teens around the world using theater as a way to explore this behavior.
But still missing from this movement is support for those of us who didn’t have a media-based Anti-Bullying campaign when we were kids. Those of us who still feel angry and feel ashamed of that. And those who still feel alone.
If you are struggling, or have struggled with this, please contact me. Together we can find Life After Bullying. You are not alone.