The novelty of picking on someone doesn’t wear off as soon as you’d expect. It’s a cat and mouse game from which the perpetrators derive the utmost sadist pleasure. Actually the novelty of picking on someone never wears off, especially if that someone is you. It’s probably the only time you will get the undivided attention that you wish you didn’t.
It started with being “four eyes” while I was in first grade. It didn’t matter if your parents tried to build your five-year-old confidence about wearing glasses. To other five year olds weak eyes only meant a weak person. Once inside class it was ‘Welcome to Animal Kingdom’ where the weak are open season. The savageness of their words contrasts with the good training you get at home about not teasing or troubling others. Making a mess in your five year old brain and making me wonder when their parents will train them about not troubling others so that my misery ends.
Being different is not a problem in itself, but to be different in an environment that celebrates uniformity/homogeneity is like a dare that you’ve given yourself, because most people view difference as threats, a threat to their limited world view. They were gliding about easily on a smooth surface of familiarity; they would now have to undergo the arduous experience of revisiting long held beliefs. And it’s your entire fault!
By the age of eight or nine I started picking up speech and mannerisms which were more feminine than masculine. For this I stuck out like a sore thumb and I still do. Growing up as an 80’s kid with a different gender identity is a very difficult experience that any kid can go through. By that age I already had awareness that I am different from everyone else around me. Everyone that you come across will notice the boy who isn’t into sports or aggression and they will use terms like momma’s boy, chokri (the Gujarati term for girl), the labels get colourful and vicious as the days pass. All this while other kids my age are comfortable in their games, sports and conventional gender roles.
Growing up different wasn’t easy, I was ashamed of this terrible person I was made out to be (it could be true if everyone said so). And afraid of talking about it with anyone lest they find out and decide to join the party. This led me to withdraw from people, especially groups of people.
Then, there were those people that wanted to probe my uniqueness with lurid questions only to satisfy their own callous curiosity. Or the sly types who’d out me while I wasn’t ready to come out, all for big-ups from their bigoted friends. Meeting these people shook up my trust in people and made me build walls around myself to keep me safe.
My whole training that I got from home about having empathy towards others contradicted heavily with what I was experiencing everywhere outside. Not the most pleasant of experiences to recount, but to summarize. I started to hate everyone and everything that made me who I really was.
What am I? The labels that everyone gave me?
NO. I am more than the toxic vocabulary of their labels.
I don’t know at what point this truth hit me hard, but I realized that I am who I am, I didn’t want to change anything about me and I had no power over my past. So I decided to take control of how I reacted to situations. I decided to be more emphatic while dealing with people and give them my best self.
Over the years that I’ve stumbled with people I also made a few good friends in whom I saw the same struggle that I went through, having empathy really helps in connecting with people and having strong bonds.
Let’s talk about what bullying does to people. Bullying makes people feel lesser than they are. Imagine everyone drilling in your head that you are lesser than others and at some point you start believing it yourself. It plays havoc with your confidence and makes you on the defensive with EVERYONE, you will run away from people even if the people you meet in the future are going to be nice and helpful. Bullying is the same as assault, only the scars aren’t visible.
I hope more people are able to respect differences and have compassion towards everyone. That will reduce bullying as bullying comes out of lack of compassion.