10.16.2010

It Gets Better

The "It Gets Better" videos are part of a campaign to reach out to bullied youth - especially kids who are bullied on account of their real or perceived sexual orientation. I've watched the ones by Joel Burns, Tim Gunn, and Gene Robinson. They are heartbreaking but hopeful, just as the title of the project implies. As one of my internet besties posted on Facebook, she's "read the back of the book, and Love Wins."

It dawned on me today that I have my own testimony to add to the promise that it gets better. Joel Burns references in his message the many kids who are bullied because they are different. I was one of those kids. My entire fifth grade year was one big miserable lonely disaster. I got picked on every day. Toward the end of the school year, my girl scout troop went on a weekend trip to Amish country. At one point, all the girls were sent to hang out in one motel room (why the heck weren't we camping??). We weren't completely unsupervised, as the leaders were in the other side of the suite. But surely they would have intervened if they'd known that the girls made the two of us "gross girls" sit in the corner and cover our ears so we wouldn't hear what they were saying.

It got better. Where I grew up, all the sixth graders went to the same school. It was a chance to start over again. I avoided the kids from my elementary school as much as I could, and gratefully befriended the other "different" kids who were doing the same.

It got better, until algebra class my freshman year of high school. I was seated next to two popular kids - the stars of the soccer team. One of them had been in my class in the fifth grade; he'd pulled my chair out from under me and laughed when I landed on the floor. The other one was sort of friends with my boyfriend, who had tinges of popularity but was destined to be a band/church nerd, just like me. I thought that his sort of friendship with my sort of popular boyfriend might save me.

It didn't. That fall, Sassy Magazine ran a fashion spread full of funky schoolgirl clothes, with a bunch of models styled with plaid skirts and knee socks and plastic baby barrettes. I worked up the nerve to try it.

"Hey, Kay." TJM drawled. "Are you a lesbian?"

"No. Why?"

"Because you're wearing knee socks."

And then it just kept going and going, day after day, long after I'd stashed the knee socks in the furthermost corner of my bureau. Once I passed them in the hall while I was walking with my sort of popular boyfriend's older sister. They started in. I was mortified.

At the time I didn't know if I could survive it, especially fifth grade, when it wasn't just two boys in one class. Part of the problem was that I was so profoundly embarrassed to be disliked that I didn't want anyone in my family to know. Joel Burns talked about wanting to show his 13-year-old self how happy his life is now. I just want to go back in time and tell myself talk to Mama and Daddy.

It gets better. So much better. But I sure hope it gets better fast for the kids who are suffering through it right now.

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