John Carroll: Dancing Saved Me From Humiliation of Bullies
BY Advocate Contributors
March 28 2012 1:18 PM ET
Not to sound like my grandfather describing how hard he had it during the depression, (“When I was your age, I had to walk 1,000 miles in a snow storm, chased by a tornado followed by a hurricane, and that was just to get to the toilet!”) but when I was growing up there was no It Gets Better campaign, no gay-straight student alliance, no Bully documentary.
As someone who was ruthlessly bullied in elementary school through high school, it's amazing to watch a very important light finally being cast on this problem in our schools. My heart breaks each time I see, read, or hear about another innocent child’s struggle, or even worse, suicide because of ignorance, intolerance and hatred.
I grew up on Long Island, just 45 minutes outside of Manhattan. You might think living in such close proximity to a metropolis would make a difference in the mindset of its inhabitants, but I might as well have lived in the middle of Nowhere, USA. Few of my childhood school memories do not involve being made fun of. I remember being called names like “homo” and “fag” in the first grade, way before I knew what those words meant.
We were taught about the signs and symptoms of child abuse but were told it was something that usually happened at home and was always committed by an adult. There was no dialogue —at least not that I heard— that suggested children could be the perpetrators of abuse. Children are cruel. If you don’t believe me, just watch Lord of the Flies. Poor Piggy! I’ve been toying with this idea for a great way to end capital punishment: take all the inmates on death row and send them back to junior high. That’ll teach ‘em!
Though I was bullied throughout elementary school, it became particularly unbearable in junior high. Bullying escalated to the point I would pray to God every night before I went to bed to not wake up in the morning. Then when I did wake up, I'd ask Him to just make me invisible for the day. Being called names, having things thrown at me, having derogatory words carved into my locker and written across my books, being shoved, pushed around, spit on and threatened to be beat up and killed, it reached a level where I no longer felt safe being in a crowd of students.
I used to car pool with a girl who lived around the corner. We were both dropped off in front of the school, where we were expected to wait for the bell to ring and the doors to open to let everyone inside. But while she went to the front entrance where the rest of the students gathered, I hid my shame by waiting for my mother to drive away and then went to the side door to enter.