John Carroll: Dancing Saved Me From Humiliation of Bullies

"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."



JOHN CARROLL 20130319 X390 (MCDERMOTT) | ADVOCATE.COMThe ritual was sealed by an incident where a bunch of boys chased me, pinned me down and one of them ripped out a fist full of his own pubic hair to shove in my face while calling me a faggot in front of everyone waiting to be let into the school. Though that might sound reminiscent of a "movie" some of you watched before you went to bed last night (wink, wink), it was a horrifically humiliating event for 13-year-old John.

Instead of tempting fate with a repeat attack or perhaps something even worse, I hid from the crowd gathered at the front of the school and walked around to enter from the side of the building, as usual. When my carpool friend and I parted ways, I remember feeling less than equal for having to use a different entrance. Around the corner from the vibrant, energetic crowd in front of the school was a quiet handful of students waiting for a kind teacher to open the side door entrance and let us sneak into class unnoticed. While in the front of the school, kids were running around, playing games, and talking to each other, here the children kept to themselves. Their posture was slumped over and they appeared to be already defeated. There was no light behind the eyes of these kids. Their body language and demeanor seemed to be saying, "Don’t notice me, I'm not really here."

We were the undesirables of the junior high school caste system — the misfit toys. There were gay kids like myself, some overweight kids, a kid who was rather tall for his age, the geeks, the nerds, kids with disabilities and kids, who for whatever reason, just didn't fit in. I met a girl I had become friendly with who was very tall and overweight for our age group. The kids in school called her Sasquatch. I can't imagine being a young girl trying to figure yourself out and constantly—and it was constant—being told you were ugly and called Sasquatch.

Fortunately I found an escape in my childhood that saved me from the hell I was enduring at school. I always say, "There but for the grace of God go I." God's grace for me was dance. Without having something in my life that I was good at and passionate about, I would not be here today. No matter how bad things got at school, I could always go to the dance studio and heal myself through the music and movement. Whereas at school people told me I was a faggot, worthless, and didn't deserve to live, in the dance studio, I was told that I was amazing, talented and would go very far. I was blessed enough to be able to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel and a way out of my shit hole of a hometown.

Just as in physical abuse, bullying has long lasting consequences. Bullying a child doesn’t just end when the names and punches stop, the ramifications last for years. If I hadn't been humiliated,  isolated from my peers, and made to feel like I was worthless, I wouldn’t have needed to find a sense of community and self worth in sometimes dangerous places and destructive situations.