In 2000, there were no anti-bullying campaigns – no StopBullying.gov, no National Bullying Prevention Center, no StompOutBullying.org – or, if there were, no one in my world had any idea they existed.
There was just the age-old sentiment that a kid “should stand up for him or herself” and “fight back.”
It’s hard to fight back when you’re not a fighter.
I always fit in as a kid and I never had any trouble making friends. I played hockey, football, soccer, baseball and got great grades. I was, by most accounts, pretty normal.
In first grade, my teachers noted I had some writing talent. I had been a little sensitive and slightly anxious, but it was nothing completely out of the ordinary for a creative type.
Then came sixth grade. Bullying is notoriously rampant in middle school, but no one warned me it could ever happen to me.
No one took the time to help establish a foundation of proper coping skills; I was left mostly by myself to endure the torture of being bullied.
I remember one of the other boys, a kid I had known since kindergarten, calling someone else a “faggot.” I remember saying, “Dude, don’t use that word. That’s not cool. He’s a nice kid.”
“What? Are you a faggot too?” he asked.
The only thing I knew to say was, “Huh? No, I like girls.”
“Sure you do, faggot,” he said, the word stinging like a swarm of angry wasps on my young, fragile emotions.
I was now on the same level as the other boy he had just name-called.
Then, one of his friends, another boy I had known since kindergarten, said, “Yeah, I bet you like sucking dick.”
I immediately got teary-eyed and ran to the bathroom, unsure of what had just happened.
Why were these boys I had known for years being so mean to me? What had I done to them? Why did I deserve this? Was I gay and just didn’t know it? What was wrong with me?
That last question — after four more months of enduring daily harassment, which included getting punched in the face a few times, being forced to carry lunch trays, crying at school multiple times a day, hiding in my room at night doing the same and fantasizing about being dead — became more of a fundamental character value than a question.
My parents finally transferred me to a private school with one quarter of the school year remaining. Why did they wait so long? It’s hard to say. Perhaps they didn’t know how bad it was.
Perhaps they hoped the school administration would step in and help.
Regardless, it was one of the best decisions they ever made because it completely changed the trajectory of my life for the better.
Though it took about a decade for me to finally return to a similar level of confidence and comfort that I had before my sixth grade experience, here are six reasons I now say, “Hey, thanks for calling me faggot”:
1. I Met Some Of The Greatest People In The World
I am still friends with the group of guys I met at the private school I transferred to.
One is an engineer at Boeing, one is a Navy pilot, one is an optometrist, one is an architect and I’m fighting the good fight, preventing child sexual abuse for a nationally recognized nonprofit.
These guys introduced me to the guitar, which I still play, 13 years later.
They showed me good music, and we still all go to music festivals.
We had our first beers together in high school, and we commiserated with each other about finals in college.
We are now about to celebrate one friend's marriage this July.
I wouldn’t trade any group of guys for them in the world, and I wouldn’t know them had I not been bullied. So for that, thanks.
2. I Learned How To Introspect, Cope, And Move On From An Early Age
Thinking there was something fundamentally wrong with me as I entered high school was a terrible experience.
I was socially anxious and quiet when all I wanted to do was be a happy-go-lucky, smiling high school kid.
However, it was this lack of satisfaction that invoked my desire to search for a way past those feelings.
I began meditating, exercising, eating healthy, keep a diary and seeing a therapist.
The positive life habits and personal growth that stemmed from these practices are things most people don't think to begin until their 30s.
It has been an immensely helpful jump on the competition. This wouldn’t have happened without your help, sixth grade bullies.
3. The Women
I have one thing in common with most of the women I am attracted to now: They’ve also been through something extremely difficult or traumatic, and it makes perfect sense.
Going through things that require us to deal with intense emotions give us a very different, perhaps even healthier, perspective on life and the nature of things.
Life is all about contrast, and we cannot know happiness without pain.
Those who experience the most pain are, it would then seem, capable of the most happiness as well.
The women I find most attractive have usually seen this pain, and it has given them a similar perspective.
Oh yeah, I guess this means I’m not a homosexual after all. Again, thanks for that.
4. You Gave Me A Reason To Be Amazing
Having once felt like a human pile of dog sh*t (all thanks to you!), I now strive every day to be the very best I can be.
I also ensure those around me feel accepted, loved and inspired because no one should feel like dog sh*t, ever.
I think this points back to the previous notion of contrast and perspective.
5. My Life Is Pretty Great Now
If it weren’t for you, I would never have lived out of my car while surviving on beans and rice in the Southwest for three months with my best friend.
I would never have moved to San Diego and become an Ocean Lifeguard, lived on the beach and taught surf lessons.
I would never have moved to Hawaii and lived in a cave as a student at the University of Hawaii, nor written about it for the school paper.
I would never have spent two months bumming around Costa Rica and riding some of the best waves the world has to offer.
I would never have picked up a guitar or read Jack Kerouac or hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. And for all of this, I thank you.
6. And I’m Even More Excited For Where It’s Headed
You see, bullies, you actually helped light a fire under my ass.
You helped me realized that in order to be amazing, you have to separate yourself from the bad eggs, like yourselves.
You helped me realize that it’s actually pretty awesome to be weird.
You forced me to start doing things and building a strong foundation at an age when most people are more worried about zits, body odor and wet dreams.
You inspired me to be great, which means doing great things and generally being excellent toward other human beings.
I cannot stress enough how cultivating this awareness at an early age helped me strive for such great heights.
Most of all, though, you made me realize people who treat other people like sh*t are pretty worthless. And for that, I thank you for calling me “faggot.”
I thank you — for every painful day, every tear, every punch in the face, every book you threw on the ground, every snicker behind my back, every lunch tray you made me carry, every time I told my mom I’d rather die than go to school the next day – because though what you did may color the rest of my life, I get to choose that color.
Again, thank you for all your help.