Contrary to the Hollywood stereotype, it’s my experience that bullies are not anger-ridden thugs with perfect Matt Dillion smirks who terrorize their peers. It’s usually more subtle than that and it’s not exclusive to children. Bullies in fact can be quite charming and well-liked. Part of the power of a bully is that their covert bullying remains unexposed due to the rest of the world thinking they are “so nice” and “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
The same goes for victims. They are usually not “weak” or “shy” and “afraid”. What bullying victims DO have in common is one vulnerability that makes them a target for exploitation. That vulnerability is usually an independence, uniqueness, sometimes even courageousness…something seemingly endemic to being gay.
I’d venture to say that I was popular, competent and conscientious as a pre-teen. I earned what would be the junior high school equivalent of valedictorian. But because of the bullying I endured in Junior High it was a miserable time for me.
I certainly wasn’t the only Junior High School boy called a “fag” or a “sissy” at my school. I’m sure there were plenty of straight boys who got teased like that too. The difference is that when I was called a “fag” I wondered how they knew, what I could do to hide it and why nobody close to me seemed to know it. It held extra power and damage with me because I was so fearful of what these bullies all seemed to know.
Yes, there were bullies later in High School and even into adulthood but at that time it was easier to entrench myself with a welcoming crowd and let negative attitudes and comments roll off my back. Just like adolescents, adults have the ability to squelch and smother independence and take advantage of perceived vulnerabilities.
I’ve been bullied by some of the seemingly most charming people. Worse than anything I went through in Junior High School, my tenure in the LDS Church as a closeted gay man feels like one long bullying session. I can’t count the number of times in conversation that a lisp and limp wrist was used to mock the “homosexual lifestyle”. I’ve had priesthood leaders look right past me as I confessed something homosexual in nature only to have the entire topic be so unthinkable and incomprehensible that their eyes glazed over.
The victim of bullying feels invisible or immune to the blessings and good things promised to everyone else.
When homosexuality was rarely addressed in church, it was with hushed tones and lengthy apologetic introductions like the following:
I have worried for fear that any treatment of the subject I approach may be indelicate or immodest. I feel perhaps as did Jacob, the Book of Mormon prophet, when he opened a sermon with these words:
“. . . It grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God; . . .
But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.” (Jacob 2:7,10)
Early on in my priesthood days as a deacon I was introduced to this infamous talk by Boyd K Packer, To The One, where he condemns homosexuality and sympathizes with a physical attack on a gay missionary. To say that in a public forum where he knows fearful gay boys are listening is bullying. Packer’s much later rant on homosexuality recently elicited the following response from the Human Rights Campaign:
Words have consequences, particularly when they come from a faith leader. This is exactly the kind of statement that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide. When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous.
So, fast forward to now when a highly charged (even if politically irrelevant) story broke recently of Mitt Romney’s bullying incident in high school. That Romney may show signs of compassion and kindness in other areas of his life doesn’t negate the fact that the incident, as described by 5 of his peers, was bullying. Furthermore, Romney’s reaction to the news story mirrors my own experience in confessing to the bishop. He simply can’t be bothered with it. That’s odd because all five of the quoted classmates claim that it disturbed them for years. Romney, however, can’t be bothered by such “indelicate or immodest” talk. His not remembering and denying reveal the true measure of his character. More than the actual incident itself in my opinion.
To me that makes him either a liar or a sociopath.
Do I think the story matters in the bigger picture of present day politics? Probably not. But it sure matters to that long-haired effeminate kid in school today getting picked on by the popular kid. Seeing Romney chuckle it off makes that kid feel lesser than.
That’s the exact opposite feeling I have about President Obama’s recent vocal support of gay marriage. It probably doesn’t matter much politically except to the gay couples he validated and the vulnerable young kids hearing that who they really are is equal to everyone else.
A bully makes another feel lesser than.