Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Different Kind of Victim

It was once believed that “bullying” was only confined to traditional victims.  They were the adolescents who wore thick glasses and lacked the gregarious personality to compensate for these physical deficits.  They were also the people who seemed to run a nonstop campaign to act as odd as possible as if begging for ridicule and negative attention.  This apparently was me during most of my childhood.  As an adult, I had the opportunity to reunite with my old Sunday School Teacher from Vassar Temple.  It has been about twenty years since I last saw her so it took awhile for the memory cylinders to fire up.  She admitted, “I never understood how someone so adorable and intelligent could do so many ridiculous things to increase his ridicule!”  Society has long-assumed that bullying was limited to those who “brought it on themselves” or who just never received too many breaks with regards to physical appearance and/or social abilities.  It was a fact of life and only affected this small segment of the population.

We know that is not true and someone incredible reinforced the notion that bullying never discriminates.  It affects those who are beautiful, talented, and are the last people you would think are victims.  It even affects some of the most beautiful people in New York State or even the nation.  Millennium Brooklyn High School should be hailed as a hero for showing us the way and reminding us that anyone can be a victim.  I attended their annual “Peace Day.”

I was not in a good mood when I walked to the last assembly of the day on the date of Tuesday, January 29, 2013 because I had to wake up at 2:20 AM to catch the Metro North Train into the city.  Furthermore, I had been lecturing all day trying my hardest to impress several classes of high school students.  It is emotionally-draining trying to explain to an amazing class of kids who have Asperger’s they will be in for a tumultuous future if they do not make an effort to understand the difference between Asperger’s syndrome and qualities that must be corrected.  They should give themselves more of a fighting chance than I had for a long time.  Some are going to listen to my words of wisdom and others will be forced to also learn things the hard way.  I was spent by the time I walked into that auditorium, but it was not long before I woke up.

The person lecturing to Millennium Brooklyn High School was Miss New York State 2011 and the second runner up of that year’s Miss America Pageant.  She spoke of years in which she was bullied and called names like, “weird.”  The abuse sadly does not get much easier when you become a celebrity.  It opens the door for any individual to post their own ignorant and ridiculous opinions.  As long as there are no suggestions of violence toward the individual…anything goes.

One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen has admitted to the same abuse I have suffered as someone with Asperger’s syndrome who had a big nose, funny voice, and eccentric hobbies.  (Actually…I still have those qualities!)  I am going to do my absolute best to bring Kaitlin Monte to my own former school district to infuse the same inspiration she brought to those gimlet-eyed, high school students.

I am very proud of all the celebrities in our culture who have opened up about their own abuse and it is found in plenty of songs.  The most famous song I can think of is, “Raise your Glass.”  The music video created by the artist, Pink, features an assortment of misfits rising up against a society that rejects them.  They have let go of the empty hope that they will someday be embraced and have decided to create their own celebration.  ‘If you learn to let it go…we can party on our OWN!”  Of course, there is also Taylor Swift who created the popular song, “Mean.”  Taylor Swift has been a target of bullying from Kanye West grabbing the microphone away during her acceptance speech to people crucifying her in the media because of her many short-lived, romantic relationships.  (My favorite piece in this new genre is “Mean” because it focuses on victims seizing back their lives and rising to a level of success that will never be obtained by former victimizers.)  It is hard to feel completely sorry for these celebrities who float above the economic crisis with their millions of dollars in revenue, although they really do live with the same anguish as the rest of us despite their success.  Do some of them become successful to run away from their past filled with such pain?  And most important, does their success really make a difference in alleviating their residual pain?

You could hear a pin drop as Ms. Monte continued.  She spoke of being stalked through text messages for two years from a former boyfriend who continued to tell her that she was a horrible person and there were so many fake friends who came out of the woodwork only when she became famous.  I could relate to this after my book was published when plenty of individuals from high school requested me on Facebook who did not give me the time of day over twelve years ago.  Ms. Monte says she rejected all of these new friends because if they were not in her life in the past then they are not true friends now.  While I was still skeptical about all the friend requests I received, it was my choice to give them the benefit of the doubt.  There is one person who tormented me for six months over the Internet who I have yet to hear from, and maybe it is because I gave her an unflattering cameo in the book while speaking about this experience.  What happened to me is actually associated with a relatively-new term known as, “catfishing.”  I was lured into an Internet romance by a woman whose name was, “Liz.”  The online relationship continued for six months until I finally learned the young woman was a figment of someone’s imagination.  Mentioning the experience within my book provided only some amount of closure.  It will never dissipate completely from the horrors of memory.

Kaitlin Monte and I are now public figures trying to save others from experiencing our same level of pain.  We want more warriors to join us in this quest.  Most important, we need people to understand they are so special and have much to offer when others give them the fighting chance they deserve in life.  Most victims of bullying are not destined to become public figures, but they should still find some way to lessen the torment experienced by current victims.  We are past the days when bullying was seen as an unfortunate part of growing up and accepted as such.  We are better than this!

It is also important to acknowledge there is a form of abuse that can be just as horrible as bullying, but society has very limited control over it.  My inappropriate behaviors and anguish used to flare up during times when I was “ignored.”  I wanted attention and negative behaviors were often a way to obtain this acknowledgement.  Therefore, it is critical for teachers and society to provide mentorship programs that will give students an opportunity to know how much they matter.  More mature, accepting students will be able to watch over those who cannot yet advocate for themselves.  Every child is entitled to at least one friend who will help fight for their success and look out for them.  We had something like this called, “The Buddies Program” when I was a student, but it was only for students with “traditional” disabilities.

Please join me in bringing Kaitlin to my community and all of your local schools considering I think the schoolchildren may pay more attention to her than me!  (Especially the adolescent boys, but I think that is pretty much common sense!)  Kaitlin Monte…you are perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and hope you finally acknowledge this fact!

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