Pull Out All The Stops

Something was wrong, I just knew it.  But I also understood, having been down this road many times before, that I had to wait until Sam was ready to talk.  And so I anxiously exercised my patience, knowing the signs, all too well, that something was wearing on him.  The constant deep-in-thought look, excessive sleeping, and verbally lashing out at the family were all symptoms of Sam being harassed and bullied.  After four days he was finally willing to open up, sharing the pain of his latest emotional wound.

As a member of the high school pep band Sam is required to play at sporting events, most recently for the girl’s hockey quarter-final game.  While sitting in the bleachers waiting to play, he glanced over to see a group of his fellow classmates pointing at him and laughing.  He knew immediately he was the target of their ridicule because the group was comprised of some of the same boys who hurl derogatory comments his way on the days he musters the courage to eat in the high school lunchroom.  He tried to ignore them, but glancing back a second time he was shocked to see several of them, still extremely amused and pleased with themselves, taking photos of him with cameras and cell phones, the purpose for which neither of us even wanted to imagine.

My heart broke as he shared his sadness, asking me why kids have to be so mean.  I had no answer, my standard responses for such mean-spirited actions already having been used to exhaustion.  And so I just listened as he exorcised the demons he had kept alive in his head since that day.

When he had completely purged the experience from his mind I asked, “What are their names?”  My tone not masking my hurt for my child coupled with my anger toward those kids.  But Sam, wise beyond his years, knew this was not a battle he had the strength to fight, and therefore simply replied, “I don’t know.”  End of discussion.

In the wake of yet another school shooting in Ohio this week, which is already speculated to be caused by a history of harassment and bullying between some of the children involved, I share Sam’s experience with you as an example of the type of behavior students are exhibiting toward one another all across our country.  Ugly, disrespectful behavior that is always at someone else’s expense, the cost of which, too high for any child or family to pay.  In extreme cases the consequences culminate in violence, while in other incidences children choose to harm themselves or simply sink into a pit of despair and depression.  As for Sam, once he revealed what had happened to him he became physically ill and is now missing a day of school to recover his mental and physical health.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I will join forces with anyone who is willing and able to pull out all the stops to put an end to this blatant disregard for common decency and respect.

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8 Responses to Pull Out All The Stops

  1. kaisermiller says:

    My heart just breaks for kids who continue to be bullied. It breaks for Sam. I wish that the bullies could feel the pain that they inflict. It occurs to me that there are kids who aren’t bullying who could/should stand up for kids who are getting picked on. Give Sam a hug for me.

    • DJC says:

      I’m with kaisermiller on this one. It is a bleeding tragedy that so many of our kids…people I’d want to have working under me, for crying out loud…off themselves because they can’t put up with the bullying for reasons they can’t help. I know what it’s like. I probably would have been dead before the end of grammar school but my brother was willing to administer a little beating to anyone who came too close…that could have saved my life. I would want to talk about how it gets better…it’s so good to be surrounded by colleagues who don’t think of you as some sort of “weirdo” or “spazz” because you prefer to vanish for a couple of days when you have work to do. They don’t NEED to know the technical details…I’m just Dave, the guy who “works like a machine” to them, and they always take my side and cover for any problems that might arise. That’s all I am. Dave, the guy who “works like a machine.” But they take care of me and no one knows about the Aspie thing unless I tell them. Moral of the story: I guess it does get better, or at least to the point where it’s tolerable. It’s all about finding an environment where you can have camaraderie and avoid hostile outsiders. My cycle of the journal has that and we have closed and controlled spaces we can use (you can’t get NEAR my office without going through three locked doors). Guess I’m rambling. It gets better, or it can. I promise. I’m looking forward to this article coming out.

  2. katja says:

    Oh, so, unfair and wrong. I feel for you both, what an exhausting fight this must be, just for the basics of human decency. Your blog has touched my life, and has helped me talk with my 6 year old about gender and decency and bullying. We go to a UU church, and the pastor shared a story where a “deep voice” called the secretary for directions to the church and asked if everyone was welcome, she said yes, and the voice said, “even if I’m wearing a dress?” and the secretary answered, “Why, is it an ugly dress?” I shared the story with M, and how everyone is welcome at our church, and how we should be kind to everyone, and we talked a little about how the person on the phone was probably born a man, but always thought and felt like a woman, and M said, “It must be hard when how you look doesn’t match how you feel.” It gives me hope that your blog, and talking and being open, and appealing to what is good in our little ones will help heal the world. Maybe not Sam today, but soon, I hope. I would hope she my M will continue to think this way, and I try not to judge those children who are teasing, and try not to judge their parents and their churches, but it is hard, and I can only imagine how hard it is for Sam. It DOES get better though… As an aside, I talked with someone who is in her fifties, with a transgender child who is thriving in her twenties. Maybe I can connect you two… I imagine any support and hope is helpful during these dark days…

  3. Sara says:

    How heartbreaking! I wish that we could all promise Sam that when he gets out into the adult world that things would get better, and indeed, I think that they mostly will, but sadly, ugliness remains and all that we can all do is keep trying to make the world better than it is now. Sigh. Hang in there.

  4. Inukie Koji says:

    Uhm. It seems like Sam is very hurt by having to go to school in a place with such mean people. People who knew him before and all.
    I’m a transmale college student, and I know it drove me half mad being stuck around people who knew before even in a school without bullying really.
    With transpeople, who worry ‘What if they think of me as a girl?’ literally all the time, it can be really really painful to have to be only around people who knew before. And going through middle school without stealth either? That’s beyond agony
    What I mean to say is, why isn’t Sam living stealth? Why isn’t he going to another school? Close friends? If he’s not willing to name the boys who did this, it seems like it isn’t refusing to give up.
    I’m sorry, I just really want to ask after reading all of this blog and wondering for so long.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your question – no need to be sorry, it is a common and good question! A few years ago we looked into switching schools thinking it would provide a fresh start for Sam, however there were two reasons he decided not to make the move. First, we have learned that going ‘stealth’ has its own set of stressors that can make every day a living hell worrying that you will be found out. The likelihood of that seemed certain given the fact it is such a small world. Inevitably we felt that no matter where he went someone’s aunt, cousin, neighbor or friend would know someone who knows someone who knows Sam and the secret would likely be divulged. The second reason was academics. Sam’s high school is one of the best public high schools for college prep in the nation, and that means a lot to him. When I mentioned that many area schools also have good academic reputations he informed me that he had researched the test scores of their students and overall none were close to our school. He then looked at me and said, “Why should I have to be the one to leave?” It was at that point we decided to follow his lead. Hope that helps and thanks again for reading this blog and weighing in!

  5. Melanie says:

    Minnetonka implemented an anti-bullying program for which my husband created this video: http://kstp.com/article/stories/s2387397.shtml — It would be great to see Edina do the same.

  6. Ali Blake says:

    When my son was 17 he became very depressed and sat alone in his room most of the time. Given he was a playstation junkie I thought this was the reason he spent time self isolating. I realised something was wrong though, he was so easily stressed and tired all the time and he wouldn’t/couldn’t talk to me about the reason. I tried to spend time with him, taking him out one on one, suggesting little trips we could do together, suggesting ways he could socialise more. But although he said he had things going on, he couldn’t tell me about the real reason and invented other reasons, such as a girl he liked spurned him and he felt a bit flat about it. Then one night I went and sat in his room, I told him I was staying put until he told me what was wrong.
    After some time where he was clearly on the brink of telling me something but didn’t he finally broke down in tears and sobbed in my arms. The next morning I went with him to the Dr for moral support where I learned he was depressed (Which I had guessed anyway). What I didn’t know was that he admitted to the dr although he felt it was silly, with a self conscious smile and shrug, he had actually thought of taking his own life now and then. I looked away with eyes full of tears at the thought of my son being so low and so sad and so desperate. The Dr was very good, we took the matter in hand he referred my son to a psychiatrist. We plodded on with me trying to give him time and company and support. I was scared for him and sad for him too.
    My son had one appointment but felt there was a total lack of understanding and the psychiatrist was confrontational toward him. Over the next few years my longstanding marriage broke down, I moved out with my son and younger daughter. Finally after a long divorce and selling the family we lived in a rental but it was our place and finally we were away from the sarcastic comments and manipulative ex husband. I looked forward finally to Christmas, to putting things behind us, lets have a great Christmas and start the new year with a positive bang!
    Two weeks before Christmas my son appeared in my bedroom doorway, he looked happy and relieved, he was smiling! He had been very stressed, the smallest thing tipping him over the edge, he was always tired and spent most of his life in his room with the curtains closed. This was a different person though, someone happy and positive. He had made an appointment with the Dr and after this appointment mum, he told me, I will be able to move on with my life and be myself.
    My son was transgender and he had struggled with this knowledge since he was fourteen he later said. I had absolutely no idea, no subtle or not so subtle clues, he was the average late teen/early twenties young man. Tall, strong, growing into a strapping man who was kind, gentle and considerate, car and rugby mad. I was floored, scared, sad I was losing my son, confused, more scared, this life would be so difficult for him, what if he was making a mistake, what if someone hurt him for who he wanted to be. He was tired all the time from constantly hiding who he felt he really was.
    We had a long time of struggling with the medical profession who were unable to offer him the support he needed. We couldn’t pay for private healthcare so we had to use the NHS service. There is no NHS service provision for transgender people in Wales, although, some three years later they are starting to establish a transgender id clinic in Wales. We had to fight every step of the way for my son to be recognised and have the support he needed to transition into the beautiful young woman she is today. Nothing was easy, but the difference to her when she finally came out in work and to family and started to grow in confidence made me realise this has to be. She has recently had a problem with toilets as there is only one neutral toilet where we work, and she is uncomfortable using the ladies. But this is just one of many hurdles facing her and other transgender people. I knew nothing about trans but it soon became a steep learning curve. Most people have been supportive, there has been name calling from complete strangers, a man in the park who in his fifties should have known better. My ex and his family banned my daughter from attending her grandmothers funeral recently, and out of all the hurt and prejudice and the fight we have had to take on to get my daughter support, this was the final straw and she struggled so much and was so hurt she had to have counselling to help her come to terms with what they did to her. For those who are prejudiced, it is their problem not ours, but of course it has an effect. If we could just love each other for who we all are and leave those alone who are not hurting anyone else, what a difference that would make.
    My daughter has just embarked on her first relationship at the age of 25, she is a beautiful person inside and out, and this is what counts, What goes around comes around, so I am sure there will be much love and just rewards for her in the future.

    For all those struggling, hang in there, someone loves you and that is all you need!

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