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Home » Books & writing, Random Nerdy Stuff

It Gets Better

Submitted by on March 27, 2011 – 9:28 pm 29 Comments

Last week saw the release of the book version of It Gets Better, the outreach project spearheaded by Dan Savage and Terry Miller as a reaction to news of bullied youths killing themselves. Many of the stories target LGBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) teens but the message that life gets better beyond adolescence is the same for anyone who’s ever been bullied. That includes me.

I was picked on for being different, one of the few Asian kids in my school and an undersized one. In seventh grade, I weighed only about 10 ounces more than a newborn. I wore glasses, spoke with an accent, and was no good in sports. I was called names I didn’t understand and the kids laughed at my clothes.

One kid, Tom, would wait until I got my lunch after standing in the cafeteria line for a while and he’d come over and just take it away from me. There was no attempt at being sneaky; he would grab the tray right out of my hand. “What are you going to do about it?” he’d smirk. What, indeed. He was popular and bigger than I.

I was miserable, not to mention hungry. One day, after the lunch-snatching had gone on for about a week, I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. When Tom came up to steal my lunch, I said loudly, “Why are you so mean to me?” Suddenly the cafeteria went still. All the chatting and clattering of silverware were suspended as eyes turned to us, but more to Tom, awaiting his response.

We stood there for a long moment, with me unsure if he’d pound me. Regardless, I really wanted an answer. But he didn’t have one. He finally shrugged, said, “Fine, you can have your lunch back,” and handed over my tray but not before licking several of my french fries first. He never bothered me again.

I had other incidents with other bullies but they all taught me that I have a voice—I just have to use it. There are many ways of speaking out and it pains me to think of bullied kids who feel they don’t matter. Even more tragic are the ones who think it doesn’t get better. Tom, the guy who tormented me? He apologized several years later on our high school graduation day and even became my friend afterward. He explained the bullying wasn’t about me—he had his own issues. If only he’d spoken up about them.

Do you have a bullying story to share? Doesn’t have to be firsthand experience; it can be something that happened to someone you know. I’d love to hear how it got better.

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29 Comments »

  • EIREGO says:

    So, we’re going there, huh?

    I moved around a lot when I was a kid. I always seemed to be the new kid in some school somewhere and, lucky me, the school I was coming from was always way ahead academically than the one I was going to. If you have ever been to school in your life, you know that being smart and poor are not a great combination for fitting in with the cool kids. And being the new kid means you don’t get approached by the cool kids so you inevitably make friends with the kids no one likes. To you, the kids who approach you are nice so you make friends with them. To everyone else, they are the nerds and weirdos and if the new kid associates with them, then the new kid is a nerd or a weirdo as well, which means everyone else can pick on this new kid. Guilty by association, right?

    So, I got into a lot of fights. More like I got beaten up by more than one kid at a time. Anyone with half a brain can tell 2 or 3 kids against 1 isn’t a fair fight, but I never met anyone in 5th or 6th grade who cared much about that. I was chased. Everyday. I was punched at recess. My books were knocked out of my arms on the way to class. And, of course, it was a free-for-all on the new kid during gym class. I had older brothers, but they were probably busy fighting their own battles at their own schools, so there wasn’t much they could or would do since they were trying to fit in as well.

    Finally, during the summer before I entered Junior High, I bought a set of weights with money I made from a paper route. And delivering 64 newspapers without a bike is like running a mile with a couple sacks of flour on your back. I slowly got stronger. Then I joined Track and Field, Soccer and Swimming. I got to know the guys who were picking on me and they soon learned I wasn’t so easy to push around. Things became radically better. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school, but I wasn’t being pushed anymore. I did have to actually be in a couple of fights, but it wasn’t so bad and they ended quickly when they saw they couldn’t knock me down. I’m not saying this method is for everyone but I am saying find your own way through it.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    I don’t know why I’ve always been overly sensitive to this kind of thing. Actually, any time a person is being mistreated, for whatever reason. I hate it. It makes me sick that people can be so heartless. I can’t imagine not feeling overwhelming shame and guilt, but that’s just me.

    My story is one that goes back to middle school. There was a guy who rode our bus and had obviously been held back a couple years because he was much bigger and older than the rest of us. He had a girl on the bus who he had singled out for whatever reason and would tirelessly trash this poor girl. One day I just stood up on her behalf. I think she wasn’t around. I still remember him threatening to have his “girlfriend” beat me up. I was pretty scared but did my best not to show him that. Nothing ever came of that, but he also didn’t bad mouth the girl anymore.

    As for me personally, I was bullied by as an adult by an employer. It was frustrating because he was in a position of power and I was a small female who made a good target. His position gave him a power I couldn’t fight back against, so I ended up leaving. Sadly, bully exist at all levels, but hopefully there is always a way away from them.

    For whatever reason, I’m not able to get back to edit my post. It is only letting me go forward, so please excuse my typos in this rambling. 🙁

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      You’re not rambling at all. I appreciate your taking time to tell your story. That’s quite a thing you did to stand up for that poor girl on the bus. Knowing the person you are, I can totally see you doing that.

      I hope your former employee has received his comeuppance. I’ve encountered a few jerk bosses in my time and I heard later that they all got fired. Every. Single. One.

  • Jann says:

    Oh, was I bullied…in middle school, I was tall (5’9″) and had developed early, which made me the target of boys who acted out by pulling up my skirts, grabbing my top, and writing horrible things on my locker when I wouldn’t “put out”. I told my mom, she complained to the school, and the response was “boys will be boys”….this was in the early 70s. Naturally the girls who weren’t getting the same attention hated me because they thought I liked the treatment. Later, those same boys ended up becoming my friends (being in the honors math program made for strange bed fellows), and in high school, we talked about why they tortured me. Turns out it was about crushes, but their behavior was way beyond sticking my braid in the ink well. I, in turn, ws very sensetive to others being picked on, and I became something of an underdog for the “misfits” in school. Imagine me at 5’9″ dancing on my knees with someone who came up to my waist all because none of the other girls would pay him any attention. Now, some 38 years later, I have been “friended” on FB by the formerly “misfit” pals and they have thanked me for my kindness. I had no idea what a long lasting impact I made on these people! And the icing on the cake? My kids (22 and 17) are suckers for the underdogs. They are both the epitome of kindness for everyone, but especially for the kid who gets picked last or the girl no one wants to be friends with. The memories still hurt to this day, but the person I became because of it, and by extention how I brought my children up, make it a valuable life lesson.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      What a kind soul you are. I love that you’re passing it on to your kids. Kindness always makes a lasting impact. I still remember people who were compassionate towards me 30+ years ago.

  • Novelwhore says:

    Ohhh these comments (like the It Gets Better videos) brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps. It’s always so nice to have further proof that there are good people out there even when we’re bombarded with the assholes. Thank you all for sharing. Elyse, did these negative experiences in your past influence your black belt achievement?

    I had plenty of enemies in high school. As is all too typical, the older girls hated the incoming freshman so they made my life miserable – actually, they made it super active and promiscuis and much more exciting than it really was, if you’re into that sort of thing. Luckily, like the video stressed, as soon as I was out of my small city high school everything changed and I was a much happier, more confident person. Jann, I completely empathize with your story and thanks for sharing.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      My experiences did help shape me in that I became aware of my resilience at an early age. Later in life, when I faced difficult obstacles, I knew I might be challenged but I wouldn’t break. That’s a comforting thing to know.

      You should go back for your 10th reunion and show them how exceptional you’ve become.

  • Poncho says:

    I was bullied all my elementary school life, and good part of my middle high. I was an over-talkative, overweight & straight-A kid, and I was picked for that. I have little nice memories of that time (and I keep just a few freinds from that era).

    I remember very well that my 4th grade was the worst in my life. I remember staying in the classroom crying well after the recess started, because the teachers & principals did little to nothing to help me: once I got suspended for a week just because a guy punch me in the face (I was suspended for being in a fight, though I did nothing but recieve the hit). On 6th grade, the teacher took a point from my grades each time I didn’t stand un for myself. Needless to say, my self-esteem was in the floor. I felt like I was in a pit, and digging.

    Somehow, things started to change come middle high, and in highschool I was even voted class president, was the popular one in the swim team, and was very much confident in myself.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Your suspension for being hit in the face just makes me mad. I hear stories like that too often. I don’t know why schools don’t do more to protect their students.

      I’m so glad things turned around for you. Class president AND a jock! And a nerd! In my school, you probably would’ve been voted Best All Around.

  • Donna says:

    As military dependents we moved fairly often. Being new wasn’t a thrill but my older brother taught me how to take care of myself + younger brother who was picked on alot. There were a few guys who tried to bully me in elementary. If talking didn’t make them back down, I beat the crap out of them. NO ONE got away with bullying my younger bro or me. A few teachers bullied me on occasion for dumb reasons. I made their year fairly hell. My parents backed me. I can’t stand bullies.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      You were tough! I was like you in a way. I’d maybe put up with stuff people were doing to me but if someone picked on my younger brother, I turned into a tiger. I wasn’t going to let anyone do anything cruel to him.

  • Jann says:

    It’s interesting how many of us share similar experiences…and we all appear to have risen above it and possible grown from the experience (althought I would never recommend being bullied to pull one’s self up by one’s bootstraps). Interesting how we’ve all become avid readers. Was it the escape afforded by books, I wonder?

    • Donna says:

      Books were a form of escape, entertainment and learning. Funny thing is that although I dealt with bullies on occasion I was quite shy when it came to meeting new people – at least those who lived off base. And family life was difficult so reading helped keep me centered and on my toes. It let me be me but in a different time, place and with other people. I was stronger, more confident. To this day am still shy but able to be me outside of a book. Does that make sense?

  • le0pard13 says:

    I think I faced more instances of bullying in junior high (what is middle school today) than in high school. In fact, my greatest worry came during the transition between schools — moving from elementary to junior high — shifting from a high status of being a 6th grader (the high grade in the elementary school of my day) to back down inhabiting the lowest rung (7th) at the next level. The lower grades always seemed to be picked upon generally from those on the top tier (and their lackey middle dwelling 8th graders). I attributed it to the social ranking aspect and peer pressure (from the various grades) that was prevalent in the blue collar schools in the community we lived in back then. By the time I was in 9th (at the top once again), I could feel the expectation from others in my grade to push down those below me (to mete out what was previously poured down on them). I believe the only thing that kept that at bay was my own feeling of empathy towards the younger kids (since I’d been in their place just two years prior).

    High school was its own cauldron, but it was more social and hormonal by nature. Plus, by that time I’d learned to keep my head down so there were less instances for bullying. I was hardly a great student, though. I always enjoy your personal posts the most, Elyse. Thanks for this.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I’ve never understood the “mean things were done to me so I have to turn around and do it to others” mentality. I prefer the “it hurt when it was done to me so I’m going to treat others better” choice and it looks like you do, too.

      It always makes me feel vulnerable to get personal so I appreciate your saying that.

  • Ostracized for getting good grades, wearing glasses, being plain, yes. Or maybe it was my breath?

    I got beat up twice, one in junior high and once in senior high, but not AT school. Both times I got beat up it was by gangs of 4-5 girls of another race while I was alone. A couple of them showed up at my 30-year class reunion. They seemed to have no memory of it, or were too ashamed to admit remembering their actions.

    • le0pard13 says:

      This is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? Race, class, etc. is, sadly, part of it all.

      BTW, the only high school reunion I ever attended was the 30-year. Mine wasn’t a big graduating class (little over 500), but of those who attended (and it had dwindled quite a bit in three decades), you could see the same factions (from the time) grouping together.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      My husband and I were just talking about this yesterday. He said if he went back for a reunion, he wouldn’t know what to say to his former bullies. Pretend it never happened or bring it up, which might make it seem as if he’s been holding a grudge all this time? The truth is he hasn’t; he’s barely given those kids any thought. But if they act all nice to him as if nothing ever happened, that might make him angry, too, because it would mean they never had to answer or apologize for their actions. We agreed the best thing for him to do is to never go back.

  • Dean Scott says:

    The same thought you had about bullying being bullying regardless of underlying “justification” is what made me search and find your article. I’m glad the GLBT It Gets Better Project is around and I sincerely hope it helps people. In watching a recent video based in Ireland about homophobic bullying and supporting your GLBT friends, I had the selfish thought, “Well, gee, where was this kind of support for the bullied nerds, geeks, and outcasts when I was a kid? There was no “safe place” for us to go in schools and on campuses. As far as I know there still isn’t. I’d like to make a serious proposal, and I admit I don’t know how these things get started or how projects get funded, but I think there should be a video(s) for all of those people who just don’t seem to fit in or are ostracized due to whatever oddity that society deems as unworthy. Being one of those people growing up and looking back on all of the overt bullying as well as subtle shunning I had to endure, I would like to let people in current similar situations know that I understand the loneliness and pain and let them know it does get better and you get stronger and, though it doesn’t seem like it at the time, you learn how to use and apply all of that experience, loneliness, and pain. So, if anyone has any ideas as to how to get such a project going for the nerds, the geeks, the outcasts (the Minority Majority), let me know. Does anyone know if Bill Gates was picked on and bullied as a kid? Wouldn’t that be something to know? And certainly the drama club people got their share of bullying, so I’m sure there are celebrities who could share their stories. Just a thought. Thanks for having this forum!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Dean, thanks so much for stopping by and for your heartfelt comment. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to start a project like the kind you described but haven’t had the time or resources to figure out how to do it yet. If you have any great ideas, let me know!

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