Finding the Spirit of Spirit Day...

When I first learned about GLAAD's Spirit Day campaign, I didn't quite get it. I couldn't see a connection to a spirit day and ending bullying. In my mind, spirit day was always that day right before or of an important ball game when we all dressed up in school colors and spent the day revving up the team's ego - I mean spirit - in the hopes they'd deliver a winning game.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. We're all "wearing" purple and posting our cheers all day long to support people who have been bullied. Okay, I can see that. Boost the egos - I mean spirits - of the bullied people. Now those are egos that need boosted.

In March 2012, I explored the fine line between teasing and bullying in When Does Teasing Become Bullying? and then in Why Do Bullies Bully? I examined how our society teaches bullies to bully.

As I think back on my life, I remember times when I was bullied, and I wonder if anyone ever perceived my actions as bullying. I know I never meant to bully anyone, and I sincerely hope I never did.

A few years ago, my niece insisted I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The book examined how the way we treat one another has effects we don't always see until it's too late. Like the main character, I always felt like an outsider even though I had friends. I saw in her the same guilt I'd felt when I'd done things or ignored things just to feel like I was accepted. I've always struggled abou whether or not to define any of the behavior I experienced as bullying, and I'm still uncomfortable assigning it that label. I know people have suffered much worse than I did. Yet, I do remember feeling left out, teased, and misunderstood. I remember feeling disconnected from even those who referred to me as friend. I remember feeling no one would miss me and that people might even be happier if I ceased to exist.

There were people in my life who cared about me and whom I cared about, but I often felt the connections weren't quite real. It's hard to explain, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The thing is that I felt like if I was me - the full and unadulterated me - people wouldn't like me, so I vacillated between being full on me and being what I perceived was socially acceptable.
I remember being teased for a variety of reasons from different people and at times feeling like the teasing would never end. I remember being called names and being teased about my sexuality because I showed little real interest in boys and dating. Looking back I realize I had a tendency to develop crushes on the unattainable, so I never had to risk anything actually happening. If something starting looking like it might happen, I switched my interest as quick as flipping a light switch. I saw romantic relationships as constraints, as obstacles, as albatrosses.

But, I also remember hanging out with myriad sets of classmates. Our class was very small - our Senior class was comprised of something like 33 or 34 students, so we all knew one another. While there were distinctive groups, we all had some kind of interaction with one another even if it was limited.

Of those 33 or 34 students, I have no idea if anyone was LGBTQ. If so, the person, or people, hid it well. It makes me sad to think that anyone in my class might have felt that much pressure to stay hidden. I like to think I would've been a friend to anyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet I understand hiding one's true self on some level.

I often spent much of my free time in my own little world playing with the characters I wrote about or reading books that took me to other places and times.

In Junior High School, one of my best friends was in her twenties. She was a fellow writer, and I felt like I had more in common with her than with my classmates. My parents didn't understand this friendship. They tolerated it for a while but eventually discouraged its continuation. I think they feared the age difference would introduce me to... I don't know... something beyond my age that I might not understand. My classmates teased me about this friendship, so, by the time I was a Freshman in high school, I was ready to stop fighting my parents and let it fade into the background of my life. We still read each other's work, but I stopped going to her house to talk about writing and publishing and such.

There are so many ways to feel like an outcast, and it's so easy for us to dismiss people who don't always fit in the way we think they should. It's much easier to lob insults or lash out than it is to show the strength and vulnerability it takes to offer someone love and compassion when we don't quite understand them.

How much better the world would be if we saw one another for the unique and yet homogeneous individuals we are. How much better the world would be if we discussed how each person's individuality contributes to the collective. How much better the world would be if we remembered each of us has a beating heart and a thinking brain. How much better the world would be if we embraced each other instead of ostracizing one another. How much better the world would be if we put more energy into building one another up than in cutting one another down.

Realizing we need to cheer one another on to inspire love and compassion and end bullying got me into the Spirit of Spirit Day...

In closing, here's a poem about bullying from my book of poetry, Vulnerability in Silhouette.

Taunts and Teases

Taunts and teases
The words ring through the air
Pointing our what sets me apart
Criticizing what you don't understand
Or what someone else told you was unacceptable
You don't reach out to make a connection
Schoolyard taunts from kindergarten
Grow crueler with each passing year
Until your words hit their target every time
Destroying any possibility of understanding
I turn on myself
Lobbing your
Teases and taunts
At myself
Before you load your ammunition
By the time your words hit
I'm already beaten to the ground
You've succeeded
In convincing me I'm all you say I am
It won't be until years late
I'l ask myself
If your teases and taunt emanated from
Your own insecurities and home life
Or if you were just plain mean
Around the same time
I realize I let you treat me as somehow
Less than you
Because of my insecurities and home life
By then it will be too late for us to see
We could've been friends
If we'd sought to understand
Rather than exercise the age old
Divisive technique of
Taunts and teases


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