Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My two cents on bullying

All this talk in the media about bullying and kids who are berated for being gay has gotten my attention. A lot has changed since I was a teenager. No one would have dared admit being gay or lesbian. Forget transgender -- we didn't every know what transgender meant, much less not tease someone who identified this way. My oldest daughter is a junior in high school. It was about her 8th grade year that we started noticing the kids coming out. By 10th grade, everyone knew what everyone was. Her various friends identify in every way you can imagine: lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, you name it. I've really never worried about it too much; we live in a pretty liberal town after all.

But our pretty liberal town made national headlines a couple weeks back though, and it wasn't for football. It was because a student at University of Michigan, the student body president, an openly gay man, was being harassed by a public official of the state of Michigan. The student, after months of being harassed, finally filed in local court to have a restraining order brought against the official. The university moved to have the official, an alum of the law school no less, banned from university property. Here's a video of Anderson Cooper interviewing the official, followed by a video of Anderson interviewing the student:

Wow. It's like something straight out of my adolescence. I remember all the things me and my peers said casually, never even thinking about what the effect of our words might be:

"He's so gay and he's trying to get everyone else to be gay too!"


"Don't be so gay!"


"I think she's a lesbian, you know? I'd stay away from her in the locker room.
She's probably trying to get other girls to go lesbian too!"

Yikes. I'm glad to put those days behind me. I'm glad my friends who eventually came out don't hold my words against me today.

But we're not teenagers anymore, we're parents. So let's talk about parenting. Let's talk about our role in this whole thing. How do you raise a kid not to be a bully? How do make sure your kid isn't bullied? These are the immediate questions that come to our mind, right? How do I make sure my kid is ok?

I think these questions are the first ones we want to address. But once I've established that my kid isn't a bully or being bullied, I don't think I'm done parenting on this issue. I think I have to go one step further. I think I have to teach my children how to stop the bullying, how to stand up for their friends, how to make this whole ugly chapter end. Here's a start of what I did with my oldest daughter.

When she was in middle school, the insults started. She'd come home and report on what was going at school. She'd tell stories that included things like this:

"I mean, all the kids we're calling him gay, of course he got mad!"


"So then, things got really ugly. All the girls were in the bathroom and so-and-so
accused her of being a lesbian. She was really mad."


"She's a tranny, everyone knows it! It's just the truth,
so what difference does it make if we say it?"


My instinctual reaction as a parent in this situation was to question whether it's legitimate for the kids to call someone gay or a lesbian or a transgendered person. I mean, there's no need to insult someone just because you want to be mean. But pretty quickly I realized there was something much more important to teach my daughter. Why is it an insult to say someone is a gay or a lesbian or a transgendered person? If it's true, should the person still be insulted or embarrassed or scared? I realized the important thing I needed to teach my daughter is that gay or lesbian or transgender or bi is nothing to be ashamed of. The very nature of these words as insults should be something my child finds odd. These words just describe the differences between people.

Think of it this way. I would faint if I heard of all the kids in the bathroom accusing a girl of being half-black. Or if they cornered a boy and threatened to ruin his reputation by revealing that his mother was Jewish or Hispanic. My immediate reaction would be to teach my child that discrimination against someone based on their ethnic heritage is dead wrong. We have to get to the point where discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity shocks us in the same way. I'm not saying racial discrimination doesn't exist or doesn't matter, I'm just saying that we are quicker to identify it as wrong. The N-word is still more offensive than "fag," as evidenced by the fact that I can include the word fag in this post, but not the N-word.

Yes, teach your children to trust you and to have a positive self esteem; this will help them not become the victim of bullying.

Yes, teach your children compassion and a healthy sense of humility; this will help them understand that being a bully is wrong.

Beyond this, teach them to stand up to bullies and to support others when they are being discriminated against. If we are able to have our children learn this while they are young, maybe they will grow up in a world where bullying is archaic and old-fashioned.


Heather said...

As I was reading this, I thought the same thing. Why is it considered an insult to call someone gay or lesbian or whatever? It is so sad that our kids have to grow up in such intensely hateful times. There was bullying when I was little, but nothing like today. It's scary.

Two Auntees said...

Thank you for saying what I have been attempting to say in my blog, that as parents we must teach our children to stand up for others and know we support them when they stand up for themselves. We must monitor their actions and vocal outcries to know if they are being bullied or are the bullies.

I hope you don't mind if I copy this to my facebook page.

Sarah the Trans Auntee

Heather T said...

Two Auntees - post away! In years of late, I've realized that sitting comfortably doing nothing about discrimination isn't beneficial or good, it's actually harmful. So if this post helps stop discrimination against the LGBT crowd, AWESOME. Thanks for your comment!

Jules said...

So well said! It is something that is so painfully true. As I walk the halls at school and remind kids to watch their mouths...it isn't the regular obscenities that get me the most, it is the hurtful insults, the rude interactions that they accept and internalize - those get me livid...