04 October 2012

Letter To The Editor from 2005

Published: March 25, 2005
Page in newspaper: A11
"Relatives told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Weise was a loner who usually wore black and ." - The Associated Press
I expected to read this the day after the school shootings in Minnesota. It is yet another case of bullies who, like lions on the African plain, identify a weak prey and work together to constantly harass and attack it. But unlike the prey of lions, 16-year-old Jeff Weise had weapons of his own and fought back.
In no way do I condone what this boy did to those students and his grandparents. I do not believe his wanton killing was justifiable, and I am not offering his being picked on as an excuse to allow such extreme retaliation. I merely am saying that I can understand what drove this poor boy to take the course of action he did. I have always known that I was gay. As a small child, I knew that I liked boys, although at that age it wasn't in a sexual manner. Girls were physically different from me, but I liked their manner of play and the accouterments that come along with being feminine.
No, I didn't like to wear dresses and makeup, but I did enjoy playing house and with Barbies. On the other hand, I was a boy, and I did enjoy doing what my male friends liked to do as well - roughhousing, football, mud fights. But I didn't really think like the boys.
Growing up, my friends and I never really questioned that I was so different. I had always been different, and when one is exposed to different things, it is considered the norm and not out of the ordinary. During our childhood, we used with each other all the derogatory terms kids use - "You're so gay," "That's faggy" and so forth. We knew that they weren't nice, but we had no clue what they really meant. It wasn't until much later, when we started to mature, that the slow realization hit us. I was gay, I was a fag. I was this horrible thing that we had so innocently said to each other all these years.
And yet, I was their friend and I wasn't hateful. I was me, and it was the way I had always been. It was a confusing period for all of us. But before we could work it out, my parents divorced and I moved, changing my neighborhood and school.
Being thrown into a group of people who never grew up with me, and with them being faced with someone like me who was by then unabashedly open about being gay, I suffered a lot of hate and anger and bullying by kids who, in retrospect, did not know any better. They were just unaccustomed to being around someone like me.
As I got older and started high school, it only got worse. I began to get threatened on my way to classes, and a few of the teachers used me as an example behind my back, denigrating me to my fellow classmates just on the basis of my being gay. The harassment was almost unendurable. I must admit, I contemplated revenge. I wanted them to die. I wanted to get them back and make them stop. I was desperate and hurt and confused, and my life was bleak and lonely and cold. I wanted it to stop. I did nothing to these people. I couldn't help who I was. Why were they doing this to me? Why? Why?
I was lucky. I got into the club one night, I was almost 16. I turned around and saw some kids from my school. Girls dancing with girls, boys dancing with boys. Oh my God! I was not alone! I was not the only one. My whole life changed in that instant, and I no longer cared what those brutes thought of me. I was not this monster they made me feel like I was. I was simply gay, and that meant nothing. Not. One. God. Damn. Thing.
The taunts and harassment never really stopped, but I now had the skills and self esteem to shrug it off and live my life to the fullest. I have never looked back.
So I cry for the boys who killed their classmates at Columbine and I cry for this boy in Minnesota even though they did such a horrible and inexcusable crime. I know what such relentless bullying can do to your psyche, and I am pained that they had no way out of their misery. No way but revenge and then, finally, death.
I mourn for the parents who now have to bury their children, children who were most likely innocent. But in the rage and pain this boy was in, he did not care whom he hurt. He wanted people to hurt as bad as he did.
And I mourn because it will happen again. And again.
(Mortimer Spreng lives in Atlantic City.)
Copyright, 2005, South Jersey Publishing Company t/a The Press of Atlantic City

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