I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I was bullied throughout elementary school. If there was a contest for the most bullied student from kindergarten through grade eight, I’d have won first place. That prize was a joint gift of anxiety and depression, which I’d trade in for one of those cheap carnival stuffed animals if I could. What I didn’t realize at the time was that adults can be bullies too, they’re just sneakier about it.
It was grade eleven. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up and the whole growing up thing was looming alarmingly close. I found a course called “Career Options” and figured it might help. I didn’t know what to expect from the class but thought the teacher would discuss different occupations and the education required for them along with a few personality and aptitude tests. I was half right.
I admit I started off on her wrong side. She asked everyone to write down their ideal career and I put down sinecure. It didn’t help that she had to look it up in the dictionary. Then she started on the tests and quizzes. Each time she’d tell us exactly what we couldn’t score and that would be my result. If she said we’d only end up with two categories, I’d have relatively equal results in three. If she said there would only be one category, you might have minor results in a second but they wouldn’t be equal, my two would be split 50/50. Two opposing personalities that would never, ever combine… I scored high in both. I ended up with 100% fine artist for my perfect career, despite her assurances that no one ever scores 100% and despite the fact I can’t draw. I’m sure she thought I was trolling her; meanwhile I was frustrated by her obvious dismissal of my results and my questions.
That year I saved up and bought myself a leopard gecko. We always had pets when I was growing up but this was the first pet I’d had of my own. I named him Leo and took tonnes of pictures. He had a comical way of crouching to stalk crickets; squatting low and twitching the end of his tail like a cat. Then he’d pounce and miss, ending up with a face full of bedding. His favourite treat was pineapple. The teacher asked us all to talk about our pets and I proudly mentioned mine. She looked at me for a moment.
“Michelle? Could you come here?”
I stood up and walked over to her desk with no small amount of confusion.
“Now turn around,” she said once I got to the front.
I turned to face my classmates. While none of my grade school bullies were in the class, none of my friends were in there either. I stared toward row after row of indifferent faces.
“Michelle likes to think of herself as unique but in reality she’s just weird,” she announced loudly before sending me, humiliated, to my seat.
She came to my cash register this morning. I wanted to yell at her but realized I had no idea what I’d say so I asked for her order instead. She gave no sign that she recognized me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her. Up until then I thought kids outgrew being bullies, that people simply grew up and became responsible adults. I didn’t realize some bullies grew up and became adult bullies.
And then there’s Jeremy’s teacher. She’s a bright and friendly lady who gave me a ride home last winter when our meeting went too long and I missed my bus. She’s got children around the same age as mine and an autistic child as well. Yet…
Jeremy stayed home last Thursday after zie begged me, almost in tears, to miss school because zie just couldn’t handle being there. Zie had a professional development day on Friday which meant zie had a four day weekend. Sunday night rolled around. I went to bed early as I had to be up before 5am. Jeremy woke me both just after midnight and at 2am complaining of a headache. I called zir in sick because two hours sleep isn’t enough for anyone to function and wasn’t nearly enough time to sleep off a bad headache. Then Jeremy’s anxiety kept zir awake all last night so zie stayed home again. Right now zie’s been up for 33 hours. Hopefully zie’ll go to school tomorrow but who knows since zie’s being bullied and it’s not by one of zir peers.
Jeremy’s teacher has a new tactic these past few months. Whenever Jeremy’s hanging out with kids in zir class, the teacher comes over and asks if “he’s” intimidating them. Do they really want to hang out with “him”? Is “he” making them stay there? Every casual walk down the halls. Every stroll outside. Every gaming session at the computers.
Is he intimidating you?
I’m sure the teacher doesn’t see this as bullying. I’m sure she has herself convinced that she’s protecting her vulnerable students from a teen who’s more verbally adept and brighter than most of them; a teen she sees as trying to manipulate her with every anxiety fueled rebellion. She doesn’t see that painting Jeremy as a manipulative bully to zir peers is in fact bullying zir. She doesn’t see how she’s intimidating zir. And, despite printing out the school board’s guide to working with transgender students… despite calling in PFLAG and a school board official… despite having said official come in to meet with the staff and explain the guide in detail… despite the teacher insisting she’s a huge trans ally who talks a lot about “transgendered” in the classroom… the teacher still refers to Jeremy as he and him. Zir pronouns are too confusing. I’m sure she doesn’t see this as bullying either.
We have our first PFLAG meeting on Thursday night then we meet people from Jeremy’s potential new school on Friday. Our school board is also holding meetings for LGBTQ students and their parents next month. We’ll be there for sure.
With any luck Jeremy will be out of this class soon and then zie’ll never need to see zir bully again.