As you may have guessed from my last post, I am deeply upset about the seeming epidemic of kids who have committed suicide due to homophobic bullying. And like many people within the blogosphere, I have also been the victim of bullying, and I know how bad it was for me (horrific, actually) and I can only imagine how it was for these kids.

I live in Boston, Massachusetts. I have since 2003. Since 2003, I have been listing to KISS 108 as my morning wake up radio station. I’m a very shallow girl in some ways, especially musically. I love canned pop. There’s plenty of it that makes me uncomfortable (anything that’s really heavy on the misogyny, for one thing), but mostly, I love it, so Top 40 is good for me.

(also I am a slow-waker, and tend to incorporate what I’m listening to in my early morning “I don’t wanna wake up” dreams. And if I listened to NPR like a goddamn adult, well. I can only imagine what those dreams would be like. Ugh. No, thank you.)

On KISS 108, the morning show is Matty in the Morning. They are much like my beloved Dave Ryan Morning Show in Minneapolis, but not as awesome. I’ll get into why in a second, but not long after I moved to Boston, I was feeling homesick and sent a somewhat pathetic email to Dave Ryan saying I missed his show. He sent one back, and some years later I was at the Minnesota State Fair (MINIDONUTS OMG), and he was at the KDWB booth, I introduced myself and he remembered my email and gave me a hug. It was nice.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to Matty in the Morning for seven years now. The humor has always been dancing on the edge of offensive, with some liberal fart jokes mixed in. (I love me some fart jokes. I admit it.) They also mock one of the co-hosts for “acting gay,” which makes me uncomfortable, and for being a famewhore, which does not make me uncomfortable. There’s always been a sense of the crowd being the cool kids in high school who never really got over themselves.

But over the past year, there’s been a drift from “offensive” to “hateful.” The best example I can give you is they have a sound cue of Susan Boyle beginning to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” with the beeping sound of a large truck backing up. And that’s…. just so wrong on so many levels. What that says to me is “How dare this woman who is not conventionally attractive and is not politely thin come out in public and be fat and ugly at us! She should stay home with her cats where she belongs.” The cracks about Billy’s possible orientation have gotten coarser, the fat jokes have become more thick on the ground, and it’s now just…. hateful.

Someone else mentioned on Livejournal how awful they were getting and I said, okay, I’ll put my money where my mouth is. So I emailed them. I said:

I’ve been listening to your morning show since I moved to Boston in 2003. I like you guys, I really do. But I have to say that I’m increasingly uneasy with the direction your jokes and humor have been taking the past year or so. You’ve always danced on the edge of kind of offensive, but not hateful. The cracks about Billy’s sexual orientation, and Gay Jim have always made me uneasy, but I figure that this is part of the persona, and Billy has consented to it. His role is the Butt Monkey, and he’s not actually insulted. I assume that what you play on the air is a role, and you aren’t like this In Real Life.

But the cracks, especially about fat women, have crossed the line to hateful. The most recent example is using the “large truck backing up beeps” over Susan Boyle singing is very clearly fatphobic, misogynistic, and hateful. The message you send with that sound cue is “how dare this woman who is not conventionally attractive and thin be out in the world, in public, being fat at us?”

I’m sure there’s a part of you that will assume that I’m fat, and that’s why I’m offended (or if I’m not, why do I care if you make fun of fat women?). The answer is that it doesn’t matter if I am or not. I’m a person who doesn’t find this funny, and actually finds this to be incredibly damaging. With all the recent suicides of kids due to bullying, I think it’s irresponsible to encourage making fun of people for their gender, weight, sexual orientation or band geekery on the air.

I don’t actually expect you to change what you’re doing, and I don’t know if I’m going to keep listening (but I’m one person- why would you care about the listnership of one person?) but I would be irresponsible myself if I didn’t say something.

They had one of the producers respond that “they don’t mean to offend anyone (I know that’s a frustrating answer).”

Which, yeah it is. Because intent isn’t magic, and “I didn’t mean to offend you” doesn’t change the fact that people are offended. But that’s not really my point.

My point is that public figures have a lot of influence, and deciding what to mock has an effect on what other people mock, and how they do it. I know that Matty have four daughters, and it’s clear to me from how he talks about them that he loves them a lot. And I’m loathe to drag the kids into it, because dragging the children of public figures into a debate is disingenuous (ask Jessica Valenti about it sometime). But by extension their dad is encouraging the bullying of other people by example.

I think we’ve seen, in a very public way, what happens when kids get bullied relentlessly, and the bullies are supported by churches, politicians, The Boy Scouts of America, the schools, the bullies’ parents, the victim’s parents, and a hundred thousand things ranging from “that’s so gay” to “you’re going to rot in hell.” They are already IN HELL.

In my case, my bullies were popular football players, adored by the school, supported by the teachers. I still had friends, but they didn’t really stand up for me because they knew, in the sociopathic way teenagers know, that would draw fire to them. Sure, they supported me in private, but not in public. I can’t, now, at 13 years removed, blame them. And I didn’t really blame them then. What I did blame, and still do blame, is the school.

Because the school knew. They knew everything. The main point of contact between me and my bullies was a Japanese class. The teacher was a native-born Japanese woman, and from a culture that told women to silently endure, and she couldn’t understand why I found their repeated taunts, threats and mockery so horrible. So she didn’t do anything. My parents complained to the school. The school did nothing. You see, my high school was an International Baccalaureate School. I was not a candidate for an IB diploma. Three out of the four bullies? Were. And the ringleader was on the football team and one of the bright and shining stars of the school. I was not as valuable to the school as the bullies, so I was acceptable collateral damage.

Until Junior year, when I finally snapped. I had enjoyed learning Japanese, but now even doing the homework was anxiety provoking. I tried one last time to explain to Sensei French (yeah, I know. Ironic.) how horrible this was for me and could she please do something? She instead focused on my statement that I was concerned she didn’t try to fix the problem because she didn’t like me. Obviously, she said, the problem wasn’t the boys, obviously the problem was that I needed therapy (holy shit, I had forgotten about that part until just now).

So I quit. I walked out of that classroom and didn’t look at a Japanese thing again until about ten years later.

And that, dear friends, THAT is when the shit FINALLY hit the fan.

My parents were livid. The school tried to mollify me. They were terrified we’d sue. (We didn’t- I found out some years later that my parents thought I didn’t want to sue, and I thought they didn’t.) They let me do whatever the fuck I wanted for the next year and a half. I started taking Post Secondary classes at the University of Minnesota. Too many credits? No problem, They’d smooth over the paperwork. I got shuffled into a history class with the Lead Bully? (And god bless Ms. Adelsman, the history teacher, for letting me know about it in time to do something about it. Some adults had my back.) I stamped my foot and said switch me out or I’ll never go to class, not ever. Suddenly, I got moved to a different class.

The bullies were told to write me letters of apology. Never got one. (Did find out that the Lead Bully did not get an IB diploma, and that he got fat after high school, which is gratifying in its way. I hope he’s miserable and suffers from erectile dysfunction, too.)

It took about ten years before I could watch a Japanese movie without flinching. My self-confidence is still shaky sometimes. I’m 31 years old, nearly 32, and I look at some of my classmates and I see guys that remind me of the Lead Bully (I could name names at this point. It’s so tempting.) and I want nothing to do with them.

They say that living well is the best revenge, and I love my life. But I see the scars and I wonder who I would have been without that. Would I have been able to make a go of a career in theater? Would I have more success in relationships? Would be as empathetic as I am now? Would I be looking at a career in helping the underdogs that society doesn’t give a shit about? I don’t know who that girl would be, and I mourn her, sometimes.

The difference between me and the Billy Lucas’ of the world is that the entire school wasn’t against me. Not even most of them. The majority didn’t care, and there were enough niche groups that I could hide. The bulk of the problems stopped after I dropped Japanese. Partially because they were told to leave me alone, and partially because they won (I held out as long as I could, and beyond, because I didn’t want them to win and to drive me away from something I loved. It was just when I stopped loving it and actively hated it that I quit. They made me hate it).

Once I got away, I went back to being a white, cisgendered straight female, and while there is plenty of hate directed my way for having the audacity to be female, not thin, and mouthy, it’s nothing like the hate directed at gay youth. Especially those gay youth who don’t have a safe place anywhere in their lives. Not in their homes, not on tv, not in their churches, not in their towns (and not on the radio, Matty). I can understand despair. I can’t imagine the awfulness of finding hate every which way you turn and seeing no way out.

So, some resources:

The Trevor Project, aimed at promoting acceptance of GLBTQ youth and preventing suicide.

The It Gets Better Project. I know there’s been some criticism that it doesn’t always get better, but the situational reality for a lot of these kids is knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and you will have the opportunity to get out of this hell and make your own choices is huge. There’s a world out there, it’s just waiting for you.

The make it Better Porject which has the goal of making things better now.