Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's a Little Advice

There has been a lot of talk about bullying in high schools recently.  I can relate.  When I was in middle school and high school, it was like I had a big pink target on my forehead and virtually EVERYONE knew I was gay and tormented me for it.  The problem was that I was still working on trying to be the swinging straight boy.  I was self aware enough to know that I was "in a phase" that I might or might not outgrow.  I tried to take comfort in the fact that I read in a book somewhere that lots of boys go through that phase and don't turn out gay.  Well, that didn't work out.
Not everyone tormented me, of course.  There were the fat kids who got picked on as much as I did.  There were other sort of awkward, strange kids who got picked on.  And, if I was lucky, there might be a kid who was a little gayer than I was who could avert attention away from my big homo self.  Even with the other targets around, the assholes who tormented me seemed to have plenty to go around.  It was a miserable time. 
With the benefit of 25 years under my belt away from high school, I want to share some advice and survival tips for anyone who might be able to relate.

1.  Popular and not popular ends the day you graduate.  When you go to college or into the working world, your high school social status doesn't matter for squat.  The once popular girls (we'll talk more about them later) join sororities with the other formerly popular girls and fight among themselves for queen bee status and boyfriends.  They will not have time to notice you.  Once popular boys join fraternities, if they make it to college at all, and compete for the titles of "He Who Gets Laid Most" and "He Who Can Drink Most."  Guys like you and me, we arrive at college among people who have no knowledge of our high school social standing and are more interested in us if we're fun to hang out with, share the same values or do the same things.  I remember being amazed my freshman year at Luther with the fact that people kind of wanted to spend time with me- for a while  anyway, but that's for another number in this list.  Once you make like minded friends, you'll begin to forget being stuffed in lockers and getting swirlies.

2.  On the subject of popular girls, there are generally two types.  One type is popular because she is outgoing and friendly to just about everyone.  She will cross social strata to a degree.  If you are nice to her, say hi and smile,  she will acknowledge you as a human being.  If you happen to figure out if she is in any activities that interest you, it is worth sitting on the yearbook committee or science club, because she may get to know you and have your back when it counts.  They other type of popular girl is the opposite.  She may be pretty, or not, but she is a hag. She achieved her rank through cruelty to other girls and intimidation to keep all those beneath her in their place.  Beneath the wickedness, she is full of insecurities and secretly hates herself.  All those who cling to her as friends are self loathing morons.  Fully half of these girls will end up bitter and in trailer parks.   Okay, there is no statistic supporting that, but I think it is probably true.  Anyway, here's a tip, don't give this mean chick any information about you.  Smile and say hi with indifference and that's it.  If she tries to talk to you, say you're late for something- a waxing maybe- and walk away.  If she gets you to be even slightly vulnerable, she will turn on you and use what ever tidbit you've given her against you.  Keep in mind, this girl is miserable and likes everyone else to be miserable. 

3.  Virtually the same goes for popular boys as popular girls.  The nice popular boy is handsome, outgoing and genuinely kind.  If he sees you getting beat up, he will actually think about stopping it, but likely won't do anything about it.  He may make a gesture later by making small talk with you when no one else is looking.  It's just a gesture, but take it.  Be cool.  He doesn't want to hang with you, but is just acknowledging that he knows you're a human.  The mean popular boys are the same as the mean popular girls but with a penis.  They typically aren't as cunning as the girls, but high school boys aren't terribly bright generally.  If they give you crap, try not to get in to a verbal sparring match with them. You will always win, but they won't care and will still beat the crap out of you.  Avoid provoking them if you can.  They too will end up miserable.  I also guarantee that they will look like hell at the 20th class reunion. Hell. No really. I promise.

4.  Stay focused on things that make you happy and connect you with other people.  This doesn't mean spending every waking moment playing video games with your one friend or painting your nails black and being morose while listening to depressing music.  Goth is so over done.  You will have to actually work at this, especially if you are a bit of an introvert.  Find something to do outside of school with other people.  Volunteer for something at church or at the animal shelter or stuffing envelopes or raking yards for old people.  Most of all, practice being friendly, opening your mouth to say something and listening to people.  Half the battle of overcoming being shy and awkward is to shut down the voice in your head and listening to people.  If it takes you a second to collect your next response, tough.  It is called a pause.  Conversations have them.  Connect with people.  Practice.  You'll have fun and build up your confidence.

5.  If you choose not to go to college but instead work, leave town. Hell, leave town if you go to college, too. This one is simple. If you are in a small town, go to a bigger town.  If you are in a large city, go to another neighborhood.  Why?  Because the miserable, mean "popular" kids who aren't smart enough to get into college or get pregnant and marry are going to stay in town with you and will be assholes for the rest of their lives.  Leave. Town. As. Soon. As. You. Graduate.

6.  Don't do what I did.  How's that for advice?  I was shy and afraid and miserable.  Instead of following the advice in #4 above, I started drinking and doing drugs excessively.  Lighting up once in a blue moon may not be a bad thing for you, but don't make your life's goal one of being zoned out all the time.  I did this from early high school until I was 21 and it took me years to grow up and left me without a lot of enduring friendships from my youth.  Just trust me.  It is so not worth the money.

7.  Adults are okay. If you have reasonably cool parents who are interested in your day, tell them about your day.  Let's be clear, your parents will always probably be a little uncool because that's how parents should be.  It is a warning sign if you have really cool parents because that might mean they have no boundaries. (A mom who wants to pole dance for your friends? Bad sign.)  But, if you have reasonably cool parents, let them be there for you.  If you're getting shit at school, tell them.  They will probably freak out and try to fix things, but tell them that for now you just want them to listen to you about it.  Don't let your dad go over to your tormentor's home to kick the shit out of your tormentor's father until the day before graduation if he must.  If you don't want to tell your parents, find a cool teacher.  Really.  You can probably find one in the English department- maybe a creative writing or speech teacher, or your band director.  Ask if you can talk and just have them listen.  Adults will help.  I had two teachers that I could talk to a little.  One I think saved my life at a particularly low point.  Thanks, Mrs. Friest.

8.  Always be your best self, even when it is hard.  That is so difficult to do, but if you start practicing it won't be so hard later in life.  Be kind. Just because other people might be mean to you, doesn't make it okay for you to pick on the rung lower than you if there is one.  Be friendly.  This is hard, but more people will have your back if you are pleasant to be around.  You don't have to be giddy and effusive. Just be cool.  Be compassionate.  Usually there is a reason that other kids are jerks.  You don't have to analyze them or approve of their behavior, but if the day comes when the mean popular girl falls on her ass and smacks her head on the icy sidewalk, give her a hand.  Laugh inside.  Laugh really really really hard inside but give her a hand. She might not take it, but at least you've had a good laugh and made the gesture.

9.  It does get better.  Yup.  Lots and lots of people have been saying this lately.  They are saying it because it is true.  Once you graduate from high school, that whole mess is behind you.  There is a whole world of people out there who will think you are fun, interesting and worth spending time with.  It will happen for you, no matter how awkward and odd you are.  It will happen even if you are the mentally challenged twin in the set who gets a 3.85 grade point average, unlike her sister who gets a 4.0.  And I'm not referencing anyone here in particular, Jean.  Really, I'm not.  ;o)


kirelimel said...


ShannonK said...

Well said, as always. Having lived through the last 1.5 years of your HS years, can I just say I had no idea. I thought you were fun, funny and enjoyed the time I spent with you. But, I have no "gay" radar and have no interest in developing one. I just like people for being good people and that's what I've always known you to be.

Mommy Lisa said...

THE MOST POPULAR BOY in my high school came out after graduation, works for Disney and he and his lovely spouse have two beautiful children from a surrogate. Everyone still adores him - he is still super popular at reunions.

The MOST POPULAR FRATERNITY with my sorority sisters and I - half the guys are now out of the closet and happy.

I think your situation is more the norm, but I grew up in Chaska and went to the U of MN...isn't it weird that I never knew any of these guys were gay? I hung out with them all - guess I was an un-knowing beard or something???

And it never really occurred to me to question someones sexual orientation either...

BentonQuest said...

Great post Mike!

I always thought you were cool in college. Of course I did not know you in HS.

Thanks for putting some good info out there.

Mnmom said...

I left a comment yesterday and it's gone! Don't you love me anymore?

This is an excellent post - all the way through!!! I copied it and sent it to our Middle School guidance counselors. They truly appreciated it.

Ain't that true about the mean popular girls? They are vicious and I know from experience. They love to knock down loud, mouthy, smart girls like me.

Anyone who can't see how wonderful you are is a complete ass. Proving your point.

Scott J. said...

There were other sort of awkward, strange kids who got picked on.

Represent, yo!

I really think that Jr. High & High School is a nasty, possibly unhealthy, environment but what are we going to do? You're right - every kid should move away, at least for a year or two; and finding who you are won't necessarily happen right away. But you need to get out there to experience and discover what you like and what will ultimately shape your world- and self-view.

It gets better.

Mauigirl said...

Really great post. As another one of those other "awkward strange kids" who got picked on, I think this is great advice. One thing for sure - they should outlaw letting gym teachers pick team leaders who are then allowed to pick their own teams. The only ones not picked were me (who was awkward/strange and lousy at sports) and another girl in the same general category. Totally mortifying. But as you and so many others are saying, it does indeed get better!

Madame Leiderhosen said...

That was wonderful. Each bit was great and the next was even better.
I am standing on the desk applauding you.

Everett said...

I just recently ran into your blog and have been enjoying it thus far. They are well written, quirky, fun, and just overall great to read.

However, this particular blog sort of stopped me...

I am from southern MN (Faribault) and went through public schools. I was never the "popular" kid, however, also wasn't the "awkward" kid. I was sort-of liked, involved in things, a great student, and openly gay. Like many others, I had many people that picked on me, and teased me.
The thing that was a little unsettling about this blog (and many others), is that it seems as if you are saying that it is normal, and that it's sort of a "passage" if you are not the popular person, to get picked on. You advise to avoid the situation, and if one were to arise, to get away as fast as possible. Now of course the best advice anyone could give, is to try and avoid it.... however, I don't believe that we (GLBT, black, handicapped, fat, pink-haired, WHATEVER) should just escape the situation... that does not solve anything.
While I like to encourage people to stand up for themselves, I would NEVER tell anyone to put themselves into a situation that could make things worse. But there are ways of stopping it. Find what works best for you and the situation, and go forth. Don't ever allow for someone to bully you, and don't think it's something that you have to just "deal with". It's not alright. You don't have to put up with it. Just find a healthy alternative to make it stop.

Now I don't want you to think that I am hating on your blog, because that is certainly not the case. I think you were dead on with some of the "types" of people you encounter throughout school. However, I just wish that as a community we could focus our time on encouraging resolutions, rather than reassuring that "it will get better" because it should never have to be bad.

Now realistically, there will always be bullying as long as there is youth, but there are always options to problems.

Anyway, sorry for this lengthy response. LOL

I truly enjoy your blog. Keep writing!

Thoughts from Dallas.

michaelg said...

@Everett- thanks for the comments. I will address in a future blog post.

cbeck said...

In regards to item 1, even I managed a slight semblance of "cool" in college. And like Everet said, I too have been enjoying the blog! looking down at the clock now, I see that my lunch actually ended 20 minutes ago, so I will stop trolling your comments now. ) ~Cheers!