You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
– John Lennon, “Imagine”
Over the weekend, I saw a headline about Lynda Frederick, a 42-year old woman bullied during her time in high school who wrote a poem to her classmates about being bullied on the Facebook page for her high school class reunion. This morning, I investigated further and read this story in the Huffington Post, as well as a few other articles online about her and her poem. Her former classmates were so moved, some coming forth with apologies and raising money for her to travel and attend the reunion.
As some readers already know, I was bullied in high school as well as junior high and grade school. You can imagine that what I was able to read of the poem online, as well as Ms. Frederick’s story, would reminded me of how I was bullied. It also reminded me that there are too many of us survivors of bullying across the country, across the world, with scars still unhealed and some still gaping open. Many of those survivors are adult autistics who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, trust issues, and many other kinds of problems lingering into adulthood because of childhood or teen bullying. And with estimates of autistic and Asperger children who are bullied running as high as 90%, we will certainly see more autistic adults bearing the trauma of childhood bullying.
I salute Ms. Frederick for her courage in addressing her tormentors. I don’t know if I will ever have the courage or desire to do the same. I wrote a poem today, “Pavements“, as one of a few attempts in the last couple of years to deal with my own pain from being bullied. I don’t know if anyone who bullied me or who witnessed the bullying will ever read it, or the other poems I’ve written (here, here, and here), but these are my attempt to tell the world what happened to me. And to maybe, like Frederick’s poem or like the writings of others who have been bullied, call attention to the pain, heartbreak, and tragedy.
One sentence in Frederick’s poem serves as a haunting refrain: instead of asking why…you picked on her. Oftentimes, rather than asking why a child or teen is different from his/her classmates, the children tease and bully the child who is different. Sometimes, even adults join in on the bullying, as was in the case of this boy with Asperger Syndrome who was voted out of his classroom at the encouragement of his teacher. In Amanda Baggs’ same post about the incident, she cites a conversation that the author of A Different Kind of Boy recounts about his autistic son being refused entry into a gifted student program…a conversation that seemed all too familiar, reminding me a little of the “conferences” that school officials used to have with my parents about me. She’s very bright, but… And you can imagine what sorts of things followed the ellipses in that sentence. That conversation underscores one unfortunate phenomenon: instead of using differences in these cases to educate children about differences and tolerance, school administrators and sometimes other parents support the children’s intolerance and allow them to remain in their discomfort about those who are different. Which keeps fostering the ignorance, prejudice, and dominant cultural arrogance that allows the chasms to continue to widen between those in the dominant culture and those not. And with ignorance and prejudice comes — you guessed it — more bullying.
Adele’s song “Chasing Pavements” was partially an inspiration for the poem and the phrases reminded me of how we often try to madly escape our pain and torment, seeking some sort of comfort and solace. I was very glad to leave Middletown because of the bullying I endured from classmates and the abuse I experienced at home. Unfortunately, autistics seem to be the target of this sort of treatment, as well as others with differences that are still feared (such as sexual orientation, other kinds of disability, and religion — Islamaphobia, anyone? — to name a few) and we often cannot flee the trauma and memories in our own psyches.
In order to facilitate the end of bullying, the idea of normal somehow needs to be shattered. No, fuck that — obliterated. Wiped completely out of the human consciousness. Cultural pluralism, education, careful crafted laws, and civil rights movements have chipped away a little at that idol — for example, this article in the Los Angeles Times cites an increase in the percentage of Americans who approve of same-sex marriages as measured by a recent Gallup Poll. If there is no such thing as normal, there will be no yardstick to measure the different folks up against. No falling short of a mark that most people cannot meet, if they were to be honest with themselves.
Obliterating the idea of normal, comparisons, yardstick, and a “greater-than-less-than” mentality is only a start. I understand that we must do much more than that to even hope to end bullying. But it’s a start. Along with education, addressing the problem in the schools, and encouraging adults to act responsibly, as adult behavior serves as models for children’s behavior.
You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.
Lynda Frederick is, too.