were you picked on for being gay (even if you weren’t)?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

OCCASIONALLY, I am given an op­por­tu­nity to take on a one-day gig and pick up a little pocket money. So far, my fa­vorite has been a serving on a couple of mock-juries. I have also been a pa­tient for a psy­chi­atric grad stu­dent: I warned her in ad­vance that she would get nowhere with me. Of course, she had been bawling like a baby while re­living some child­hood traumas! 1

Re­cently, I took part in an ex­er­cise where a tech­nique was being tested by a local health-oriented busi­ness to see if they wanted to in­cor­po­rate it into their rou­tine. More than twenty vol­un­teers stood on a line.

Stood as equals.

We had been se­lected ran­domly, so var­ious back­grounds and cur­rent sta­tuses were represented.

I was one of the older par­tic­i­pants, and one of the biggest. I didn’t look like the kind of guy anyone ever picked on.


Does that apply if I’m straight but was per­ceived as gay as a kid and bul­lied just the same?

The in­structor Julie read off a se­ries of state­ments dealing with our up­bringing and gen­eral back­ground. These in­cluded such al­ways per­ti­nent topics as:

 fi­nan­cial (did one of our par­ents hold a steady job, etc.)
 race (did one or both par­ents have an ethnic back­ground that was con­sid­ered a mi­nority, etc.)
 re­li­gion (did we go to church reg­u­larly, etc.)

Sev­eral topics ad­dressed grade and high school and how we were treated by our peers: did we play in any sports, or were we re­warded or pun­ished for being short or fat or smart or attractive.


Trump BillyCulprit 1
Bully Cul­prit poster by Robbie Conal. The title is a play on the term “bully pulpit,” which is a promi­nent public po­si­tion (such as a po­lit­ical of­fice) that pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for ex­pounding one’s views

Statements not questions

These were not ques­tions, but state­ments: “I re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment from my teachers for playing sports. How each state­ment ap­plied to us re­quired us to take a step for­ward or backward.

And yes, I’m being de­lib­er­ately vague.

A few state­ments per­plexed me:

•  “I was os­tra­cized for being gay.”
  “I was picked on for being gay.”

By the end of the ex­er­cise, there were seven lines where there had been one. Those who had taken the most steps for­ward re­flected priv­i­lege or op­por­tu­nity; those standing in the rear had ap­par­ently had less priv­i­lege or opportunity.

Julie pointed out that our cur­rent ap­pear­ance (age, size, at­tire, at­ti­tude, etc.) did not nec­es­sarily re­flect or pre­dict where we were fi­nally standing—that you can’t al­ways tell im­por­tant things about a person simply by ini­tial appearances.

All in all, I was less than im­pressed with the whole thing, but I haven’t a clue as to what it meant to the or­ga­ni­za­tion spon­soring the exercise.


I don’t re­call, but I imagine that it al­ways be­gins with some stigma­ti­za­tion fol­lowed by os­tra­ciza­tion. The bul­lying fol­lows. This pic­ture says it all, even down to the smaller girl forming ‘an at­ti­tude’ that re­quires a de­fen­sive pos­ture. While this at­ti­tude may be ex­actly what she needs to make it through the next few years, it could also be the very worst thing she could do to her­self in terms of how it im­pacts her life after school.

Were you picked on as a kid?

I am a rea­son­ably healthy, good-looking, in­tel­li­gent person. I had a ‘normal’ working class back­ground with a solid ‘lib­eral arts’ public school ed­u­ca­tion with some col­lege. I ended up smack dab in the middle of the var­ious lines.

Then I raised my hand: “Um, you had sev­eral state­ments that went, ‘Take a step back if you were os­tra­cized from some so­cial events for being gay’ and ‘Take a step back if you were picked on for being gay.’ ”

Julie af­firmed that.

“Does that apply if I am straight but was per­ceived as gay as a kid and shut out and bul­lied just the same?”

“What? Were you picked on for being gay when you weren’t? Good ques­tion,” and Julie turned to her clip­board. After reading a few pages, she said, “Yes. Even if you are het­ero­sexual but you were mis­treated be­cause they thought you were gay, take a step back.”

And I took four steps back and ended up at the last line at the back of the group.

Julie was mo­men­tarily puz­zled: “Were there that many state­ments about being gay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, okay then. And thank you for pointing that out to me.”


Ac­cording to a survey by the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO), bul­lies in the US are more than twice as likely to phys­i­cally abuse ho­mo­sexual stu­dents than those in Aus­tralia, Canada, Hong Kong, Is­rael, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

The impact of the bullying

Who­ever put this bat­tery of state­ments and in­struc­tions to­gether placed a lot of em­phasis on the neg­a­tive im­pact that being gay and being bul­lied in school had on adults decades after the fact. Need­less to say, this did not take into ac­count the higher sui­cide rate of gay teens versus straight teens.

So, having lived through the crap that kids dole out to each other when they think you are gay—and that’s the crap from the ‘normal’ kids, not the phys­ical man­han­dling that comes from the jocks and the f*cking bullies—I have long un­der­stood some of the prob­lems that gay kids had to deal with on a daily basis in school. 2a/2b

And I ended up mucho sym­pa­thetic, if not down­right empathetic.

Rigtwingnut ver­sion of facts: “42% of all lib­erals are queer. That’s a fact. The Wal­lace people did a poll.”

And I went to a ‘good’ grade school and a ‘good’ high school in a rea­son­ably tol­erant neigh­bor­hood. Grom­mett only knows what it’s like in the poor ex­cuses for schools we have today in sec­tions of the country that still haven’t dis­cov­ered any­thing out­side of the mis­sionary position.

While a macho closing of “Been there, done that” would be great here, it’s more ap­pro­priate to say, “Been there, had that done to me.”

Well, I sur­vived it all and grad­u­ated in 1969, after which I be­came a long­haired hippie! And with long hair and other more sar­to­rial al­ter­ations came a whole new level of bul­lying and vi­o­lence: movies like Easy Rider res­onated with mil­lions of young Amer­i­cans, if only fig­u­ra­tively. The vi­o­lence in this movie only takes up the film’s final min­utes, but what final min­utes they are! 3


Peter Boye as under-educated, big­oted, rightwingnut Joe. Boyle was so taken aback by how real-life bigots treated him as a hero after seeing the movie that he never ac­cepted a vi­o­lent role in a movie again. This led to him turning down the role of Popeye Doyle in The French Con­nec­tion.

I wanted to get out of that

An­other hippie-based movie from that era that is ap­par­ently for­gotten today is JoePeter Boyle starred as the stupid—er, beg pardon: in­tel­lec­tu­ally challenged—bigoted, frus­trated, angry white male. You know, your av­erage Joe. And Joe had a daughter (Susan Saran­don’s début) who was turning hippie on him.

For me, Joe’s most mem­o­rable line was, “Forty-two per­cent of all lib­erals are queer. That’s a fact. The Wal­lace people did a poll.” That’s the kind of “facts” that rightwingnuts still be­lieve today. (And you prob­ably didn’t think I could tie Joe in with the rest of this essay, did you?)

Joe also opined on race re­la­tions: “The nig­gers are gettin’ all da money. Why work? Tell me, why the fuck work, when you can screw, have ba­bies, an’ get paid for it?” Ba­si­cally, the foun­da­tion for Ronald Rea­gan’s racist wel­fare queen in­ven­tion of the next decade.

The movie changed Boyle: when he saw au­di­ences cheering the vi­o­lence, he re­fused parts in other films that glo­ri­fied vi­o­lence for sev­eral years. This in­cluded the role of Popeye Doyle in The French Con­nec­tion: “I did a movie called Joe and I be­came iden­ti­fied with rightwing pol­i­tics. I wanted to get out of that.”

Fi­nally, it’s 40–50 years later, and I can treat all this with emo­tional dis­tance. But it hurt like hell then and left me with one pro­found prej­u­dice: I hate f*cking bullies.

Per­sonal bul­lies, po­lit­ical bul­lies, mil­i­tary bul­lies, busi­ness bul­lies, work­place bullies—hate ’em all!

Being bul­lied for being per­ceived as being gay also left me with a pro­found sym­pathy (does “em­pathy” count here?) for any­body and every­body re­gard­less of their gay­ness or straightness.

But they are sto­ries for an­other time . . .


KarateKid bullying scene 1500

HEADER IMAGE: The scene should be fa­miliar to most readers, as it is taken from The Karate Kid (1984). Here tough guy William Zabka lets wussy Ralph Mac­chio know who’s in charge. Ex­cel­lent movie even if the like­li­hood that a small, light­weight kid could learn karate in a year and kick the shit out of older, bigger guys who have been working out for years should stretch every­one’s credulity.

Note here that Mac­chio is smaller, softer, darker. Wapka has lost his baby fat and has the lean, chis­eled fea­tures that we might as­sign in our heads to an adult in the US Marines. Also no­tice that in this pic­ture, the bul­ly’s hand ap­pears al­most as large as the vic­tim’s head—and that the threat of that hand is all that is needed to achieve the bul­ly’s goal.

But it’s Hol­ly­wood, right? I chose this image be­cause even though the movie does not ad­dress gay is­sues, Ralph here is young and pretty and an out­sider, just the kind of target bul­lies smell be­fore the poor kid en­rolls in his first day of school.  4


1   Re­garding the mock ju­ries: I can say that both in­volved law­suits and a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion was easily reached. We did squabble over the mon­e­tary re­mu­ner­a­tion with in­ter­esting fig­ures and ar­gu­ments that re­flected our per­son­ality type/political leanings . . .

2a   Of course there are many other rea­sons why kids os­tra­cize other kids: being an artsy type, being a nerd (egghead was more or less syn­ony­mous in my youth), being too shy, being too out­going, etc. But for boys in a cul­ture that seems to pride it­self on its sexual im­ma­tu­rity and insecurity—as that very in­se­cu­rity is preyed upon by advertisers—being called gay for the first time can be a so­cial and per­sonal death-knell, lit­er­ally and figuratively.

2b   All bul­lies are f*cking bullies—and most of them stay f*cking bul­lies throughout their lives.

3   As cool as the ad­ven­tures of Cap­tain America and Billy were—taking to the high­ways and by­ways on chop­pers and dis­cov­ering the real America—the ending scared the shit out of us! When dis­cussing the movie with my peers today, many seem to have wiped the horror of the fate of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hop­per’s char­ac­ters from their mem­o­ries. O, well . . .

4   I still re­member being at a bar with a date and bumping into some hulk who turned on me and spit out ‘Watch it, pussy­face!” I was so hu­mil­i­ated by being in­tim­i­dated by the f*cking bully that I was afraid to call the girl for an­other date. That’s when I started lifting weights and learning to fight. 


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Dunno?!? I was picked on: short, chubby, weird (dif­ferent?) last name.

It got worse through out high school until I fi­nally won a fight in the first round out­side the right front door of KHS.

Jimmy Jet (our af­fec­tionate name for the Prin­ciple) even smiled with he asked if I was oaky at de­ten­tion. I just re­sponded that I felt great—through a bloody nose and dusted knuckles.

I don’t know why, but it all changed on the first day of college!

To this day, I firmly be­lieve that I’m more tol­erant, color blind, and per­haps in­gen­uous about others be­liefs and sexual ori­en­ta­tion be­cause of all the sh*t that I en­dured until that great fall of 1966!

It may be also why I so fear the di­rec­tion that our country is taking politically.