When I was a kid, I got bullied.
There’s more than one incident of this happening in my life, one was physical by some dickheads when I was in fourth grade, but the other, the one that really cut me was being bullied by a girl who would taunt me after gym class in the locker rooms. I really don’t remember a lot of what she used to tease me with any more, which is odd to me given the fact being bullied is often something that burns into one’s developing memory like discovering a crime scene.
I remember she made fun of my body and my unwieldiness with it. I remember running during a softball game and she and another kid clotheslined me into the ground. I remember him coming to apologize to me and her claiming she had no idea I existed.
I remember fantasizing about all the many ways I would make her die. If any therapist had seen the volumes of composition notebooks I filled with sketches, macabre prose and damn-near torture porn recipes for her impending doom, I would have been expelled as a threat, I’m sure. What I remember most is crying. In a rare moment of tenderness from my older brother, (who told me that he was the only one who could make me cry) he demanded to know who she was and promised revenge.
Shortly after this, he started smoking weed, abandoned that thread of action and gave me a bunch of Radiohead CDs instead.
I remember she called me a nerd and made it a point to make explain to me why I was a nerd and not a geek or whatever else.
This last one is the one that I really remember simply because she defined it for me, and that definition, which basically had me assured I was a social reject with no hope of being interesting to anyone, made me resistant to share anything I thought was cool for fear of exposing how undesirable I apparently was.
But you know what, I am a nerd.
I love science. I’m fascinated by how the world is put together, and I think it’s amazing that we know how elements combine together to form everything. I actually think math is therapeutic, because I like knowing that there’s problems in the world that are definitively solvable. I fucking love anime. I read philosophy for fun and watch TV shows about vampires. I secretly hope to write a pilot about an Irish Catholic Cop who hunts the Vampire Mafia.
I spent a large time as a teenager ashamed of who I was. I did a lot of drugs, and became pretentious out of self-defense. I wasn’t a nerd, I was an *intellectual*, which was pretty much the same thing but in a way that made me better than everyone else, so I thought. It wasn’t that I couldn’t relate to people, people couldn’t relate to me.
This is not a healthy way to turn the tables, though. It made me mean, because by changing the label without rejecting how I’d been defined as a person, all I’d succeeded in doing was mask the chasm of self-hatred I still resided in, and therefore I remained as defensive and eager to lash out. No one could really understand how hard it was for me to face myself, and it was doubtful anyone would understand why. By all accounts of that age, I was doing fine, except I wasn't.
Years earlier, in a seventh grade locker room, being called a nerd largely shaped who I was, and for a staggering amount of time. It's strange to think of it over the span of a near decade, but it took forever to shake those words from my sense of self. Even if I made myself numb to the title, I was never any less sensitive to the definition.
"You are worth less because you are different."
I have no idea who she grew up to be, by the way, or if she'd remember me at all. I’d be cool if she died in a fire, though.
Thank fuck I was before the generation in which cyber bullying was a thing, I honestly don’t know if I would have made it. I don’t think bullying in itself makes kids any stronger. There’s probably some value in learning how to think critically about someone’s harmful actions towards you, learning to dissociate your personal relevance from what might be someone else’s problem, but I digress. I have no strong opinions on being bullied. In my case, I survived, albeit damaged, but I came through.
I don't know if I became who I am because of it, or if it forced me to endure a socially crippling mistrust that I could have otherwise avoided. Ultimately, It’s a shitty thing to do to someone, but it happens and the world is no softer or harder for it.
Where my opinions begin to form, however, is in the thickets of powerful, even obscene language. I don’t believe in being politically correct, and I believe that being culturally (or, maybe better anthropologically) sensitive isn’t the same as curtailing your language; rather, it’s accepting responsibility for it.
What we're really dealing with is the meaning and value of words, personal and cultural. As a culture, erasing words does not rid them of power, it concentrates it. As a person, creating the meaning of a word . Ask any woman, homosexual, or minority who's used a slur of their own volition to define themselves. Are they degrading themselves, or are they robbing the culturally assigned meaning from their personal vocabulary?
I’m not going to pretend that I have some sort of insider perspective to what generations of derogatory language and cultural insensitivity have on a person, but the notion that we can erase hurtful words from the collective vocabulary is at best heuristic, and at worst it’s genuine censorship. It's not society's job to issue censorship- certainly, it's understood there is some level of social pressure to conform in some statutes of language, for example, anyone who’s white probably self censors “The N-Word”…
And that’s fine, I don’t say it. That's me, recognizing years of abuse and choosing not to be a part of it. But I don’t get to dictate who does and who doesn’t say it. Kid Rock can continue using ‘gay’ as a simile for ‘unappealing’, kids can call something ‘lame’ despite going to school with a paraplegic. Words are symbolic, and meaning is a fluid interpretation of that symbol.
We have a personal list of words we don’t like hearing, either we don’t like their sound, their meaning, or what they imply by proxy. Even the dictionary changes over time; definition isn’t as standardized as we’d like to think. That’s why scientific names are in latin; the language is gone so there’s no risk of mixed definitions. But here’s the thing; those words are different for every individual.
It is insensitive to call something you don’t like retarded, or gay. It is insensitive to make jokes about floundering cunts to women with body issues, or to call an opinionated woman a bitch. However, that insensitivity is not limitless. If we were to erase these words from fashionable lexicon, the sheer potency of being a word that required eradication will cause those very same words to gain a stronger foothold as a slur. The best way to make a sensitive word less appealing to those who will abuse it is to own it, reject the definition and reclaim it as your own.
Yes, you should use a sense of decorum with people you don’t know well, and acquaintances may not be the target audience for all your soliloquy of the importance of free speech, but that doesn’t mean that within your circles, within the bastions of free speech like stand up, film, journalism, these words should be considered off limits. I say that because without the ability to speak ideas, vulgar or otherwise, we become susceptible to censorship.
(Briefly, if someone wants to argue why censorship wouldn’t be bad if it’s protecting people, the counter is that the same rules that can protect one group from hurt feelings can suppress others, possibly dangerously so.)
We need the ability to express ourselves completely, and with that, there will be limitless dickheads, mean girls in locker rooms, and people insensitive to members of your family. But without the words that assist bullies when hurting others or spewing garbage misinformation, we will be forced into keeping silent on behalf of those who need to speak out and speak truth.
Living in a place that allows freedom of speech has allowed us to push forward movements like Women’s Suffrage, Civil rights, decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, recanting the public and formerly medically held position that homosexuality was a disease, and so forth. People who spoke for these unpopular positions most likely had their feelings hurt. No doubt they upset more than a few people as they rocked the status quo. The difference between these movements and casual slurs isn’t positive or negative impact, it’s responsibility. By taking responsibility for your words and positions, you offer a vantage point; you can prove why your insensitive opinion is correct or give footing for someone to prove you wrong.
Let people speak their mind. Disagree with me, even, but to sum up my opinion on the idea of political correctness…
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.