24 March 2012

Why Bullying Is A Crime

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who is showing some signs of taking hormones but has not started to live full-time as a woman.  This friend is a few years older than I am and grew up under very different circumstances from what I experienced as a child.  However, there is at least one parallel between our childhoods and adolescent years:  Each of us was bullied.

Now, some might say that we were simply having experiences typical of adolescence, particularly for males.  You know what I mean: getting slammed into lockers, being taunted--that sort of thing.  However, what makes it different is that even though no one bullied us specifically for being transgendered, mainly because most people in our milieux had no idea of what that means, we were taunted because we were perceived as people who didn't fit into what we were "supposed to be" as males.  Plus, you might say that each of us was a kind of geek, albeit in different ways. 

What I just said about each of us could also have been said about countless other young people who have been bullied and harassed. Tyler Clementi comes to mind:  He was quiet, reflective and intense (as one might expect of an aspiring concert violin player).  Those qualities made him a misfit in a male college dormitory.  I don't know whether things have changed since I was in college, but as I recall, the atmosphere in such dorms really isn't so different from high school, or even junior high school.  If you don't "fit in", you are subject to harassment, and even physical violence.  And those who taunt you will also use the stereotypes about people like you to make your life miserable in all sorts of ways, or simply as a rationale to hate, shun and slander you.  I know; such things have been done to me, and they have been done to my friend.

Some people say that those of us who are bullied or harassed should conform more to whatever is around us.  Such an expectation is as illogical as it is disrespectful.  Telling someone who is slight of build and who may have health issues to "toughen up" is a kind of taunt, whether or not it's intended as one.  As it happens, my friend did that, at least to some degree, by learning some combat techniques from her father, who was in the Special Forces.  But, although she is not physically imposing, she was healthy enough to be able to make the moves her father taught her. However, not every kid is like that.  Likewise, not everyone can change his or her personality to suit a situation.  I don't know how you turn a shy, diffident person into someone who is more boisterous and cocky.  I'm not so sure I'd even want such a thing:  I've learned all sorts of things from those shy people that I don't think I could have learned from other kinds of personalities.

Anyway, bullying and harassment aren't simply rites of passage or "boys being boys."  They are a form of terrorism, for they are ways of attempting to intimidate someone into some sort of submission to someone who exploits his or her status as a privileged "normal" person.  They are attempts to deny someone the right to be who he or she is.  In other words, they are ways of preventing a person from living simply because he or she is somehow different from others.