I know kids whose lunches were their only friends. I know kids who went home telling their mothers nothing was wrong. I know boys who avoided crossing the bigger, louder kids. I know girls who weren’t allowed near the pretty girls, just because. For all of us, here are some stories.
I was small, scrawny and sickly as a child, but that’s not the reason I was bullied. I always knew I was different because I liked to play. I didn’t know that it was such horror for a girl to be good at things that were “for boys,” but learned quickly that I couldn’t quite fit, and never would.
They called me t-bird, tomboy, and tibo as early as I could remember, even if I had long hair and wore the occasional skirt, loved pink and had my ears pierced voluntarily with star-shaped gold studs using a gun at the jewelry section of Rustan’s. When I would beat a boy at a game, even the manongs and the manangs (the helpers) at my school consoled the boy and said, “Hayaan mo na yan, t-bird kasi yan (Just let her be, she is a dyke).” I was 9.
I was too young for many things but then I already knew a word that would be used against me and those like me so many times whenever we achieved more and were better, faster or stronger. If we figured out a different strategy to distract the opponents’ guards in agawan base and we would conquer their turf – we were dykes. If we beat them at climbing a tree or making the best mud balls to fling at each other, or if we didn’t lend them the ball that our mom or dad bought for us – we were tomboys.
Not the endearing English term for “boyish” either, but the vicious and derogatory term used to label odd-looking women manning security posts, wearing loose men’s shirts and short siete hair. I learned very early on that a girl who didn’t enjoy dolls and jack stones as much as she enjoyed basketball and soccer was destined to become a security guard. Even my fourth-grade teacher and the head directress both told me no boy would ever like me if I continued to play sports.
I loved my only brother, a boy slightly taller than the rest of the boys, who busied himself with science and history, and knew about Egyptian pharaohs and taught me the word “papyrus.” He was a bit strange as my siblings and I all were, having been raised on dinner table trivia of Baroque architecture and the chemical behavior of Vitamin C when exposed to heat or copper pans. But he was too strange for the regular boys at school who taunted him day in and day out, calling him smelly and slow, stealing his possessions and nicknaming him Dickhead, a term we didn’t even know and whose definition we couldn’t find in our New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia. I remember kicking a boy in the nuts one time for calling my brother a name, and the boy ran away. My brother was embarrassed that his little sister had to defend him, and was angry that I had to make a scene. My brother was ten.
There was a boy named Sunny who loved to smile a little too much, and a boy named Arvin who was a big kid and never really got along with the others. They were both called stupid and fat, until the separate days we found out each one died, from some disease of the body or brain. Nobody really said why (or sorry), as if the disappearance of these kids was actually a relief from constant conflict.
A girl with cerebral palsy who had speech and gait problems was laughed at and imitated for her wobbly walk. People like her were never chosen for any team, like all the other faces that didn’t quite fit into the mold of typical boy or girl, including the boy they called bakla who had the longest arms and legs and was the best patintero patotot anyone had ever seen, if only they weren’t too busy laughing at his effeminate mannerisms.
I never forgot his name but I’d never write it here. (If he reads this now, here’s a high-five from someone who was in the same boat. You are awesome.)
I was a quiet newcomer in high school when out of nowhere a girl named Margot grabbed me, yelled “Punyeta ka talaga! (You’re such a fucker!)” and slapped me so hard that my face throbbed for hours and tears filled my eyes for the rest of the day. It was the first and only time anyone had ever hit me (I’m guessing she was used to it since she did it so well). I tried not to flinch and just walked away. I did not want to cry and be the baby, or fight and be called a dyke or a troublemaker, or be known as someone who disagreed with a known bully.
Like many kids, I never told a grownup about these things. The only thing that saved me was that over the summer I grew from 4’11” to 5’6″ and towered over everyone else before graduating at 5’8″. No one ever came near me again.
But they still taunted the near-mute Indian girl and called her stinky and ugly, and they tripped the unassuming girl named Rosemarie, who was so scared that she was actually the one who said sorry.
There wasn’t much to be done about the hierarchy of adolescence. I liken it to a pack of apes where the noisiest and most aggressive ones pinned down and cast away the weaker ones. Like many bullied kids it seemed like endless years of torment and it became a race to finish the school year before our spirits were completely snuffed out.
At least in my story, in the end the bullies were nowhere to be found. They became stuck claiming high school as the best years of their lives. Maybe because after school, being bigger and louder just didn’t cut it. It became evident that making someone feel small does not make one bigger, only a bigger jerk. The weaker ones invested more in themselves than in brute force, or in humiliating others, or in acquiring a vocabulary of taunts instead of actual usable words.
I wrote all of these stories down for the purpose of saying this. If you are or were bullied, this is for you:
You were given a rare and special gift. It’s like some one-of-a-kind ice cream or candy that everyone wants. They can see it no matter how hard you try to keep it from them, and whether or not you know it exists. They can never have it and so they will try to crush you for it – for being different, for being happy, for loving the way you are. They will try to get rid of it and make you hide it. They will try to put it out like a candle so that when it’s extinguished, you can be just like everyone else.
But you’ll never fit into that mold because you were meant to be special. One day there will be a time for you to shine and I promise you will be loved for this rare and unusual gift. There is a reason you were not meant to be ordinary. There is a reason you will be hated by the ordinary – because they will never be like you no matter how hard they try. They just didn’t get your gift. So it is your job to keep it no matter what. Hold onto it like it’s the most precious thing you can never have again if you let it go, if you let them take it, or if you give up.
Please don’t give up. Someone like me wants to see your gift. And one day, someone like you needs to see that you made it out just fine. You need to tell them it will be all right. – Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours reminiscing in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.