I read this Salon article by Aaron Hartzler because Dan Savage recommended it to one of his callers who was dealing with homophobic conservative Christian parents on his most recent podcast.

I thought it might give me some perspective on my own situation as the holidays approach.

But what I really got from the article didn’t actually have anything to do with what I expected.

I was most touched by what Hartzler said about bullying.

How the most hurtful aspect of bullying can be the fact that the insults being hurled at you are based on truth.

That what can hurt more than the bullying itself are those who say that the bully should stop saying X, Y, or Z instead of that you are an okay person regardless of X, Y, or Z.

That the former actually can reinforce the idea that X, Y, and Z are bad and wrong – hence why the bully shouldn’t bring it up.

That the bully is mean for SAYING what everyone else knows but doesn’t say, rather than that the bully is wrong for attributing a negative connotation to something that isn’t actually bad.

I was bullied mercilessly growing up.

It wasn’t until middle school when I was in class with the other smart kids that I started really having any friends. Having someone to defend me meant a lot, even though the teasing continued.

Yes, I am smart.

Yes, I am fat.

Yes, I do have hairy legs.

Yes, my accent was different from that of my classmates.

The difference is that none of those things actually (should) impact my ability to be loved.

None of those things make me an inherently bad person.

And that is what no one ever told me when I was 12 years old.

Hell, even my own mother shamed me for my weight and my desire to not shave.

Perhaps bullying stems from some perverted attempt by children to enforce social norms as they understand them.

But it seems like adults either do nothing, tell children to ignore it, or say that the bullies are jealous.

Perhaps in some rare cases the bully is told to stop.

But what kids aren’t told (or at least what I was never told) is that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my intelligence or my body or my vocabulary or my voice. That what other people were perceiving as a negative trait was actually either positive or neutral.

I had to get there on my own, and it took me a long time. Like over ten years a long time.

And maybe that’s what people *mean* when they say bullies are jealous, but they don’t actually say what of. I could never understand what anyone had to be jealous about, because I couldn’t see the positive attributes after being reminded of the negative day in and day out.

It’s taken me a long time to embrace my uniqueness and to reclaim the parts of myself others denigrated.

I wish someone would have taken me aside at 12 years old and said, “Maybe all those things they say are true, but here’s why it’s a good thing and not a bad thing,” instead of just telling me to ignore them and they would stop.

I needed someone to tell me why I was okay even if they didn’t stop.

I needed someone to help me see that whether a trait is positive or negative is a matter of perspective, and not a universal.

We don’t talk enough about the half-truths which make the insults and jabs thrown at us dig deep inside, creating wounds which take a long, long time to heal. If they ever do.

We need to teach children to embrace diversity from a young age.

We need to give people the resources to develop self-esteem that isn’t based on the opinions of others.

We need to give people the space and information to make the best decision for themselves, instead of parroting the status quo.

We need to throw out what isn’t working for us, and change the narratives that are holding us back.

I know I’ve come a long way from where I used to be.

But sometimes I wonder where I’d be if I’d had more help with this stuff from a young age, instead of having to start all of this emotional work in college.

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