Monday, April 19

The girl with the big nose and the zit at the end of it.

Grade six. A group of James Town girls ganged up on me and told me that I thought I was better than them and that I was a stuck up snob because I actually did my homework and because I spoke with an English accent. I was never invited to sit with them at lunch, got teased in the cafeteria and resorted to going to my only friend’s house for lunch. At her place we watched Young and the Restless, ate our lunch in silence and tried to not fantasize too much about what it would be like to actually be one of the pretty popular girls allowed to eat lunch in the school cafeteria.

Grade seven. My growing enormous breasts became the running joke for all the young boys. Boys would grope me without my consent, pull my bra strap and ask me if I got a black eye when I ran. I prayed daily for my breasts to just disappear.

Grade eight. I got nicknamed taco bell because I had a “big” ass and every time I walked by the boys would make the sound of a bell, and everyone would laugh. Ironically, I now do 100 squats per day trying to get this so called “big” ass back!

Grade nine. Five girls came to my school to kick my ass for dating the most popular girl’s “boyfriend”, a guy who never called me back and took me out on a “date” which I ended up paying for.

Grade ten. A popular boy stated to anyone that would listen that I would be pretty if my nose wasn’t so big! It didn’t help that every time I got a new zit it would appear at the end of my “big” nose. I promised myself I would get a nose job as soon as I turned eighteen. My Grandmother agreed. I still secretly worry about my “big” nose.

All of these things happened to me in school and I remained silent. I never told. Suffered in silence. Never once did I come home and share with my family what was going on. I never complained to any teachers. I had little faith that the adults around me would view me as worthy to protect. School for many years was not a safe place for me. And I’m sure many of you can relate to my stories and have even worst stories to tell. And now I’m in my thirties and can laugh at how ridiculous it all was, but back then there were moments that I felt my world was coming to an end. When you’re a teenager you can feel so alone, things can just seem so life shattering, just so hopeless. In high school, tired of the alienation, tired of not “fitting in”, and throw in some good family drama, I had had enough…suicide became a viable option.

She came home and hung herself.

I am in disbelief. Saddened as I read about the death of fifteen year old Phoebe Prince who hung herself because she was taunted daily. The headlines read she was bullied to death! What does her death mean? And why does it mean so much to me?

I think I relate to Phoebe even more because she was from Ireland and had recently moved to the U.S. She spoke in an Irish accent and I remember how embarrassed I was about my accent, how kids made fun of me. How I hated to sound “white.” And moving from England and coming to Rexdale was a culture shock that I was not prepared for.

I think about Phoebe, her face haunts me. I think about what she could have become. Maybe she would have found the cure for cancer, I think maybe she would have done something really great…maybe she would have had her own TV show.

I read every news item about her, research her on the internet. Feel a sad kinship with a girl I don’t even know. A girl I will never meet…

My sadness multiplies when I read about the death of Carl Walker Hoover, eleven years old who hung himself after daily taunts of being called a faggot, and a homosexual. And the facts are the facts. Gay teenagers are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterpart. I wonder about my own gayness…queerness. If I had “known” or even attempted to come out in high school I wonder what that experience would have looked like for me? And I shamefully think about my own silence when the obviously effeminate gay boy was teased in my high school.

So now in my role as the “confident” mature adult, I feel compelled to not be silent. I feel an urgency to really talk for those who are so often silenced. I go into schools to teach a lesson of compassion, respect. Letting the misfits, the nerds, the queers, the uncool and the unloved know that I was one of them. And now I’m here. This too shall pass? It passes, but you never really forget…

We need to be more vigilant about our children. Make schools safer. Parents, teachers, adults need to be more aware of what is going on in our schools. And yes I know it is easy for us to be dismissive and say kids will be kids. NO! School should not be a war zone for some and a safe haven for others.

So within the safety of my adulthood I think about Phoebe. Daily. She haunts me. I feel my anger rise as I think about little Carl. I feel helpless and it reminds me of how I often felt in school.


Cory K said...

Trey This is a great read, very insightful and meaningful to read you should think about publishing it in a magazine. Every child should feel safe at school and i hope one day that happens, but until it does we as adults need to push for it and advocate for these kids.


jemeni said...

Thanks Trey.
when we shine a light on these issues and give the names of those who fight
it continues to make their lives (though shortened) even more meaningful..

with love,
a fellow big nose

Anonymous said...

Thank you, deeply, for posting this. I needed this.
THis is something that goes pushed under the rug all to often and turned a blind eye to.
Thank you Trey

Kerri L said...

I can totally relate...except for the accent...although I secretly wish I had family being Scottish. ;)
I was the Red-Head with crooked teeth and tonnes of freckles. To top it all off...I was outspoken. I often felt like the reason they bugged me so much was because they got a rise out of me, because I talked back. Funny enough many of those girls are friends with me now as we all have children of our own, and have play-dates together.
We have talked about the past, and have managed to put it behind us, but they did find a way to apologize, and being more mature now, realized we were just kids. I haven't fully forgiven everyone from my past, but there are some that were just part of "that" crowd and were also just trying to fit in.

I have now come to love my hair, and even my freckles, but when I had the money, I got braces at the age of 20, and now sport a sexy new smile. ;)

I never felt as much despair as these poor kids who felt no way out, but it was definitely tough. I often attribute my strength of character to my adversities...but honestly, I could have done without some of it.

Great article

Genevieve said...

Lovely of you to pay tribute to those 2 children Trey.

ScrappyJen said...

This is a beautiful article. I agree. So much more needs to be done to protect the children.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Trey! I just discovered your blog from reading this article and I have to say it is both poignant and inspirational. Honest voices are a rare gem in this world.

I'd like to add that the importance of vigilance extends to the bystanders, not only the bullies and their victims. If, by setting a positive example, we can instill in our children the confidence to comdemn all forms of bullying so that they will refuse to be silent, I believe they have the real power to stop these disturbing incidents.

tere said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was in tears while reading your article. People can be so cruel; not only bullying children, adults can be just as vicious. We can counsel the victims but who is there to counsel the perpetrators?

yola said...

I read your piece in the Toronto Star (Weekend Living, May 15, 2010) and was so glad to see your contribution to the subject of surviving the taunts of being "different". I'm striaght (hetero) but still have vivid memories of hi school put downs (face too round, nose too flat etc. even in a balck majority environment in the Caribbean). The taunts did not succeed, thanks to my ego needs being met elsewhere (I had enough friends and a large loving family). I ache and cringe when I think of the horrors gay and lesbian students suffer as they grow into adulthood in a still homophobic and racist world. Your survivor story will be a beacon to many. Do not stop sharing it! Teens must be reminded that "this too will pass".