I vividly remember the way boys like that talked about women among themselves: like they were livestock. I didn't hang around with these boys, I didn't even like to be in their vicinity. It was easy enough to avoid them though, if you weren't part of their exclusive social network then they simply couldn't see you. That was a relief to me.
But I remember this one particular kid. There's always this one particular kid. I'll call him George. It looked as if nature had created George to be a scapegoat. He was overweight and effeminate and anxious about his appearance. He bumped into things and knocked them over, every day. He was a closeted gay of course, so deep in the closet he was into his late twenties before he came out. One look into his big frightened teenage eyes was a glimpse into the horrors of adolescence. This kid was in pain, so much pain you could see it in his face.
If you're going to bully a kid like this it seems to me that you'll need certain attributes: first you'll need to know that whatever you say or do will have no significant consequences. Then you'll have to strip away every shred of empathy you possess and trade it in for the admiration of your peers. To be a truly successful bully you'll also need an audience. Bully's can't flourish without them. You'll also need the tacit support of some influential adults who share your prejudices, and in this world you can always be sure of that.
Once you have vetted the process (and bullies always make sure to vet the process) you can torment boys like George with impunity. Day after day you can lead vicious attacks on them surrounded by cheering hordes safe in the knowledge that they will never turn that aggression around on you.
You'll start to exult in your own power and lord it over the powerless. People expect this, they'll slap you on the back and call you a great guy for this. The world has always been full of this. Later you'll laugh about how you oinked at him because he was so overweight, or you felt him up because he was gay, or you punched him on the mouth because he couldn't defend himself, or all three.
I remember boys like this and I remember their sobbing victims. I once found George hiding in a locked classroom between periods because one of our teachers was beating him too.
People talk about the effects of bullying on the bullied, but it takes a toll on the witnesses too. I had no idea who to appeal to in order to save this kid because even one teacher was hitting him. In the end, fed up with the injustice, my friends and I stood up to his tormentors and that ended it. But its the kind of thing, because of the pointless suffering you witness, that you can never forget.
Reading about what Mitt Romney did to John Lauber (who was gay) and to English teacher Carl G. Wonnberger(who was visually impaired) yesterday brought it back to me. Romney, say reports, targeted the effeminate Lauber who had dyed his hair blond and led a horde of cheering hearties to Lauber's room to hold him down and cut it off.
'It was a hack job,' recalled Phillip Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred, told the Washington Post. 'It was vicious.'
That's more than high spirits or a little horseplay. That's a premeditated psychological and physical assault. That's completely horrible. So is directing a visually impaired adult into a glass door. It speaks volumes about the inner life of the person conducting it. Romney never faced any reprimand for his actions.
Yesterday in an attempt to get beyond the issue Romney issued a terse apology. 'If I did it, then I'm sorry…" But that qualifying 'if' robs it of any sincerity. Five of his classmates all admit he did it and that they've been haunted by it to this day.
If I did something that vicious I wouldn't be able to forget it, then or ever. I remember a dozen boys like John Lauber from my own school. He was later thrown out of that school for smoking a cigarette, but Romney terrorized him and went un-reprimanded.
Lauber's sisters say he kept dying his hair blond until the day he died in 2004. Clearly he remembered what had happened. Society taught Mitt Romney it was OK to bully gay people, and to mark them out as less deserving of his consideration, and it even rewarded him for it by refusing to hold him accountable. That's still the message from the GOP.