It’s not an uncommon story. Being a young geek/nerd/dork/your choice of description, who grew up being made fun of or bullied. I know it’s not uncommon, because I’ve met people just like me.
But everyone’s story is a little different, and here is mine.
I was a geek who was tormented from a young age. For liking school, for being interested in science fiction, for wanting to read instead of play on the playground during recess. And for any thousands of other reasons that kids come up with. And probably for no reason at all sometimes.
I remember being seven years old, in a new school, reading a brand new book. I remember turning a page, and suddenly that page was all that was left in my hand. Someone had ripped the book away from me, leaving me holding half a page, for no reason other than the fact that I had been reading it. And even more clearly, I remember the principal and my parents saying “kids will be kids,” and to “ignore them and they’ll stop.” They never did.
I was made fun of, ignored, harassed, and pushed around, occasionally to the point of physical violence. But never enough for anyone to hear me on the increasingly rare moments I spoke up.
Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, neighbors; they all said the same thing. Ignore them and they’ll go away. But they didn’t go away, they just got more creative. And I got better at hiding, both physically and emotionally. Eventually I knew every hiding place in the school and I learned to not tell my family when something hurt. Probably not the best lesson to learn at age 10, but it’s what happened. Looking back, I realize I was bullied as much by the people who were supposed to protect me as by the bullies themselves.
And that’s how I grew up. Hiding a part of myself, learning to be embarrassed by my own interests. I tried, desperately, to like the things that were considered “normal,” but none of it stuck. To this day, if you asked me what was popular when I was in high school and college, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Actually, if you asked me what’s popular right now, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you either.
College was supposed to be better. People would be more open-minded, value learning, and wouldn’t pick on me because I liked science fiction. How wrong I was. There were glimpses of light, but even the people who I considered friends never knew the real me. And the people who did see the geek underneath the attempts at “normal?” They almost immediately backed away, as though I were contagious.
That lesson I learned, about being myself being a bad thing? It was reinforced for 25 years.
Twenty-five years is a long time. And it took a long time to start to unlearn. In fact, it’s a lesson I’m still unlearning now.
But I am unlearning it, and in some amazing, truly unexpected ways.
I have friends who honestly like me.
I started going to science fiction and comic conventions, and I’m not afraid to wear my geeky t-shirts in public.
Through the internet, particularly twitter, I’ve met the most amazing people.
An essay I wrote is published in a book.
When I go to conventions, people who are there as guests know my name.
I’ve started traveling, even if it’s primarily for conventions right now; it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.
And I finally don’t feel so alone.
Some days are harder than others. But I know that if I reach out, there will always be people who understand me, and who will reach back.
I’m not in contact with most of the people I knew in elementary school, high school and college. I’m not sure I’d recognise most of them if I ran into them on the sidewalk. And at this point, I’m not sure they’d recognise me. I may not look drastically different, but I feel like a completely different person.
A few years ago, I was invited to my high school reunion. I considered going, if only to show off the person I am becoming proud to be. And then I remembered it was happening on the weekend of a Doctor Who convention.
I know where I’d rather be.
When given the choice between the people who tormented, bullied, and ignored me for most of my life and the people who I’ve known for less time, but who genuinely seem to like having me around; there was no choice.
This post was originally going to be called, “Shit like this doesn’t happen to people like me.” But sometimes it does happen, and to people who are just like me.