Thomas Pluck remembers what it was like to be bullied, and it sure as heck didn’t help build character.
One day last month, people wore purple to support LGBT teens, and fight bullying. I don’t have a lot of purple since when I was really fat it made me look like Grimace, so I wore my LSU rugby shirt- their colors are purple and gold. I look like the purple Michelin Man instead.
Let’s go back in time to the ’70s, and let me lay a story on ya. We like to think that things are constantly getting more progressive or morally bankrupt, depending on what TV news you watch. But we’ve gotten consistently more conservative, easily offended, and prudish if you ask me. Sure, we didn’t see “wardrobe malfunctions” on TV back then… it was called streaking, and people laughed about it. We didn’t freak out.
When I was a kid we watched the Osmonds. Things were so permissive back then that we let Mormons on television. The Osmonds are about as boring as you can imagine, and the only thing I liked was when Donny would do wear a ridiculous sparkling superhero costume and pompadour, and declare that he was “Captain Purple.” Somewhere between the period when I wanted to be The Hulk and when I wanted to be the trucker from B.J. and the Bear, I decided that I wanted to be Captain Purple. Thankfully this was not near Halloween, so I don’t have any photos of my little round-bellied self in sparkly purple tights. If I did, I’d share them. Why? Because I dressed in a lot more embarrassing Halloween costumes as a kid, and I never got bullied over them. The country was simply not as religious, conservative or homophobic back in the ’70s as it is post-Reagan and post-W. We were not innocent. No one in their right mind can look at The Village People and tell me that we did not know they were gay.
When I was a kid, it was funny to dress as a girl. One kid went to school with two Nerf footballs for boobs under a t-shirt, with a big white wig, as Dolly Parton. He was later asked to remove the boobs, but slipped them back in when we filed out for the Halloween parade. That year I was dressed as Agatha Crumm, an old grouch from the comic strips that I used to think was funny for some reason. It also helped that I lived with near my grandmother, and could grab a bunch of her old clothes instead of buying a costume. Later costumes included a ghost that looked way too much like a Klansman now that I think about it, and the Grim Reaper. Walking home from the high school Halloween party dressed as the Reaper, and using a payphone, almost caused a car accident as the teens burst into laughter. “Death is calling!!”
So yeah, I dressed as an old lady for Halloween. No one called me a fag or beat me up. I remember the first time I heard the word “gay” was probably in 3rd grade, as we waited to file in for home room. An older kid was trying to trick me into saying “I’m gay.” I could tell he was being cruel, so I said “I’m happy, but I’m not gay.” This was when “gay” was still used as a synonym for that. Then I asked my mom what he meant and she probably made up some shit, because I didn’t learn what it meant until middle school, where the real bullying begins. I grew up with a friend or two who were most certainly gay, and I remember one older kid throwing his hat in the creek. But he was never called a faggot, or anything like it, when anyone else was around. I’m sure he was bullied—we all were—by the shit heads of Nutley high school, Guido capital of the eastern seaboard.
I was mostly safe because by the time high school came around I was wearing shredded Army fatigues, Dead Kennedys t-shirts, and hanging with the burnouts. (Which is really funny now, because my attempt at long metalhead hair turned into a giant Italian afro). There was a little bully who threw insults and threatened to fight me on Church Hill–our school’s designated rumble spot–but he never showed. But then one day three coked up “guidos” jumped me outside my house—apparently because I didn’t get their basketball as it bounced past me one day in gym class. It was utterly idiotic, but this is how wars are started. They jumped me outside my house, sucker punched me in the nose and ganged up as I strangled the living shit out the first one who hit me, flying into my patented Hulk rage. I went to the cops, but nothing came of it. Later, one died of a heroin overdose, another one stole his mother’s car to sell for drugs, and the main jerk-off flipped his Monte Carle and cracked his skull, but survived. He apologized to me, years later. I can’t even remember his name anymore. Now that I do mixed martial arts, I’d love to meet him… to tell him that his jab sucked.
What spurred this post was an article about parents freaking out because their sons want to dress as a princess, or their daughters are tomboys. Kids do all kinds of things as they try to figure out what they want to be. I wanted to be a garbage man, and sometimes I still yearn for the simplicity of crushing stuff in a garbage truck. I think it is monumentally more important that you worry about raising your kid to not be an asshole more than if your kid wants to wear a tutu and pretend to be Princess Headbutt or if Daddy’s little girl wants to wear combat boots and watch monster trucks. Getting bullied doesn’t build character—if you think it does, you have no character—but choosing to be yourself, despite the booger-flings and spitballs of outrageous douchebags, does build character. Don’t be the rock that crushes the spirit of your children. That’s the job of school and the workplace.