Of Youth Gangs, Gossip, And Change
A Gay Opinion 12/19/02
by R. A. Melos
I guess it bothered me more than I wanted to let on.
Huh? What am I talking about? Oh, sorry. I just jumped right into it the way I did when the subject was so innocently broached by my mother the other afternoon when I arose to get ready for work.
What subject? Again, sorry.
It all started when my mother returned from her weekly visit to the beauty parlor, where the women of my small New Jersey town gather much like the women in Steel Magnolias gathered to share life's joys and sorrows. Small town life really is like some movies. At least, my small town life is like some movies. Usually Steel Magnolias and Peyton Place are the first two that come to mind.
Anyway, mother arrived home and I finally dragged myself out of bed to face the afternoon. I've mentioned before how I'm not a morning person. Some days I'm not much of an afternoon person either, and this was one of those days.
It seems one of the hot topics of conversation in the beauty parlor was a series of articles to be run in our local newspaper, The Home News Tribune, on youth gangs in small towns. The gangs they were referring to are along the lines of the infamous Bloods and Crypts of L.A..
Now normally I don't care for sensationalism, and this topic even interested me less than usual. It was the fact the more mature ladies, those up in their years, so to speak, found the topic worthy of discussion which annoyed me. Why did it annoy me? I'll tell you.
The moment I heard mention of how today's youth were organized into bullying gangs I was incensed. These crones, and I call them that with the love of Jesus or Cernunnos in my heart, knew nothing of organized terrorism, or disorganized terrorism. I grew up in my sweet little home town, with its thinly veiled veneer of being the next best thing to Stepford, as a victim of the town bullies.
I've mentioned before how I was picked on because my peers labeled me different, called me "queer" and "faggot," and I survived, but I still have the scars. Apparently these scars were much deeper than I'd assumed. It never occurred to me just mentioning the opinions of these biddies, and again I'm calling them that with the love of some deity in my heart, would set me off in such a manner.
It never occurred to me I would feel such anger toward a collective group of people in such a way as I did. I guess I had repressed all my anger from years of being picked on, and abused and bullied by my peers, because somehow it was okay for them to pick on me. I was the one who was different, and that made their abuse of me okay in the eyes of society.
Much of the abuse I suffered in grade school was committed in hallways where teachers would see it happening and turn a blind eye. Being deliberately shoved into lockers and tripped, and punched, because I was the "queer" was the norm of my daily childhood.
I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating because of the depth of the scars. I'm not talking physical scars, but emotional ones. The emotional scars run to my core, and some will stay with me for eternity. While it may not seem like much now, at the time I was being abused by the very society in which I was being raised, it was a hell from which there was no escape.
I don't mean to sound bitter here, but I guess I still am. I'm bitter not so much toward my peers, who performed the abuses, as I am toward the adults who allowed the abuses to happen. So when I heard how these semi-fossilized ladies thought the possibilities of youth gangs spray painting a sign or desecrating property was appalling I was appalled!
I know some of them knew of my childhood, and the levels of abuse I suffered. It wasn't as thought it were much of a secret in a small town. Kids would tell the tales to their parents at the dinner table or when asked "How was school today, Jeffy?"
What would "Jeffy" say? "It was okay. The faggot got beat up today by a bunch of guys."
"Oh, that's terrible. You weren't involved, were you?"
"Of course not, mother," he would reply with an angelic smile.
"That's good dear," she would say. "I don't want you associating with those types of people."
Which types? Those who do the beating, or those who are being beaten? That's the question I had then and now, because I know the answers.
So suddenly I felt the rage of a lifetime swelling up and bursting forth. How dare these women talk of youth gangs, when this quaint little slice of Americana has been harboring hate and discrimination against homosexuals for years? How dare they think vandalizing a street sign, or spray painting a store front is a crime, yet never once in my childhood was it a crime to abuse someone because they were different, or thought of as being different, even with no proof of their differences?
I was disgusted.
As I calmed down, a week later, having had time to think about the situation more rationally, I realize I was a victim of timing as well as of society. Things are changing now, in New Jersey and the world. What was done to me is now considered a crime. My childhood of abuse is now considered terroristic threats and stalking, and hate crimes. Being beaten up because I was thought of as "queer" when I didn't even know what it meant is now punishable with prison sentences.
Yes, a lot has changed, and New Jersey is one of the safer states, but my scars are still healing. Maybe, given enough time, I won't feel the disgust or anger I felt simply because a group of elderly women don't recognize the crimes of the past? Maybe I'll be able to forgive society for the abuse I suffered because times have changed? Maybe one day a child won't repress anger or disgust because of being different, but will celebrate their difference along with the rest of my home town?
It's a nice thought.