4 min

Back to the bullies

Living well is the best revenge

BACK THEN. Classmates called me fag. Credit: Xtra! files.

I thought it was just another day’s mail, but one piece stood out amongst the usual bills and junk. It was a letter with the return address from a place called Langford, just outside of Victoria, the community where I grew up.

As I opened it, a wave of fear washed over me as I realized it was an invitation to my 20th year high school reunion at Belmont Secondary.

“How did they find me?” was my first thought. (It probably had something to do with being listed in the phone book.) I was also surprised that I would receive an invitation since I never finished high school.

My high school years were my worst memories of my life. I was always suspected of being a fag and most of the time many of my classmates never let me forget it. Much of the time I was taunted and bullied.

The most vivid incident was when I was 14. Two much older guys beat me up in front of a huge crowd of other school kids. No one stepped in to try to stop it. I was seriously beaten and my assailants were eventually charged. However, despite the charges, our school principal still implied publicly that somehow I deserved it. The follow-up headline in local Goldstream Gazette read, “Story On Boy Beating Differs.”

A cycle of falling in love with my friends had started in elementary school and continued though high school till I dropped out in grade 11 and left home at the age of 17. Many of them resulted in sexual encounters, but it was not something we ever acknowledged. These relationships always ended when the other party was either overcome by guilt or no longer wanted to be seen associating with me.

“Those people mean nothing to me,” I would say to myself when those memories surfaced. In fact I did everything possible to block out memories of high school including ceremoniously burning my high school yearbooks. It seemed easier than facing how these experiences have affected me throughout my adult life.

I spent years in therapy, determined to get past the huge fears plaguing my life. About a year prior to receiving this invitation, my therapist actually brought up the idea of attending a high school reunion. My initial response was extreme anger. I shared with him visions of going back with a gun, but I ended up admitting I would like to show up with a boyfriend feeling proud and confident.

It just so happened that I was going out with an attractive and charming younger man named Wayne. I sent off the RSVP for me and a guest.

Arriving at the community hall, I was feeling very anxious. The hall was exactly how I remembered it from more than 20 years earlier. It was if it was caught in a time warp. In fact, some of the guys had shown up in jean jackets and baseball caps. At that moment, my fear switched to confidence – we looked fabulous.

While I was still not sure where to sit, a slim blond guy introduced himself and cheerfully invited me to join his table. It was Robert, the first boy I had developed an obsessive crush on in grade school. It was then that I learned I was not like the rest of the boys and tried to do everything possible to suppress these feelings.

Shortly after joining his table, Robert brought up the incident when I was beaten in high school. He told me how guilty he felt standing helpless in the crowd watching. He talked about what it was like to take me home to my mother and see how horrified she was. This came as a complete surprise to me. I guess I was in such a state shock during the beating, I had no recollection of this. How ironic – in grade school, I had fantasized about Robert as my prince. Now more than 25 years later, I find out he really was.

After Robert and I gave the short versions of where our very different lives had gone, my only girlfriend in high school, Donna, came up to greet me. She also seemed very happy to see me. It was wonderful to connect with her and apologize after all these years for not being honest with her and for using her as a front. She said there was no need for an apology and was happy to see me happy in my life. After a while catching up with Donna, I was feeling brave and decided that Wayne and I should move about the room.

As we made our way to the bar I stopped to say hello to a few guys I barely recognized. Many of them gazed at me with that “deer caught in the headlights” look as I introduced them to my boyfriend. Unlike usual bone-crushing male heterosexual handshakes, theirs were extremely light and short.

“Wow!” I thought. “Here I spent all my life being afraid of these guys and now they are afraid of me.”

From that point on, I didn’t feel any fear approaching people and talking. Many were gracious and seemed quite intrigued to hear about me. I had thought what I had done since I left home was very average. To many of them, my life came across as rich and glamorous.

The next couple of hours I spent talking with as many people as I could. Unlike me, most had stayed in that small community. I got the feeling they had accepted the life they were dealt. It made me realize that I was living a life I had chosen and that I had made the best of it.

* Colin Browlee is an honorary board member of Pink Triangle Press.