How I Survived Bullies in High School

gggIMG_20170429_000850 I used to be in a romance with a girl whose son is exceptionally sweet and benevolent. Another boy would pick on her son, and bully him on the school bus. For reasons I don’t understand, his mom advised her son to put up with it. He did, and the bullying continued and got worse. Finally, she told him to fight back vigorously next time. He did, and that ended the bullying. That story happened in the US.

My school-time experiences were outside the US. I went to school in Britain and South Africa. The school system in the latter was especially bad. Things that would be abhorrent by current US standards were considered okay in South African school culture, though I understand there are some common problems.

The teachers totally failed to address bullying. Practically speaking, anarchy reigned. Much bullying was done in a gang context, but we also had one loner bully.

In our senior year of high school, he was probably 18 years of age, but he had the facial expression of a hardened, cynical adult aged mid-to-late 20s. His facial skin was red and tanned, as if he’d already spent decades under the African sun. His facial features and skin better fitted someone perhaps 10 years his senior — someone who smoked so much that it had affected his skin texture. He was of medium height, but he had a very stocky, compact kind of muscular structure, more befitting an adult than a teenage boy. His nickname, appropriate to Africa, was “Game Tamer” as in “wild animal tamer” — not in a “horse whisperer” sense, but rather as in “overpowering and intimidating.”

He was immensely strong, and he moved in a way that suggested he was accustomed to fighting. He’d shown up at our school shortly before my senior year. I didn’t know where he came from previously. The city I was in had more than a dozen large high schools, and the school I was in was in the most well-to-do area with the most elegant buildings, highest academic and athletic standards, and so on. The Game Tamer bully was an anomaly almost as if he’d shown up from a hard-core rural anything-goes high school, which was probably the case. It’s probably safe to say that everyone, including every ringleader bully, was wary of him.

The Game Tamer bully had the simple amorality of a savage. He bullied without malice. For example, our science class had cacti on the windowsill, planted in ceramic vases. At some point someone, perhaps Game Tamer, broke one of the vases. He picked up a large ceramic shard, and focused on one of the other boys who was nearby. The other boy was relatively high on the social scale, and physically quite strong too. He had done nothing to provoke the bully. He just happened to be nearby, and he got picked on for that reason. Using the sharp edge of the ceramic shard as if it were a knife edge, the bully calmly and methodically carved the other boy’s skin open, and expressed delighted amusement at how the wound gaped. It was so severe that the other boy needed to go the to emergency room to get stitched up.  I was surprised that the other boy had allowed it to happen.  There were no adverse consequences to the bully. Life went on.

Relative to the Game Tamer bully, I was on the other side of the scale, as to looking intimidating. Even when I was 26, 10 years after the time this story played out, I was told that I looked 15 years old, so I must have looked really young when I was in my senior year in high school. I’d also gone to school a year early, so all other things being equal, I was younger than everyone else in the class. I was also very slender and slight of build. Besides, I am also a trans girl. In South African school culture at the time, boys tended to not beat up girls, but they made an exception for trans girls so I needed to be continually vigilant.

As to dealing with bullies, I’d tried to reason things out, first. One day I found the worst ringleader bully alone, and I confronted him and engaged him in a candid conversation exploring the moral merits of his behavior toward me. He could, of course, not justify himself, and he admitted that. He looked sheepish and resolved to start behaving in a reasonable way. I was encouraged, but the next time he was exhibiting his bad behavior, he gave me a special smirk as if to say, “I’m aware of our discussion — and I’m consciously dismissing it. I’m choosing to be unreasonable.” At least, then, I knew where I stood. I couldn’t reason with the bullies, so I would have to be ready to defend myself. I wasn’t all too happy when I was looking at the gang bullies’ biceps and shoulder muscles, and contrasting their muscles with my own. Even though I had a blue belt in Judo, I wasn’t looking forward to having to use my skills in self-defense.

One day, in science class, for no apparent reason, the Game Tamer bully focused on me. I don’t recall how the conflict began but I’m sure I didn’t initiate it. Anyway, the bully had me pushed backward so that I was lying on my back on a bench, and he was looming over me, choking me. Perhaps thirty other kids were standing around, watching.

I knew an effective Judo chokehold, and so I applied that to the bully. As a result, we were choking each other. I recall his face getting redder yet, and I recall feeling calm. I had an intense tolerance for distress, such as when my joints were being strained or I was being choked. One of my advantages in combat was being able to outlast my opponent. This got me yelled at by my Judo trainer during a tournament; he was concerned that, for example, my arm was about to break and yet I didn’t give up. Aside from being incapacitated or dead, I know I can lose only when I give up. I don’t like giving up.

So, while I was on my back and being choked by the bully, choking him right back, I felt a quiet satisfaction at how I was handling it, and I enjoyed observing that he wasn’t handling it well. For a while, we each tried to outlast the other. The bully seemed to be losing control, and I expected him to switch to another tactic imminently. He pulled away and slammed his knee forward, aimed at my privates. I had expected that, so as soon as he slammed his knee forward, I rolled out of the way and his knee drive was harmlessly deflected against my other thigh.

At that point I think he felt embarrassed, having failed twice while everyone was watching. He decided to leave me alone.

The incident had been useful for me. The Game Tamer bully started being more deferential toward me. This helped my social standing enough to give pause to the other bullies who were themselves wary of the Game Tamer bully.

Shortly afterward, the end of senior year approached, and it was time for our final exams. These were held in a massive hall with three hundred students’ desks aligned in rows and columns. with teachers and monitors walking around to prevent cheating. An exam lasted three hours and one exam could make or break one’s final grade; it made up half of one’s total final score, for that subject.

Due to where our last names fitted in the alphabet, the Game Tamer bully sat behind me. Even though he was dangerous, I considered him more annoying than dangerous. I didn’t feel any fear toward him. To me, he had all the moral significance of a dangerous natural phenomenon such as being hit by lightning or bitten by a snake. It would be unpleasant and best avoided but not something on which to dwell. Even so, I was aware that his actions were based on choices he was making, and that he bore the moral responsibility for his choices. I didn’t think highly of his choices, and my attitude conveyed that. Ironically, my sincere condescension somehow inspired the bully to be nicer to me.

I had prepared well for the exam, and I was looking forward to taking it. My preparation had included buying a small bottle of white-out, a sort of liquid paper by which I could paint over my mistakes, which I considered neater than crossing them out.

The South African version of this product had chemicals that were generally known to have severe respiratory consequences. In the same way as one depended on gasoline for convenient transit, but knew better than to go take a deep breath at the filler hole of a car, one depended on this product for error correction but knew better than to take a deep breath when the cap was off. It was to be uncapped, used and swiftly re-capped, ideally while holding one’s breath. This was fairly common knowledge.

The bully, as it turned out, was unaware of the product. Sitting right behind me, he asked what the stuff in the little bottle was for. I recall feeling mildly annoyed by having my pre-exam concentration disrupted. I reached for it, opened it, and turned around in my chair. I held it out to him and said, “Take a deep whiff.” He leaned forward, and did. Apparently that satisfied his curiosity since he didn’t say or ask anything else. I turned around and focused on the exam that was about to begin. I did so well in the exam, and other exams that I took in that same three-week time-span, that my grades were high enough to get my picture on the top center of the front page of a major city newspaper. That the Game Tamer bully was quiet behind me was a welcome development for my ability to concentrate.

Three hours later, the exam was done. I got up, and so did the Game Tamer bully. He was exultant. Unbeknownst to me, after he’d inhaled the fumes of liquid paper, he’d become groggy and he had passed out, collapsing on his arms as if he were resting on the desk, or praying — so the teachers left him alone. He’d been out cold, for two and a half hours. Just before the last half-hour of the exam, he woke up and did whatever he could in the time remaining.

I was surprised and a little embarrassed that the effect had been so severe, but the bully reassured me that there was no need for me to be concerned, since his grades were going to be in the toilet anyway, and he was delighted that I would pull such a cool trick on him. He had all the benevolence of a good sport having lost a good tennis match or chess game to a superior opponent.

From that day on, my bully problem consisted of the Game Tamer bully being friendlier toward me that I liked. All in all, that was a better problem to have.

Status Report as to my Health

As background, here’s a quote from an article I wrote in January of 2016, a year and a half ago:

I went in for a medical check-up today and had my blood pressure tested. It’s 124 over 86 — which I gather is really good. I told my mom the numbers. She’s a health and nutrition guru professionally, so I value her opinion highly as such. She liked the numbers very much. She said that, at this rate, I might live forever. So, that’s good.

Yesterday, as in eighteen months later, I had my blood pressure tested again and the numbers are slightly better yet. Yay!

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This means I’ve been able to maintain an optimal balance as to the complex mix of chemicals I take in daily, as to sodium, potassium, spironolactone, estradiol, coffee, water and food.

I think that I weigh more than is optimal, but the most logical explanation is that I’m trashing my circadian rhythm. If I ever start going to bed at a reasonable hour then I expect that this piece of the puzzle will fall into place too. There’s just somehow always one more fun or exciting thing to do, that’s more interesting to me than falling asleep.

So, unless something quirky happens, I’m likely to be around for a long time. I’m glad. I feel good about my life. That should probably go without saying, but six years ago, it didn’t. I appreciate the contrast.

I’ve noticed that my body has been putting on a subtle and smooth layer of fat, just under my skin, and it covers my more intense muscles. I’m glad. My leg muscles used to be a bit too intense, by my standards. Here’s a picture from 2015 (the leg muscles were real, the boobs not):

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When I was a teenager, I lived in South Africa. My bicycle was my escape pod from a culture I disliked. I preferred no company to bad company, and so I spent a lot of time alone – sometimes at home, sometimes far away. All this bicycling seems to have built muscle, and it’s still around.

As a young adult, I also used to go on multi-day hikes in the South African wilderness, the type where you’d better pack your own food and sleeping bag if you were planning on eating and sleeping for the next four or five days.

I also had started my own auto repair business, and I often worked on cars. I couldn’t afford heavy-duty tools so the way I removed transmissions was by literally lifting them into and out of cars, by hand. I had a strange sort of sinewy strength, I also did Judo and Karate, and windsurfing, and those probably helped.

Later, I lived in Los Angeles and I’d bicycle from my apartment down to the beach and then I’d bicycle for miles and miles along the beach. I also liked hiking the hills around Los Angeles. Then, I discovered skiing, water-skiing and surfing, and it was all good … but it made for more muscular legs than fitted the showgirl look I wanted.

Two years ago, I danced at a club, as in, on stage. I’d done some professional dancing, as in stripper work, and that night on stage I was dancing just for fun, and a friend of mine was photographing and videotaping my moves. He and I overheard someone in the audience commenting, presumably with good intention, as to my hamstrings yet somehow that didn’t help me feel any sexier. I don’t have anything against body builders but that’s not the look I’m going for. So it’s been a relief that my legs nowadays look more smoothly feminine.

I gather that the peculiar DNA I have makes it unlikely or impossible that I’ll have cellulite, so I don’t have to worry about going too far in that direction. Indeed, there are some practical benefits to being a trans girl.

In other news, I now have naturally grown boobies. I’m happy with their size in some ways though I do wish they were larger. Even so, I’m not complaining. A friend of mine had implants done, and in a nice way she’s told me she’s jealous of my “girls.” She says I could wear anything whereas she has to be more careful about what she chooses to wear.

Six years ago, I didn’t much care if I lived or died. I was well on my way toward the latter. My blood pressure was way too high. My blood chemistry was bad, as in too high bad cholesterol. I seemed unlikely to be around much longer, yet I just couldn’t get motivated to do anything about it.

For me, it was exhausting and depressing, living life by trying to fit into guy culture, pretending to live as a guy, when I didn’t belong there.

Now that I’m living with integrity, as in I’m living as the female I am, consistent with my brain structure being female, life is grand. As part of that, I gradually became ever more motivated to be ever more healthy. I don’t think I’m going to win any beauty pageants, but I’m happy with myself. I work hard but I often walk, run, and sometimes sprint. I also dance and do some toning exercises. I’m happy.

I still have a lot of business debt to pay off and I’m working through that. I’m making steady progress, and my businesses seem to keep improving, so eventually I’ll have it all paid off. On paper, my situation would lend itself to feeling overwhelmed but instead, I just deal with it methodically, in a compartmentalized way.

I work with nice people whom I have attracted to my businesses. They seem to like working with me, and being around. I love the work and I enjoy the people I work with. As to people with whom I interact in a broader business sense: they either don’t know or care that I’m a trans girl, and life goes on. My stress level is super-low.

I still mentor trans girls, and I see how hard it is for them — the prospect of coming out. I see the struggle, the desperation and the need. I relate, from memory.

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The above picture was taken two days ago. Evidently, I nowadays have long, blonde hair, and it’s the same shade of blonde that my hair was when I was two years old — but that’s because I have it lightened to be that shade again. Six years ago, I used to crave having long, light-blonde hair like I do today, but I was too shy, bashful, embarrassed or ashamed to move in this direction. I dared not even walk down the aisle at the grocery store where they sold hair-coloring products, as in the package with blonde hair coloring. Even though it was late at night, around midnight at that grocery store, and there was nobody around nearby, I felt too intimidated. And nowadays, I’m simply … not.

I think my negativity, even self-hatred, was due to having accepted conservative cultural premises in which it was considered shameful to be born with male plumbing and a female brain structure, and hence thinking and feeling as a girl does. I had tried to suppress that for decades, and I’d failed. I’m glad to be done with it.

I wish that same relief and happiness for other trans girls who are hoping to come out, but it’s not just a trans girl thing. I think it’s much more broad of an issue, of knowing who you are and accepting it, and then choosing to live as such.

For example, I know someone wonderful who is, I gather, truly polyamorous and yet she has shoehorned herself into a monogamous lifestyle and she’s miserable, trying to make that work.

I’m also aware of another girl who, from comments she’s made, likes girls — and yet she has shoehorned herself into a straight lifestyle and she’s miserable, trying to make that work.

One of my friends knows or guesses she’s on the Aspergers spectrum, and she’s tried to shoehorn herself into living a lifestyle that doesn’t reconcile to that. She’s miserable, trying to make that work. I don’t know if being an intensely nerdish girl means that a girl is on the Aspergers spectrum but if so, then I’ve observed this in many girls who are cerebral — and shy, because they (wait, not “they” but “we” since I’m in this group too) feel like social misfits, which we are … by typical standards. However, in my opinion we’re more detail-oriented, orderly, precise, benevolent and just than typical people. I don’t see anything wrong with that … on the contrary. I’ve mentored nerd girls who have felt conflicted as such too, and I’ve delighted in seeing the deep happiness that come along quite quickly when a nerd girl comes to accept herself and her way of thinking, and then lives accordingly.

To me, nowadays, life is so precious. I would not want to waste even one minute by choosing standards that don’t apply to me and would make me miserable.

The way I understand things, if your mental wiring means you’re trans and/or gay and/or polyamorous, then by traditional conservative standards you’re a misfit, but it’s long been time to reject those standards, and to choose to live with integrity relative to who you are. As did I, you might discover that deep happiness is no longer elusive, and that depression no longer comes around.

I embraced life – living as who I am. So far so good. If you’re not yet doing so, please join me. And if writing me might help you, please do.