A gay friend of mind posted a link to this article on Facebook wherein Mitt Romney is castigated for bullying a gay student back in his high school days. My friend added the following comment:
I’ve had good friends tell me that people who bullied me in high school and called me faggot and put me in trash cans and locked me in lockers and gave me fatigue squad for ‘being effeminate” are “now really nice guys and they were just young”. I will never accept youth as an excuse… and i won’t accept it from him. They are called ‘formative years” because they form us into the adult we will become.
Mitt claims not to remember the incident, but he does acknowledge that he did “dumb things” in high school and offered a blanket apology for them. That’s standard operating procedure for dismissing the sins of the past, although I’m not sure why. No one is satisfied by “if I did something wrong, I apologize” apologies, because they’re too weaselly to accept any real responsibility. Mitt’s classmates who helped him pin the kid down and cut his hair remember the incident clearly. Which is worse – that Mitt is lying about what he remembers, or that he genuinely doesn’t remember something so blatantly cruel?
Perhaps some embarrassing personal reminiscences might help.
I was bullied rather extensively during my elementary and middle school years. In the parlance of the day, I was “asking for it.” That is, I was a loudmouth, a weirdo, and a provocateur. I could run verbal circles around my more thuggish schoolmates, and they didn’t appreciate it. Worse, I didn’t back down from fights when I really should have. I remember getting pummeled by a neighbor kid who lived about five houses down, storming back home, and then getting so mad that I’d let him get the best of me that I’d walk right back and challenge him again, only to be smacked down even harder. I think this went on until I could barely stand.
The one incident of bullying that haunts me to this day, however, was the kid who used to lie in wait for me as I walked home from the bus stop. Later in life, he was branded with the nickname “Doo-Ball,” which, even though it didn’t come from me, was a name I felt he richly deserved. Doo-Ball always had two or three brutish friends with him, just to make sure it was never a fair fight. I would try to fend them off by swinging my ample French horn case at them, but the whole thing always ended with me pinned face down in the grass as a rain of fists came pouring down on my all-but-defenseless stick figure body. Doo-Ball eventually let me wriggle free and run home sobbing, laughing behind me as I went. I can still taste the blood and dirt in my mouth as I think about this today, over three decades later.
I had no recourse. I do remember once coming home, screaming, and grabbing a butcher knife from the drawer as I tried to run out and seek revenge, only to have my sensible mother restrain me. She tried to help by bringing this to the attention of the bully’s parents and the school, but it didn’t end. For two years, I walked a mile or so out of my way to use a different, Doo-Ball-free bus stop every day. Thankfully, by the time I’d gotten to high school, the bully lost interest.
I remember this with painful clarity, and there’s no doubt that the experience had a powerful impact on me. But did it have as powerful an impact on Doo-Ball? Does he remember pounding on me as vividly as I remember being pounded upon?
Early in this blog’s history, I recounted an incident where I mercilessly teased Sheila, a young woman, because of her public displays of affection. I wasn’t violent, but I was a jerk. And, let’s face it, I was a bully. Odds are, others could come forward with tales of my nastiness, but I can’t think of who they would be off the top of my head. I do remember such incidents when they’re brought to my attention, but they aren’t burned into my memory the way they are burned into hers. In other words, to expand on my friend’s comments from the opening of this post, my nastiness was much more formative for her than it was for me. That’s unfair, but it unfortunately seems to be the way the world works. I like to think that such unkindness is behind me, and that I’ve grown up considerably since then. Certainly I can’t imagine treating anyone as cruelly today as I treated her decades ago.
Should I be judged today by what adolescent Stallion did to Sheila? I really, really hope not.
I don’t know how much this will affect Mitt’s chances, and I don’t want to excuse what he did. I just think that anyone that wants to castigate him for boorish behavior ought to take a moment to consider whether they, themselves, at any time provided a “formative” experience for someone else that they would just as soon forget.
If you’re troubled by this, ask yourself: Is this a standard by which I could be judged and come away guiltless?
I saw Doo-Ball about five years ago at my 20th high school reunion. I thought about going up to him and saying hello. I didn’t. And I would never vote for him for president, even though I don’t think our high school sins should weigh against him. But come on! Would you vote for a guy named Doo-Ball for president?
UPDATE: One of my former teachers tried to guess Doo-Ball’s real-world identity, and, while he came close, didn’t quite make it. I’ll be happy to email interested parties offline if you’re curious.