Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Freedom of Being an Outsider

Yesterday, I read a news story about Whitney Kropp, a high school sophomore who was voted Homecoming Queen as a joke. 
Whitney Kropp

Unfortunately, this story hit rather close to home for me.

Halfway through eighth grade, my family moved and I changed schools. Eighth grade is a pretty tough year to begin with. Many kids are entering their teens and all those wacky hormones start kicking in, plus the school system I moved to was known to be very cliquey.  I made friends, but I was not a part of the established cliques, so I was far from being part of the "in" crowd. 

I was one of the youngest kids in the class, and still very much a goofy kid. My friends and I were a pretty close-knit bunch of misfits. We all got picked on from time to time, but I don't think any of us worried about it much.

I got teased by some of the more popular kids. Some people called me Dogface. I assume that stemmed from a really bad "poodle perm" I got at my mother's urging, but, who knows. One kid comes up with something mean, another laughs, before you know it, it sticks. Of course I didn't enjoy it, but it wasn't something I spent time worrying about. I knew they didn't like me. I knew they thought I was ugly. But there were other people who did like me, and there were other boys who asked me out.

At the end of the year, there was an 8th grade "prom". It wasn't a big dressy event like the high school prom, but they elected a prom court and all that sort of thing. Imagine my surprise when my name was announced as one of the girls who had made the Prom Court. I was stunned. I knew it couldn't be right, even though friends came up and congratulated me.

Then I started getting threats. Anonymous notes turned up in my locker threatening to beat me and my friends up if I didn't drop off the Court. One of the teachers came up to me and introduced himself saying that he wanted to make sure I was a real person as he had never heard of me before. He asked if I was sure I wanted to stay on the court. I did.

As we neared the date of the prom, the threats escalated. It was doubly difficult because I couldn't explain to my mother that I was on the prom court as a joke. She was glad because she thought I was popular. I think I might have tried to tell her, but she didn't get it and I let it go. Or maybe I never said anything because I assumed she wouldn't get it. I don't remember after all these years, except to say that I felt I had to be secretive about the circumstances of my arrival on the prom court.

What I do remember is walking across the auditorium and up onto the stage when they called my name. I remember being pelted with wadded up paper. I remember the animosity in the air. I think I smiled. I certainly tried to. The last thing I wanted was for any of them to ever know they had hurt me.

It did hurt.

The way I felt.

I have absolutely no regrets about standing my ground and walking up onto that stage, though. If I had dropped out and let them have their way, I would have been their whipping girl for the next four years. They would have known that they had shamed and embarrassed me and I would have known that I had let them. Instead, I forced them to live with the consequences of their actions; namely that one of their friends did not get to be on the prom court they were "supposed" to be on because a goofy little geek girl was standing up there.

I don't know who the "mastermind" behind that little plot was. I have no idea who voted for me or even why they hated me enough to single me out in that way.  Back then, not knowing who it was just made me feel that it was "everyone" or "the popular kids". In reaction to that, and to a couple other horrible incidents that occurred shortly afterward, I entered my freshman year of high school with a strong feeling of being an outsider and a rebel.

From then on, my motto was, "You may not like me, but you won't forget me". I lived a little louder. I gave up any fear of what my classmates might think of me. I actually grew to relish the idea of being hated. I loved feeling that I was a giant walking "Fuck You" to the popular crowd. Having been shown so forcefully that I did not fit in, I lost my desire to do so. Of that, I am grateful.

I may have taken it a bit too far, but Whitney Kropp seems to be handling what was done to her with a great deal more intelligence and grace than I was able to muster. I hope that her pride in herself for handling the situation so well and for attracting the kind of support she has will help her to gain confidence in herself and to remember her value over the years. I hope she will never forget that she took an insult and turned it around on those who tried to do her harm.

Even more, I hope that others who have stood by silently and watched someone being bullied will stand up and say that it's wrong.  Once you lose your fear of rejection, once you realize you have nothing to lose and stand up for what you know is right, you will find what true freedom is.