Category Archives: Bullying

Pretty Weird

Writing books for middle graders, teens, and young adults growing up in families headed by same-sex parents is a wonderful experience. I meet a lot of great people, hear a lot of fantastic stories, and every now and then I get to make a difference in someone’s life.

When young people see their own type of families reflected in the literature they read, lives can be changed. It provides a sense of self-esteem that even the most loving, caring, and supportive parents cannot.

We hear about the kids who get bullied because they are, or are perceived to be, LGBTQI themselves. But it’s not too often that we hear about the kids being raised by LGBTQI parents being harassed at school and on the internet, which also happens every single day of the year.

These kids often feel especially picked on because if they were growing up with hetero/cisgendered parents they would not be subjected to this type of harassment. Of course, that’s not to say that they wouldn’t still be bullied. We all know that bullies will identify whatever you are sensitive about to torment you. (And if you didn’t know that, take my word for it.)

But when kids see their own rainbow families represented in fiction it validates their homes as being just as normal as anyone else’s. Unless, of course, your house has been painted in rainbow colors, because, well, that’s pretty weird. Pretty and weird, and wouldn’t I love to have one!

Robin Williams and I

2014 was a year of mourning great talents. 

Lauren Bacall. Pete Seeger. Dr. Maya Angelou. James Garner. Ruby Dee. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sid Caesar. Shirley Temple. Mike Nichols. Mickey Rooney. Richard Attenborough. Eli Wallach, Tom Magliozzi, Harold Ramis, Ann B. Davis, Menshach Taylor, Elaine Stritch, and more have all died during the last 363 days.

But on August 11, 2014 the world lost Robin Williams, a man who was a legend in his own time, a tormented creative  talent, and a great humanitarian. His death was deeply personal to me. At the time I had no words to express my grief, my memories, my love for this special man.

I, like so many other people in the world, found Robin Williams to be a genius at humor and heartfelt pathos. His movies made me laugh, and cry. The first time I saw him perform, his TV character Mork literally had me falling off the couch in hysterical laughter. In that moment I began a lifetime of looking forward to his next project, whatever it might be.

I remember the first Comic Relief show in 1986, when Robin (by then I loved him so thoroughly I’d promoted our relationship to a first name basis), Billy Crystal, and Whoopie Goldberg hosted 47 comics telling jokes and being funny to raise money for the homeless. I was working then, and donated what I could, that year and for years after. The laughter was good medicine for what ailed me, and touched the heart in a way completely new to charity. Laughter was the great equalizer – no matter how much or how little you have, when a joke is funny you laugh.

I began to notice little things about Robin’s behavior when he was being interviewed and supposedly ‘off’. I recognized a pattern of behavior that came too close to some of my own, uncomfortably close. A particular interview soon following his father’s death still stands out to me. In him I found a mirror of some of my own torments, a kindred spirit, an understanding soul.

I followed his career closely, enjoying as many performances as I could. I loved some more than others. Popeye, first, where I was not surprised one bit at his sense of comedic timing and delivery, and then The World According to Garp, which stunned me with his ability to play a straight role. The Fisher King, Aladdin, What Dreams May Come, Hook, Jumanji, Happy Feet, and The Birdcage, I’ve watched each of them a dozen times. He made me laugh, he made me cry, he creeped me out (remember One Hour Photo and Insomnia?), and he always made me relate to his character. His career made me happy. I hope it made him happy, too.

When the internet was new and celebrities as inexperienced on it as anyone else, I found a relatively private address for Robin in San Francisco. Thereafter, I sent him a Christmas card every once in a while. I loved picturing him reading my card, so I’d fill it with bits and pieces of things going on in my life, things I couldn’t/wouldn’t tell other people. Looking at it written down, I can see how that might seem a little odd to people, but it was a dearly held (tenuous though it might be) contact with someone I thought of as a friend.

I didn’t hear back from him but that didn’t stop me from shooting my arrows into the darkness, hoping they would strike their target and ultimately be read by him. Since none of my cards were ever returned, I was fairly sure they were being delivered somewhere. That was enough to keep me going.

When I’d been writing for a couple of years, I produced my first YA novel, The Boxer Rebellion. A coming-of-age story about bullying gay kids, it is brutally honest which makes it a challenging read. I sent Robin a copy and asked if he thought it was too harsh, too painful for readers to enjoy. For the first time, I got a response, an acknowledgement that I’d been making contact all along, just one direction.

He sent me a photo of himself dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire and signed it:  To Genta, Write On.

Robin Williams told me to keep writing. That private message between us was enough to keep me pushing that book until it finally found a home and began gathering reviews. I imagine him holding my book in his hands while he read. I like to think of him laughing at the funny parts, fuming at the injustice, and ultimately joining The Boxer Rebellion to fight bullying in schools and on the internet. The photo is framed and hangs over my computer to remind me that Robin Williams believed in me enough to encourage me when I was down.

As we start a new year, in his memory I say to you, “Write on, my friend.” Please remember that the emotional struggles of the truly talented can often be masked behind achievement and praise, written away as fiction. Be gentle with yourself, today and every day of the rest of your life.

Give the Gift of Bullying

Here’s an idea! The e-book copy of The Boxer Rebellion, is FREE today. Let’s make a full-moon Friday the 13th something to remember.

I’m sure you  know people who need to understand bullying in all it’s horrific glory, librarians, teachers, politicians, family members, or even your next door neighbors. You know, people who can help make every school safe for every student.

Send them the link, recommend they read the book, urge them to do the same with others. Request the paperback version at your local library. Gift the entire school board.

But remember:  This book has triggered survivors of teenage bullying. Although The Boxer Rebellion is set in high school and peopled with teenagers, it is a mature subject matter NOT for the faint of heart. It pulls no punches, and uses the crude language of bullies.

TRIGGERS:  LGBT bullying, cutting, suicide, cruelty, and crude language.

Gays are Bullies, Says Michele Bachmann

Yes, you read that right. It’s the gays who are bullying people, according to the congresswoman from Minnesota’s sixth congressional district.

I don’t mean to be catty (okay, yes I do) but the only bullying by a gay Michele Bachmann is likely to be experiencing might better be called spousal abuse.

Turning truth inside out to blame the victims is nothing new for Michele Bachmann, or her ilk. She and some of her most generous supporters worked for years to create a hostile environment for LGBTQ students in that district. A group calling themselves Parents Action League, an outgrowth of the ultra-conservative group Minnesota Family Council (which seems to be a virulent copy of the Family Research Council) helped put in place a policy colloquially called No Homo Promo. That finally ended fourteen years later in 2009, far too late. But under pressure by PAL, the Anoka/Hennepin district followed up with a feckless Neutrality policy that told teachers they could not address any gay issues. Afraid for their jobs, confused by vague language, teachers and staff members were afraid to do anything to protect targeted students. This gave bullies free reign, and they took full advantage.

Members of PAL claimed that by coming out the students brought the bullying on themselves, so for their own good they should stay in the closet. Any attempted formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance club on campus, they warned, would bring on more suicides. They neatly turned the tables and announced the recognition of oneself as LGBTQ to be so depressing an experience it drives teens to suicide.

In less than two years in the Anoka/Hennepin school district, nine kids committed suicide. Four of them self-identified as LGBTQ, or were perceived by their peers to be so. They were viciously bullied in schools and online. Funerals were held with frightening regularity during 2008 and 2009. Across the nation other students were choosing death over living in a hell on earth. It was Tyler Clementi’s death that focused the national attention on the suicides prompted by bullying.

I had already written two novels about children in rainbow families for middle-grade students, Riding the Rainbow and A Man’s Man (expected release date December 2014), and each had elements of bullying. But what was happening within miles of my comfortable home demanded stronger action and reaction. I pulled no punches in The Boxer Rebellion, did not flinch from the agony of the victims, and used the same vulgarities hurled daily at students in schools everywhere. book is a fictionalization of the events in Anoka/Hennepin school district during those two years. Many of the types of incidents I depict did happen to unfortunate victims during that time. Each new suicide was the tolling of a bell reminding us that no one is an island. We were so focused on those nine, it was easy to ignore the ten times as many kids who attempted to kill themselves during the same time period. More continued to suffer the cruel combination of bullying and the lack of protection from school staff. Sorrow and horror hung over not just the district, but the entire state of Minnesota.

Years have passed since those nine died, but the pain of the parents and friends of the victims continue to resonate in the community. Kids are still being bullied, and unfortunately we still have suicides. 

Parents and schools have agreed there need to be rules and consequences for bullying on and off the campus. Michele Bachmann strongly disagrees, constantly arguing against allowing LGBTQ students to live easy in their own skins.She still turns the story around to suit her own conservative Christian agenda. As recently as two months ago, she declared that it’s the gays who are bullies. My book may be fiction, but it is based on one big truth: bullying kills.

If you feel that people aren’t taking gay bullying seriously enough, buy a copy of The Boxer Rebellion and give it to a school teacher, librarian, or principal. Donate one to your local library, or request they purchase one.

Join the rebellion. Up the rebels!