Tag Archives: bullying

Guest Post: Matchstick Girl

Amy Gravino is a certified college coach for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, and is diagnosed as having AS herself. She is currently attending graduate school at Caldwell College in Caldwell, NJ, where she is working to obtain her Masters degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. Amy is also authoring the book, “The Naughty Autie,” which chronicles her experiences with dating, relationships, and sexuality as a woman on the autism spectrum. (For more information, please visit www.amygravino.com.)

Editor’s Content Note: This post discusses being locked in a closet, and may trigger a claustrophobic reaction.

It all starts with a doorknob.

The palm of my hand wraps around cool metal. Smooth and solid against my skin, gaining me entrance to my place of peace. I can hear the other children’s voices somewhere distant, far away on the Big Toy. They play outside, running over hot blacktop, skin freckling in the sun.  But I am in here, in the dark.

I move into the closet slowly, acutely aware of my Velcroed sneakers touching the tiled floor, one step at a time.  The shoes are too tight, and my feet are throbbing and cramped. They’re trapped, along with the rest of me.  My muscles are tense and twisted in preparation for the onslaught of adolescence soon to come.  I’m in the middle of the closet now, standing right below the light bulb. Without hesitation, I sink to the floor and arrange myself in a cross-legged position.  I have no concept or inkling that any of what I am doing is not normal.  I don’t even think that anyone notices me retreating in here day after day. I’m a matchstick girl—legs spindly and awkward, all too sensitive, waiting to be set alight by the outside world.

I try to breathe, for what seems like the first time all day. Tiny hisses of air pass through my clenched teeth, which are aching behind omnipresent metal braces. I can feel the blood rushing through my gums to the enamel, and back again.  So much awareness, and yet it is this same awareness that fails me when I try to interact with my peers.

Thoughts of past and present social failings dart through my mind, each delivering a momentary but painful sting: a student’s science project in Mrs. St. Pierre’s classroom two years ago.  A flood of red, followed by a loud rumble and a hiss from a homemade volcano sends me running out of the room screaming.  Gym class two days earlier: a silent mantra—I will hit the ball this time, I will hit the ball this time. And I did—with my face, courtesy of an intentionally too-hard lob from the other side of the net.  Home Economics, one year ago. Untrained hands move clumsily, twitching from the sewing machine’s vibrations.  I’m bent too far over, and it’s only seconds later when a mousey brown strip of my Rapunzel-esque hair catches beneath the needle.  My classmates stand nearby, taking in the spectacle, making no move to help me.  While I shriek, they laugh.

The emotions that poured out of me in each of these situations come back to me now, as powerful as they were when I first felt them.  I become so lost in my anything-but-pleasant reverie that I do not notice the closet door slowly shutting behind me.  The sudden click of the lock jolts me upright.

“Haha, you’re locked in the closet!” one voice jeers.

“You’re not allowed to come out!” another joins in.

Two girls. Ella Ringway and Kelly Rockpoint. I recognize them immediately. Why are they doing this? What did I do wrong? I grab the doorknob and it turns, but the door won’t open. A swell of panic rises in my chest.

“Please, let me out! Please!” I cry.  But the taunting continues.  With all the might my miniscule form can muster, I push against the door, but their backs are up against it on the other side, and I feel the weight of their bodies countering my efforts.

“Come on, you guys! Let me out of here!” I again implore. But they ignore me, and I can hear them laughing at my expense. My safe haven is now a prison, and I cannot escape.

Eventually, Mrs. Plotz, the math teacher whose closet I am trapped in, arrives, and sets me free, shooing Ella and Kelly to their desks so that class can begin. I emerge from the closet as slowly as I went into it, nerves destroyed and heart scarred from my ordeal. My sadness and anger are barely concealed as I find myself forced to complete long-division problems with my former captors.

You call this justice? Does the Geneva Convention mean nothing to you people? I wonder while fuming silently.

But this was middle school, and there was no justice to be found. Not for anyone, but especially not for me. This continued all through high school, unrelenting, unending. I was, I thought, trapped in an invisible closet, one of my own making, unable to connect to anyone or anything. It is only years later that I now see how they were the ones truly in the dark.

This precise memory—of the closet, of being locked in by my peers—has not passed through the fore of my mind in a long time.  It had no reason to until last year, when I received a message on Myspace from Ella herself. I was surprised more than anything else, and did not know what to expect when I started to read it.  What could she possibly have to say to me? We had neither seen nor spoken to each other since graduation, and I couldn’t imagine why she would have a need to write to me.  It was only after I’d read the entire message that I realized she had apologized for how she’d treated me. She said she wished she’d known more about Asperger’s syndrome at the time, and that maybe if she had, she would have acted differently.  But the would-haves and could-haves meant nothing to me.  What did mean something was that, out of all the people who’d tormented me back then, Ella was the only one who had the courage to come out and apologize for it.

Sometimes I can still feel the closet around me.  The odor of mildew and old math books collecting dust is as strong in my mind now as it was then, but other smells now provoke other memories. They are locked up tight, while I sit in front of the door to keep them from getting out.

Interested in submitting a guest post to FWD? Read our call for guest posts here for more information!

Recommended Reading for 18 October 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

The first two links were sent in by Penny at Disability Studies from Temple U! Thanks Penny!

Knitting Clio: Ableism and NARAL Pro-Choice America

via NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is running a pro-choice slogan campaign.  Here are the choices:

I voted for the first one — why?  Because using “insanity” to discredit opponents trivializes persons with mental illness — a group that already experiences social marginalization and oppression.

Media dis&dat: South Carolina woman with Down syndrome volunteers as teacher’s aide in special ed classroom (Extra Special Trigger Warning for description of exploitative labor practices passed off as Very Special Favors done by abled folk)

“She had been working at a fast-food place, but they were really taking advantage of the fact that she was disabled,” Masaki said. “So, I offered her a ‘job’ here.”

Brown’s unpaid job is to be a teacher’s aide in Masaki’s classroom. While the position is voluntary, Brown works like the two full-time paid teacher’s aides, Rita Evans and Wendy Usary. The paid aides help Masaki with the classroom teaching everything from potty training to table manners to play time to desk work.

Brown helps control the children and helps keep the classroom running the three days a week she’s there.

The following post, which made me so angry I really cried because I hate the world sometimes, was sent in by reader Blake:

NYTimes.com: Mentally Ill US Citizen Wrongly Deported (TW, because the title doesn’t even begin to cover how awful this is!)

A mentally disabled U.S. citizen who spoke no Spanish was deported to Mexico with little but a prison jumpsuit after immigration agents manipulated him into signing documents allowing his removal, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges. His lawyers say the agents ignored records showing his Social Security number, while prison officials wouldn’t tell concerned relatives what happened.

Health Behavior News Service: Kids With Chronic Illness, Disability More Apt to Be Bullied

The study showed that students who reported having a disability or chronic illness — no matter where they lived — were more likely to be experience bullying from peers than those who did not. For instance, in France, 41 percent of boys with a disability or chronic illness reported undergoing bullying compared with 32 percent of boys without. Gender, however, was not a factor — boys and girls were victims equally often.

In addition, when students with a disability or chronic illness were restricted from participating in school activities, they had a 30 percent additional risk of being bullied.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: The Problem with Policing Someone Else’s Mental Health

Marginalized people are particularly susceptible to having their emotions pathologized, partly because their experiences aren’t typical. When young queers are experiencing depression related to the stigma of their sexuality, people like Tony Perkins swoop in to point the blame at their sexuality, and not the stigma that they themselves are perpetrating. Women, queers, the disabled, people of color, political dissidents, atheists; all of these groups have a history of being labeled “insane” to control them.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for 07 October 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Deeply Problematic: Paperwork & homework, anxiety & ADD: institutionalized and internalized ableism

Paperwork is a form of institutionalized ableism. Paperwork keeps folks who have issues with anxiety, ADD, and likely other disorders from living, from working, from getting the care we need to treat that which disables us. It makes paperwork a daunting, insurmountable task – and its incompletion perpetuates guilt and sends it further away from actually getting done.

Wired.com: Exclusive: First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out (Thanks to reader Sara for the link!)

Wired.com: Much of the national conversation about autism in recent years has centered around statements by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey who claim that autism is caused by vaccines and other environmental factors, and can be cured by things like special diets, behavioral interventions, and alternative medicine. Is that the most productive conversation we can be having about autism as a society?

Ari Ne’eman: No. There’s a disturbing lack of attention to science in that conversation, but the problem goes deeper than that. What we have is a national dialogue on autism without the voices of the people who should be at the center: those who are on the [autism] spectrum ourselves. Instead of focusing on things like quality of life and civil rights, the autism community has been distracted by narrow questions of causation and cure.

Going back to the dark days of Bruno Bettelheim and “refrigerator mothers,” the focus of the conversation has been on placing the blame for autism, and on trying to make autistic people something we are not and never can be: normal. This focus on a cure has prevented us from actually helping people. There’s been a lot of progress in the disability rights movement over the past 20 years, but people on the spectrum haven’t benefited from it because those representing us at the national level have been focused on causes and cures.

We need to stop making autism advocacy about trying to create a world where there aren’t any autistic people, and start building one in which autistic people have the rights and support they deserve. That’s the goal of groups like ASAN, Autism Network International, and of the neurodiversity movement as a whole.

Orlando Sentinel: Chartari Jones: Sanford girl says bullies ‘spit in my hair’

The Sanford girl whose parents said was teased by bullies on a Seminole County school bus in September opened up Monday about her ordeal on national television.

“They would poke me with pencils, call me names and spit in my hair,” Chatari Jones told NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer while wiping tears from her face with a tissue.

WHERE’S LULU: “This American Life” Spotlights “Crybaby” ADA Lawsuit Filers

The episode starts with the extremely-unpopular-with-ablebodies Tom Mundy, who makes a living suing ADA-violating businesses in Southern California. The show’s producer mentions how in California, disabled people can make $4,000 by suing a business for not being up to code. A lawyer who represents business owners estimates Tom has made half a million dollars in just three years.

The producer then drops the bomb that most people who read this blog know all too well, but that most TABs don’t realize: The ADA is not enforced. The government doesn’t even pretend to enforce it – there is no agency (federal, state, regional, or otherwise) to monitor whether or not businesses are complying. So it’s up to people like Tom Mundy to sue in order to gain equal access.


First of all, why do people have to have recent documentation? Have there been many cases of developmental disabilities, like ASD, just disappearing? Do people with for example dyscalculia just suddenly get better, and then continue to try to get accommodations because they’re just a shitty person who wants to get a leg up on everyone else?

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Survey: The ECHO Project

The ECHO questionnaire has been carefully designed by a team of psychologists from the University of Bedfordshire with input from Network for Surviving Stalking. We want to find out about your experience of harassment – via the internet or your mobile phone – We also want you to tell us how this experience has affected your life. We know harassment/stalking can be a distressing experience not often understood by others. There is also very little research available on cyber harassment/stalking. Your responses will contribute to a greater awareness of the problem and ways of improving it.

We hope completing the questionnaire won’t cause you distress but as it relates to incidents you may have found upsetting, you may choose to fill it in at a time where you have a source of support available

The ECHO Survey

Note: Please take the trigger warning very seriously. Taking this survey has been very upsetting to people because of the subject matter.

Also, as with many surveys of this nature, it is gender-binary.

By 5 October, 2010.    signal boost  ,  

How Do You Fight A Suicide Epidemic?

Content note: This post contains discussions of bullying, abuse, and suicide.

An alarming number of gay youth have committed suicide in the United States in recent weeks. There were probably more than I listed here; there tend to be disparities in what the media does and doesn’t report. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts among queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, and gay (QUILTBAG) youth are estimated at approximately one and a half to three times that of the general youth population and possibly even higher; there aren’t nearly enough studies and there’s a particular dearth of studies when it comes to trans youth and youth of colour (.pdf, sorry). My friend Kirya Traber refers to this as an ‘epidemic’ and I think that’s an appropriate word to use; if you have a population dying at a rate that stark, it’s an epidemic.

Seth Walsh was a 13 year old middle school student in California. Walsh was experiencing bullying in school, the school knew about it and did nothing, and his parents withdrew him from school, putting him on independent study. Despite not being in school, he was still bullied. He attempted to hang himself and hovered on life support for nine days before dying.

Asher Brown was 13 too, a middle school student in Texas. His parents couldn’t afford designer shoes and he was mocked for his sexuality and his clothing. On the day before his death, he was pushed down a flight of stairs at the school. His parents filed multiple claims with the school requesting action on bullying. Nothing was done. The night before he died, he seemed sad, but when his parents asked him what was wrong, he said nothing. He shot himself in the head.

Caleb Nolt was 14, a high school student in Indiana. He was a twin, and enjoyed working on building projects and baking cookies.

Billy Lucas was 15, a freshman at a high school in Indiana. Again, school officials were notified about bullying. He endured years of teasing because he was gay. On the day of his death, he started fighting back against the bullies when they harassed him in class and he was suspended for it. He hung himself in the family barn.

Harrison Chase Brown was a 15 year old Colorado high school student. He was interested in history, volunteering with local historical organisations, and he loved music and art. An organ donor, he gave his heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and a lung after his death.

Cody J. Barker was 17, a high school student in Wisconsin. He was an activist who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance at his school despite the fact that he experienced bullying for his sexual orientation. Like me, he enjoyed watching James Bond and listening to Lady Gaga.

Felix Sacco was a 17 year old high school senior in Massachusetts. A guitar player, he was described as ‘quiet’ by many people who knew him. He threw himself from an overpass.

Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old college student at Rutgers. Classmates filmed him without consent during a sexual encounter and posted the film online. He asked for help and didn’t get it; in fact, some helpful Internet commenters even suggested that his roommate was unsafe around him because he was gay. He jumped off a bridge.

Raymond Chase, 19, was a college student in Rhode Island. He was out, proud, and enjoyed Harry Potter and dancing. Despite appearing happy on the surface to many of his friends, he hung himself in his dorm room.

One school district in Minnesota has experienced seven suicides in the last year, four of which involved gay students and bullying. One of them was Justin Aaberg, 13, who hung himself in July.

These young people were all failed by the people with a responsibility to protect them. Anti-bullying campaigns repeatedly tell young people to report bullying to teachers, and tell young people who witness bullying to report it, and to speak up about it if they feel comfortable and safe doing so. In all of these cases, there were documented patterns of bullying going on, including physical assaults in some cases. Classroom disruptions. School officials were clearly aware that something was going on, and they did nothing to support the endangered students in their midst. When the core of an anti-bullying campaign is ‘report it’ and reporting it does nothing, that sends a pretty clear message to people who are experiencing bullying in schools.

Knowing that students are being abused and threatened, knowing that suicide rates are especially high among QUILTBAG youth, school districts should not be standing by. Dealing with bullying is complicated, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s clear that many of these districts provided no support for endangered youth and those youth paid a high price for it. The solution to bullying often seems to be to allow (or force) the bullied student to withdraw from school, or isolating the bullied student in other ways, rather than confronting and addressing the abusive behaviour. Or the recommendation is to suspend the bullies, which is not the right solution either.

In 1986, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

He was talking about the willful ignorance cultivated about concentration camps in the 1940s, pointing out that the same could be said about many ongoing human rights violations. The skyrocketing death rates among QUILTBAG youth in the United States are an epidemic. They are a human rights violation. They are an atrocity. They are a smear upon the already tattered reputation of the United States. For all the talk of freedom and equal protection under the law, youth cannot even be safe in schools.

We especially need to talk about violence against transgender youth and skyrocketing rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The recent suicides have gotten a great deal of press coverage, which gives me hope for having a national conversation about this issue, but it’s important to avoid leaving trans folks in the cold; like many transgender people, this is a personal issue for me. While seeking out stories for this piece, I couldn’t find any news stories specifically focused on suicide among transgender youth and it’s important to be aware that our suicides are often not reported or are reported confusingly, making it hard to raise awareness and keep accurate statistics.

Youth advocates all over the United States are working with QUILTBAG youth, and many are working directly in schools. I think we need more of them, more people creating safe spaces for endangered youth, more people calling school administrations up on the carpet for their inaction, more people creating a framework for resistance to bullying in schools. It’s clear that school districts will not change from within, and that those that do want to change have no idea about how to do it; getting more advocates into schools feels like the only concrete thing I can suggest in the face of this epidemic taking my QUILTBAG siblings.

If you’re a QUILTBAG youth in need of suicide counseling, please call the Trevor Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR

The We Got Your Back Project is a new project to reach out to QUILTBAG youth that could use some support!

Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.