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Bullying: It Never Gets Better, But We Do

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I'm glad I was bullied. There, I've said it. I've broken the politically correct cardinal rule; yes, Lady Gaga is gagging right now.

Now, I didn't enjoy it at the time. I was terrified, of course. I cried at night. I spent days in actual terror. I was young, blond, white, and wearing green Dolphins shorts, leg warmers, and a lovely chiffon dance top with a leotard to an predominately minority inner-city school. The fact that I was gay was third on the bullies' list of things to target me for: I was white first (not many kids were in my school), then really poor, then gay, a three-way bullying extravaganza, and lots to be "ashamed" of at school.

So why am I happy about it? Because I'm me. You see, I like being me. It's been a blessed life. I have the best friends in the world. I had the best husband anyone could ever marry (even though we couldn't legally do so when he was alive). As for my career, in my terms, I'm still struggling, trying to make it, but in the world's terms, if you look at all I've done -- working at number-one radio stations, doing TV, interviewing presidents, walking the red carpet at every award show in town, releasing albums and music videos, making the first round of Grammy nominations, and on and on -- well, to many, I've made it. I live in a great house, even if the bank wants it back every few months and I live the life of an entertainer.

I live that life because I went and got it. Whenever anyone told me it couldn't be done, I did it. When the odds said a gay couple couldn't have a number-one drive-time show on the number-on radio station in the country, I did it. When the odds said a big gay guy with a lisp wouldn't be taken seriously on TV, I booked CNN, MSNBC, and more, continually.

The fact is, I'm pretty fabulous. I hope you think you are, too. And how did I get this way? As a product of my total experiences in life, and that includes bullying.

You see, no one wants to hear that in spite of what the well-intentioned Dan Savage would have us believe, "it" doesn't "get better" if the "it" is bullying. In life there is always going to be someone who doesn't like you for some irrational reason. Always. You'll be too white or too black, too fat or too thin, too blonde or too redheaded, too tall or too short, too quiet or too outspoken, too male or too female, too gay or too straight... too something. Bosses will bully you, as will coworkers, spouses... hell, almost anyone will if they can get away with it in some way or another. There will always be bullies, and the idea that we can "stop" it or "eliminate" it is like trying to win the war on drugs or terror: completely futile. Of course, no one will tell you that.

Here's the fact: not every trait humans have is attractive. Not every trait humans have should be encouraged. Not every trait humans have is good for them or society. But we all have them; it's part of the human condition. We are addictive creatures by nature, and -- what do you know? -- we get addicted to things like fat, sugar, and salt (the obesity epidemic), opiates (painkiller epidemic), alcohol, each other. We like our addictions; they make us human. But many of our addictions turn out to destroy us, either quickly or in time, so we fight them. We fight our nature.

And that's what this campaign, the movie Bully and all the hoopla, should be about: fighting our nature. We will never, ever breed it out of us. Bullying is a survival instinct at its core. Animals bully each other in nature. Every animal does; there are bigger, stronger rivals, or some animals that just like to hurt the weak. Historically, the survival of your race, your tribe, or your brood partly depended on weeding out the weak, yes, so that they died and didn't procreate. That's rough, but it's nature. Now as humans, we want to help and encourage the weak, the downtrodden, the sad, the upset, the bullied, because nurturing is also part of our nature. And there's the bipolar existence that being human entails. We encourage the good aspects of humanity and try to frown on the unacceptable ones.

It's easy to say bullying is unacceptable. But what a bunch of hypocrites. How are elections won? By the biggest bully. The candidates bully each other in all kinds of debates and squabbles, each attacking every single vulnerability of his or her opponent. They bully the masses into voting for them by manipulating the weak, browbeating them with propaganda, telling them that people who are not like them are to blame for their lot in life. They turn their followers into bullies, going after women's right to reproductive privacy and others' right to marry, calling people traitors if they disagree. The bully with the biggest fist or purse wins. And what do they eventually win? The bully pulpit, of course. No, bullying is well engrained in society.

That doesn't mean we have to accept it. We can't eliminate hatred or fear, both of which are linked and motivate bullies, but we can shine a light on it. We can prepare our kids and adults to deal with it when they encounter it. Nowhere in this dialogue, which now includes big movies (Bully), TV shows (South Park: Butters gets bullied), pop stars (Lady Gaga wants bullying ended), and video campaigns (It Gets Better), are we really telling our kids what they need to get through this.

Bullies are never going away. It never gets better. What gets better is your ability to deal with the crap. Live through high school; don't let it get you. Why? Because I did, and now I couldn't care less about any of those people who bullied me. They've even come to my shows, bought my books, apologized 20 years later. Times change, everything changes, and, yes, this too shall pass, and then you'll face new bullies. Accept that each and every day you may encounter a bully of some kind, and know what to do when you do.

We can't arrest every drug addict and get drugs off the streets. Ever. And we can't wipe out every bully everywhere, ever. People are going to keep breeding them, unfortunately, especially since there's a Midwest, a South, and organized religion -- oh, and politics. But we can be prepared for them.

I do not advocate physical violence. But let me ask you this: How would you (yes, I'm talking directly to you, because I know you were bullied somehow in life) have learned about adversity, how to deal, testing yourself, standing up for yourself no matter what, indignation, suffering, and righteous anger if you hadn't experienced those feelings? And you felt them by encountering adversity and bullies. You are who you are today because you made it.

Yes, battered children, bullied children often grow up to be battered and bullied adults. That's the cycle we must break. Some bullying is normal, maybe even acceptable. But enough gets to be enough. And when people can't stand up for themselves and say enough is enough, that's where they need our help, not to get rid of the bullies in their lives but to remove the power they have.

And that's the movement. It doesn't get better; you change and become more empowered to deal. But before we tell our kids to stop picking on each other, how about we stop picking on each other? The biggest bullying in my life came after high school, from adults. Bosses may demand way too much, belittle your work, and berate your efforts, but you have to stay you need the check. Religion has bullied me my entire life and bred others to do the same in its name. George W. Bush abused and traumatized a nation for eight years, and Dick Cheney was one of the worst bullies of all. On TV a preacher can say things in the name of the Lord that you'd smack someone else for saying about you or your kids. Spousal abuse is rampant, as is child abuse. The "1 Percent" use their financial might to inflict their will, the will of the stronger and richer, on us, leaving us the economically weaker. We take whatever they give us as scraps and are grateful. Our seniors retire in basic poverty on Social Security, and they have this, their lifeline, screwed with all the time. We all experience uncertainty, fear, and anguish at the hands of the bigger and stronger, those in control. Now, instead of beating us up and taking our lunch money, they just impose a fine or a tax, and the rich never get touched. They get to keep all their lunch money, while we are turned upside down for our change by the biggest bully of them all, the federal government.

I went from fearing bullies to pitying them, from running from them to standing up to them, from crying alone in the night to leading the charge to be the best person I can: open, honest, and unapologetic to anyone.

Did "it" get better? No, I did. So can you, without anyone changing. Don't wait for bullying to end. Prepare yourself and your kids to recognize it, deal with it, and then move on and away from it. Bullies can exist. It's a free country, and it's their world, too. I'm not going to be a big bully and say that because public opinion is with me, we must wipe out people I don't like or understand: bullies. Instead, I'm putting them on notice. In the new America, in the next generation, you're like the Wicked Witch of the West to Glinda, who tells her, "Be gone! You have no power here!"