01/26/2012 06:08 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Confronting Your Childhood Bullies in Safe and Productive Ways

Lately we are seeing the negative and traumatic effects of bullying every day with the media's focus on gay teen suicides. The effects of bullying are enormous and have long-lasting effects on one's life. It leaves its victims feelings afraid, alone, angry, powerless, and hopeless. There is much hope and healing that can be done to avoid it ruining your life. I am here today because I found the help I needed -- and you can, too!

I was bullied mercilessly as a young gay boy and teenager, and to this day, if I think about it long enough, I feel the anger, sadness, powerlessness, and fear I felt then, all these years later. Even though I have done much of my own work on this issue, it still hurts me to think of how I was treated and how nothing was done to protect me. I did not follow the typical male patterns of most boys growing up. I could not throw a ball, I liked to play house, and I disliked all sports. I was told by the other boys my age (as well as adults) that I "acted like a girl" and must be gay. It just so happened that I was gay and was mortified that I had been exposed. My sixth-grade gym teacher told my classmates that my best friend and I must be "fags" because we spent so much time together. I have an uncle who teased and taunted me, calling me a "little sissy girl." He told me I would never grow up to be a real man. Throughout my childhood and teen years I was called names like "faggot," "sissy," "pansy," "queer," "momma's boy," and "homo."

Little boys like me who do not follow the typical male patterns are labeled gay, when in fact, they might not be. They get harassed often, just as I was. There are things you can do today as an adult to heal the long-term effects of bullying. It does get better. It doesn't have to rule your life anymore. You no longer have to fear what people think of you nor cower to a bully. I believe that as gays and lesbians, we should confront (when we can and when it is safe) those who harmed us for being different in our childhood. If we don't do this, we carry the shame of others as our own, and we sometimes take our trauma or anger out on others.

Through Facebook I contacted those classmates who bullied me. Some were the same and still laughed about what they did, but many were sorry and horrified at what they did, and others could not remember doing it at all. I wrote a letter to my sixth-grade gym teacher, who humiliated me in front of all my classmates by calling me and my friend "fags." I have not heard back from him. I may never receive a response. However, writing the letter and sending it has empowered me and removed the shame I had been carrying from that incident. I offer an adapted version of that letter here, for others who might share similar moments.

Dear Mr. _____,

I read an article about you in today's newspaper. I have never forgotten you, because you were my gym teacher in sixth grade, from 1975 to 1976, when I was 12 years old.

The memory of you that stands out is of my walking into gym class late with my best friend. The other students burst out laughing from something you'd said to them just before we walked in. Later, a number of my classmates told me that you anticipated that my friend and I would walk in together and that we were probably "fags." It became a running joke toward me for the rest of my junior high school years. It was so traumatic that I remember it like yesterday. My body numbs as I recall the event as it did then when I felt scared and embarrassed.

Among my peers, you could not have humiliated me more. In my judgment, what you did was cruel, insensitive, and immature. You were an adult, an authority figure who should have been encouraging and coaching me, not hurting me publicly -- or privately, for that matter.

In fact, Mr. _____, I was and am a gay male. Back then, as a gay boy, I was probably in love with my best friend but didn't realize it. I didn't yet know what being in love was, and I certainly wouldn't have known or understood what it meant to be gay.

In the newspaper article, I noted that you are now retired. I'm relieved to know that young boys are no longer under your care and won't have to suffer at your hands the same pain that I did, during such an important and difficult time of my life.

Either you're the same man today that you were then and will just laugh off this letter. Or else, you'll feel some remorse for something you did to two of your students who didn't deserve to be ridiculed by a guy like you. You didn't even pick on someone your own size.

The shame I felt from what you did to me really belongs to you, the perpetrator -- and I gladly give it back to you with this letter.