This past weekend, three months after bullied teen Jonah Mowry first posted a powerful confessional video detailing his life as a bullied gay teen, the video went viral and was viewed nearly half a million times. I watched it on Sunday after seeing 23 friends had posted it on their Facebook page. If you haven’t seen the video yet it’s worth watching, as it’s a definitely moving, though sadly unsurprising tale of the cruelty of other children and the failure of parents and adults to stop it.
When I watched the video several things occurred to me. The first was that, of course, I felt sad and upset and angry for Jonah, and immediately thought of my own experiences being bullied, and the feeling of terror waking up in the morning on a school day, not knowing what horrible thing could be awaiting me on any given day. The second thing that occurred to me was, that as a filmmaker I thought using Sia’s song “Breathe Me” over the action in the video – well, I wasn’t surprised when people wondered if it was real or perhaps an inauthentic cry for attention (wouldn’t it be easier to believe that it was than that it was a real kid in crisis?) – the combination of the two just was a little “on the nose” as one might say. Note that Jonah released a second video where he thanked everyone for their support and hilariously laughed away any such concerns that the video wasn’t real with a very fey “Really? Please.” That 2nd video has been taken down as of this posting. Whether or not the video is “real” or not – a relative concept in an age of pseudo-reality – it’s still representative of the experience of thousands of kids all over the country.
The third thing that flashed through my head when watching it was of my own experience in 8th grade again, and specifically the one instance where I came closest to being beaten up. Our teachers had assigned us to write haikus for an English project, and I, with likely the same intent as Jonah, wrote a poem about the jocks in school who were calling me faggot every chance they could, and passing me notes with crude drawings of me having sex with other guys in the class. The poem went something like “They are picking on me/I am superior to them/I will be ok.” I wasn’t intending for anyone to read it, but when the teacher read it she asked me if she could put it up on the bulletin board with all the other kid’s haikus, and I stupidly said yes.
The real stupid thing I did didn’t come until later, when, after a month or so the teacher laid out all the poems on the floor and told everyone to take their poems back, clearly forgetting about my “anonymous” poem. I had no choice but to take my poem back, revealing myself as the author. The next day, all my bullies made a point to appear behind me before first period began, and told me that they were going to beat the shit out of me at lunch for saying I was superior to them. But when the teacher came in the classroom at the end of this exchange and asked what was going on, with the bullies on their way out the door, I just told her what they said – I narced. She went out of the room and they got in trouble, and though I didn’t get beaten up that day, I’ve spent the rest of my life feeling like a chicken who’d never stood up to a fight, but who’d suffered all the psychological torments of bullying just the same. It’s what led me to make my short film Jackpot, which deals with the central conflict in Jonah’s video – whether it’s better as a gay kid to stand up and say who you are, and attempt to fight back, or run away and hide and save your skin.
So on one hand, I feel glad that Jonah’s courageous enough to make this video, but on the other hand the kid inside me just wants to protect him and warn him – this is going to make them hate you more. So watch out. And for fuck’s sake, walk into your parents room and tell them they need to protect you. That it’s their job and their own hangups over your sexuality need to get dealt with. Scars don’t get better automatically, you have to make it so.