WARNING: Contains language some may find offensive. The language is used for context and is not gratuitous, but may trigger or offend some individuals.

The Keaton bullying video brought tears to my eyes and broke my heart.

As anyone who went to junior high with me knows, I was bullied mercilessly seventh and eighth grade years. I was a skinny, awkward, artsy, goofy kid with messy hair who loved art, writing, Dr. Who, David Bowie, Duran Duran and all kinds of other so-called “faggot things.” I was poor and had ripped clothes and went to a rich kids’ school. I was pitifully awkward with girls and terribly insecure about my looks. I was a good athlete but it didn’t help. I was still too weird to be accepted by anyone but my own clique of nerds and geeks who were also hunted and tormented.

I had little to no support at home or school. The typical response from both was “stop being a wussy” or “that’s what kids do, deal with it” or “it’ll build your character.”

It didn’t build my character. I thought my character was just fine.

It made me learn to hate people and hate myself. It made me angry and depressed.

Two people helped me. My writing and art teachers. They taught me that my strangeness and my talents were good things and that it was ok to be an outsider. I looked at David Bowie and Prince and they helped inspire me. They were unique and unapologetic and so I would be the same. To hell with other people. I was going to be me.

Dr. Who and Bowie and Andy Kaufman and John Lydon inspired me with their humor and the way they reveled in their outside status in gleeful and fun fashion, and so would I. I was tired of apologizing and trying to fit in because I just couldn’t.

I was a horrible failure at being anything but me.

Fortunately, that’s what I’m best at.

And that’s how I’ve been ever since.

Ironically, the same “faggot crap” that got me tormented ended up being some of the same things that found me my tribes later on in life. The people that really loved me and connected with me.

By senior year of college I was runner up for homecoming king at a college of 27,000. Me. The skinny little unpopular freak who was called ugly and stupid and “a fag who would never get a date.”

And I got there by being myself.

So to anyone out there being bullied: Don’t compromise. You’re not the one who needs to change. THEY ARE. To hell with them. You’re beautiful because you’re unique and they’re jealous because they’re not.

To anyone out there who can make a difference in a kid’s life: Do it. Be that person! Be that mentor they need, that I had, that helped save me.

And to creative people: Don’t compromise your vision, be honest and embrace your unique character. Because it’s that honesty and bravery and courage that inspires others and helps us feel less alone.

Having been the bullied, I make sure that now that I’m in the position to be a mentor and a creator, I follow my own advice.

Bullying is not to be accepted nor condoned. It’s a mental and emotional disorder that needs to be eliminated. The false mythology that it’s part of some rite of passage or tied in with some obscene, ridiculous concept of masculinity is perverse and ignorant and needs to be dismissed entirely. There’s no reason for bullying.

There seems to be a common misperception that being against bullying is to be against any opposition or to coddle children and adults. It isn’t. The important thing is to teach children, and adults, how to disagree and accept and face challenges in a productive manner. Challenge is good. Competition is good. Debate is good. That’s how we evolve and grow our ideas and within the arena of academia it’s imperative that all ideas and opinions be sharpened and challenged to reach the pinnacle of veracity. Likewise, facing against intellectual, emotional and physical challenges can provide us with the impetus to grow. But there are productive ways in which to do that, and it’s imperative of parents and our educational system and society to teach people the most civil and productive ways to do that.

Bullying offers neither a civil nor productive way to aid evolution. As numerous studies show, it merely creates unbalance in personas and leads to further dysfunction.

It needs to be eliminate. And steps need to be taken to facilitate that elimination immediately. It shouldn’t take a viral video or a column like this to point that out. It should be common sense and decades of evidence taken into account.

Everyone deserves to live their life and pursue their happiness. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, be happy. Life’s too damn short to be anything else.

This probably won’t be the last column written on this subject, and there will probably be more viral videos like the Keaton video coming as well.

But over the years, I hope there are fewer and fewer of each.

We all deserve that.


Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.