Learning to Trust Again (Part 2: A Blog About Lee Hirsch’s Documentary “Bully”)


This is part 2! Click here if you wish to read part 1! 

I have been through the feeling where it seems like nobody is willing to respect and listen to you. It is one of the worst feelings anyone can ever experience. Sometimes, these feelings can cause us to act in unpredictable ways. Most people do not want to imagine being guilty of hurting or killing someone when we feel like those negative emotions are uncontrollable. I felt that when I watched the scene with Mississippi teenager Ja’meya Jackson. She was repeatedly targeted by a gang of nine boys who (judging from the video) threatened to beat her up. Her mother talked to faculty and administration, but neither of them took action to resolve the situation. Ja’meya decided to take matters into her own hands. The pistol belonged to her mother and she hid it in her backpack. The gang continued to taunt her until she snapped. She pulled the gun out of her backpack and brandished it in front of everyone. A student managed to disarm her before any shots were fired and all students were safely evacuated from the bus. Ja’meya Jackson found herself at the Yazoo county youth detention center where she awaited trial.

“At the point she takes out the gun, that’s 22 counts of kidnapping. She has 22 counts of attempted aggravated assault. She’s got 45 total felony charges facing her. And for me, there’s nothing, no amount of bullying, or teasing, or picking on, or whatever, there’s nothing, unless someone was actually whipping on this girl every day, unless someone was hitting this young lady in the head and being physically brutal to her, there’s NOTHING to me that justifies her taking her gun on that bus, I don’t care what it is. … Even though things came out as best they possibly could have, if you added up all the years that she could get it, it would be hundreds of years.” 

Thankfully, she was cleared of all charges and ordered to receive counseling. The above comments came from the Yazoo county sheriff. It seems to me that he was trying to speak from a public safety standpoint. I agree that her situation was unique and that she deserves a second chance in life. Because of this, I think his comments were very ignorant and insensitive. I think we should also remind ourselves of one thing. Incarceration and loss of life are two serious and irreversible consequences that can result from gun crimes. When I look back on situations like this, I realize that all I can do is be relieved that I never went down that route. I know that I have many people in and around my community who really do care about me. They are worth more time than anyone who has ever shunned or bullied me. I am very proud that I am able to say that now. There once was a time where I would cower in fear anytime someone would pressure me to do so. It’s time to eliminate that mindset for good. 

As I said in the first post, an important first step towards challenging those emotions is to identify and recognize those who are on my side. The Computing Workshop summer program was a very supportive environment for me. I’ve mentioned it several times before because this organization has made a lasting impact on me. I first met coördinator Mary Hart in 2006. At that time, I was about to enter eighth grade at Freeport Area Junior High School.  The one thing that has always impacted me was the simple fact that I was not the only person who felt discounted by society. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal for me! It is great to know when people are willing to work for you and with you. I wish I fully understood that fact during high school. 

When we see someone who struggles academically or socially, we tend to discount any claim that they are capable of following their dreams. Not only do these assumptions come from society, they come from our teachers and administrators. Often times, they want the individual to follow their agenda and not what is truly best for them. There is one harsh reality about these people and it is only discovered behind closed doors. They despise anyone who even attempts to challenge their viewpoint. They try to win you over by providing questionable claims which (supposedly) make their point valid. They try to sugarcoat it by giving you a plastic smile and saying “I respect your opinion.” You then realize that there is only one way to make them do what you know is right. You have to rely on the law. You know that you have to come up with good, solid arguments which should convince the law to rule in your favor. You know that people could say ignorant and off-putting things. You try your hardest not to get emotional because you have just discovered how mean “adults” can really be. Regardless of the outcome, you know that you fought for what is right and what is best for that individual. 

Computing Workshop has not only let me explore different computing skills in a supportive and inclusive environment, it helped me make meaningful. I felt that high school was not a safe place for me to reach out to others. I felt like my classmates did not know how to interact with me and I didn’t know how to interact with them. (This is why I never came out as a gay man until after graduation.) Former Computing Workshop staff member Aaron is a neurotypical. He will never truly understand the ins and outs of being an openly gay man who happens to be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, I am grateful for the fact that he has always been willing to listen when I am in need of a friend. His sweet, easy going personality and intelligence really make me wish I could be more like him. I must be honest with you and admit that he is very easy on the eyes! He can thank four years of high school wrestling for that. His great looking chest and broad shoulders are pretty catching. However, everyone will notice one thing when they see him for the first time. That striking feature is his smile! It shows that he is genuinely happy to see you. As you begin to have a conversation with him, you would notice how easy he is to talk to. He’s always had a very laid back personality. This makes me feel comfortable to approach him when I have a problem. I trust that he will try his best to make me feel welcome and deserving of his company. Most of my high school classmates did anything but that.

I think Mary Hart and our staff would agree that he wanted to reveal the true potential in the students he worked with. Aaron understood that some our students had some unique challenges. I think he felt the same sense of frustration that we all felt when they kept regressing into their own worlds. However, I commend him for continuing to help them persevere in the best way he could. Trying to enter their world and use their interests to improve their struggles is an essential way to do that. Aside from my parents, Aaron is the first person who learned about the fact that I was gay. Long story short, I wrote a letter to him and sent it in the mail. It took him a while to respond, but he did read it! Looking back, I wish we could have arranged to meet and I made the decision to tell him in person. He sent me a text message that simply said that my newly discovered queer identity did not change the fact that he was my friend. I think it is beautiful that he accepts me! However, he is straight and I am gay. I wanted to meet a friend who has previously gone through the whole coming out process and who managed to find a path to happiness. 

His older cousin Ray came out of the closet when he was a teenager. Just like clockwork, people then started calling him every single anti gay slur in the book. Despite the shear hatred that came from his classmates, he managed to pull through. After high school, he went to beauty school and obtained his certification in Cosmetology. He then landed a job at a beauty salon. He still works there to this day. Aside from the salon, he works two other jobs to make ends meet. Ray’s personality is a bit different from Aaron’s. He is very animated and loves to lighten the mood with humor. Aaron and I enjoy going to restaurants and meeting him for dinner. When I meet new people, I do posses some introverted tendencies, some of which I am trying to overcome. At first, I did find it difficult to open up to Ray because of his extroverted personality. I have known him for about a year now and time has made it easier to open up to him. Despite the personality differences between himself and Aaron, they do get along with each other and that is what makes it rewarding to know him. It’s easy for any of us to rant and rave about all of those individuals who are not supportive of our differences. All it does is give us this temporary adrenaline rush that regresses to bitterness and anger. It does not encourage the change that we want to see in the future. I hope this future will continue to have many meetings with Ray and Aaron in the future. Both of them have tried to give me the motivation to be the chance I want to see in my life and in society as a whole. 

To the best of my ability, I have just described Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully” and it’s impact on my life. What is next for me? I really don’t know. I am still trying to consider whether or not my current path will guarantee happiness and success. This film has given me hope for the future and to get back up again. I hope this encouraged you to do the same thing! 

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Getting Past My Past (A Blog About Lee Hirsch’s Documentary “Bully”)


I know that change cannot happen overnight. I also know that hope can encourage one person to make a difference in a town, country and world. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch recently accomplished a first in his new critically acclaimed documentary “Bully.” This is a topic that I feel very personal about. I was bullied in high school and it is something that still effects me today. I felt a number of emotions throughout the scenes in this film. I felt sadness when I heard about the tragic death of Tyler Long, the seventeen year old from Georgia who committed suicide because he could no longer take the physical and mental abuse from his classmates. I felt the horrible combination of anger and shame when Alex Libby’s tormentors kicked, stabbed, punched him on the school bus. These bullies did not even care that Lee Hirsch’s camera captured the whole incident on film! Frustration and confusion overcame me when I heard the comments from the school board members in Murray County, Georgia. Some of them were willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue, but they had no idea how to intervene and prevent it. They tried to justify the behavior using cliché’s like “boys will be boys” and “kids are cruel at this age.” I felt disgusted when a pastor from Murray county stated that kids went to school the next day with nooses hanging around their neck. This was a blatant mockery of Tyler’s family and the school district seemed to have shrugged it off.  To the best of my ability, I want to write a blog post about this documentary and how it had an impact on me. To all of you out there who are any shade of different, I hope my writing will give you positive motivation. It doesn’t matter if you are LGBTQ and risk being disowned from your family or if you are Autistic and trying to understand the world around you. I also hope my writing will give you the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

When it comes to my experiences, I honestly felt like my tormentors expected the worst of me. They wanted to see me unhappy. Therefore, my academic performance and my desire to interact with others plummeted to the lowest possible level. Most of these bullies wanted to manipulate me into thinking they were trying to be nice. However, I knew they were not to be trusted from the beginning.  I felt like every single person in my Western Pennsylvania high school was out to get me. I didn’t trust anyone. Period. When I look back on it, I question one thing. Paranoid delusions can increase your chances in becoming victimized, can’t they? People will notice if you appear to be nervous, angry or depressed. Some of them will show genuine compassion and understanding, while others will intentionally or unintentionally exacerbate it.

The scene featuring Kelby Johnson in her rural Oklahoma town was all too real for me. “You can always count on something happening when you are walking down the hall at school and in the classroom, after school when I’m walking home, when I am walking through the parking lot in the mornings, to school. I wasn’t welcomed at church. I’m not welcomed in a lot of people’s homes.”  When I look back, I honestly cannot predict what would have happened if I decided to come out as a gay teen while I was still in high school. People in my Western Pennsylvania high school did call me names like faggot, cocksucker, queer, loser and retard. They certainly noticed that I was different and you can bet that some of them tried to use it for their own laughs and personal gain. I was one of those kids who tried to avoid being put into any of those “cliques” that are commonly associated with the high school social scene. We have already gone over the fact that I felt like I could not fit in with anybody. I was a loner. People tried to convince me into believing they “cared” about me. The truth was they did not have that “magic wand.” What magic wand am I talking about? I am talking about the one which would have eliminated my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and all the struggles that came with it. Therefore, they were not to be trusted. 

If we take a trip back into the real world, we face the bitter realization that magic wands only exist in fantasy. My writing is no fairy tale. I try to express myself in the most real way I possibly can. It is important for me to get over the phase where I dwell upon the fact that people do not accept me. However, there is one question that still remains. Why does it feel like these experiences are always going to be embedded in my brain? Why does it feel like most neurotypical people are confident enough to (literally and figuratively) throw the middle finger at anyone who makes derogatory remarks about their sexual orientation or any other trait which makes them seem different from the societal norm? I cannot help but feel like I am demanding others to fight my battles for me. Is it normal for me to feel that way? I know that I am not in any way comparable to an alcoholic with codependency issues. But, why do I feel that way? I cannot expect others to fight my battles for me, but I want to know that people are willing to answer questions and are willing to help me when I reach out to them.

I know that I need to learn how to move on from those experiences. Over the spring and summer months, I have deeply thought about ways to move on. I know that I have been very fortunate to have people who genuinely care about me. I have decided to write about some individuals who have made a lasting impact on my life and why they are so important to me. They are all from different parts of my life. I am not doing this just for myself. I know there are people who desperately need to feel good about themselves. Some may risk being disowned from their family because of who they are. Others have loving and accepting families who are willing to fight for what is truly best for them, but still experience cruelty anytime they go outside their home. We all need to learn how to recognize those who do genuinely care about us. One thing comes to mind when I think about those people in my life. I know they would be devastated if I even contemplated suicide. I am offering my words for them and I hope you are able to use them in your own lives! This is an essential step for me in overcoming those wounds.

I know that I am fortunate to have such loving and caring parents. I do not deny that they are on my side and they are willing to guide me through the road to a happy and successful life. Raising a child with any kind of Autistic Spectrum Disorder has it’s fair share of challenges.  It is important to know that no parent is perfect. Am I ever going to pretend that my parents are perfect? The answer is no! My parents are both very intelligent human beings who did everything in their power to support my sister and I. They have tried to understand the pains that result from the challenges associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It goes back to as far as I can remember.

I was about three going on four. We just finished a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time, my aunt Teresa and uncle Benny lived in that area. It was very early in the morning. It started out as a normal airport routine until we heard an announcement that our red-eye flight back to Pittsburgh was abruptly canceled and we had to book another one. We had no choice but to wait at the McCarren International Airport.  We went through security, rode on the tram and walked to the gate. Things went smoothly until a few minutes after we arrived at the gate. An ear-splitting alarm was mysteriously triggered and it blared throughout the entire terminal. We assumed that it would only last for a few minutes. Instead, it continued for over an hour. Everyone around us became impatient and sick of listening to the alarm. Naturally, I became very upset. My mother tried to put earplugs in, but that still didn’t help.  I continued to cry and scream until my parents decided to get back on the tram and wait in the ticketing area. They held me and did their best to comfort me because we were all very tired. Despite that we had to go through security again, we were relieved to discover the alarm was silent.

I am 21 years old now. Struggles can become more complex than a loud noise hurting my ears. I am grateful for the fact that my mother and father are willing to guide me through any struggle I may experience down the road. Mom and dad are still trying to understand my communication barriers. I feel these barriers are comparable to a crying infant. A baby cannot use words when they are hungry, in need of a diaper change or craving attention. I did not know how to communicate the emotions I felt during high school. So, my high school life consisted of withdrawing from people and just having an unhappy outlook on life. I happen to know that many Aspies go through their high school lives wondering the many complex reasons behind those communication difficulties. I refused to accept answers like “that’s just the way you are.” I hated being placed in special education classes because they treated me like I was an idiot. I hated being placed in mainstream classes because I felt distant from the majority of my peers. If I tried to explain this to adults, I can guarantee they would ask that one question I hate. “Why is that?” Do you know why I hate that question? It’s because I do not know how to answer it. My mother and father do not know all of the answers. I don’t think they ever will. However, they were proactive in advocating for me when professionals were only willing to do what they felt was best for me. This was the case when I was a student at the Computing Workshop summer program. Long story short, my school district felt that their services were superior to those offered by Computing Workshop. They wanted me to work with a traditional one on one tutor for two hours a week. We went into due process, and the hearing officer ruled that the services offered by Computing Workshop were the best fit for me and that they must reimburse my family for summer tuition. The next summer, they came up with a new extended school year program. They were extremely vague about the program and the officer ruled in favor of the school district. The fact that mom and dad possessed the patience to deal with such difficult people is truly astounding to me. 

As you can see, my mother and father are just two examples of people who do genuinely care about me. I have begun to accept that my parents will never have all of the answers when it comes to understanding my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the fact that I am a gay man. My next challenge is to think about people from other parts of my life. I hope to reach out to people who are experiencing the same (or worse) feelings of loneliness. I could sense these feelings of hopelessness throughout the documentary because this is the first film to ever raise awareness about the profound impact that bullying can have on people’s lives. I hope people will use these experiences and understand that they are worth a lot more than those people who punch, kick and call names. This message is a message that needs to be spread more than it is now. 

To be continued soon!

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Four Misconceptions About Asperger’s Syndrome (Written By An Aspie Teen)


Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism will never be fully understood. We will never know what causes it. I highly doubt there will be a cure, and I most certainly do not believe there will be a need for one. However, I do believe writing about ones experiences and emotions will  make people become more aware about my diagnosis. I am absolutely through with therapists trying to “fix” me, and trying to “fit in” and be “like everybody else”. I’ve written blogs in the past about stereotypes, which are common beliefs about groups of people or certain types of individuals.

Stereotypes are the reason people don’t give us Aspies the respect and understanding we deserve. I am going to cover some of the most common misconceptions about Asperger’s Syndrome.

1.) “Teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be alone”

There is a movie out that I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet, but it’s called “If You Could Say It In Words”. I recently viewed an Autism Talk TV interview with Alex plank (founder of Wrong Planet) Nicholas Gray (director), Alvin Keith (actor) and Marin Ireland (actress). The movie is a love story about two undiagnosed Aspies. Alex made a comment during this interview that completely explains why Asperger’s is not understood. He explained that in many movies about people with Asperger’s, they look up a list of symptoms and only talk about how to portray them to show they have Asperger’s. They developed the relationships between the two characters instead of only focusing on the symptoms.

People can’t get the idea that we Aspies want social interaction with people just as much as anyone else does. We want friends who are understanding, loyal and trustworthy of us. I recently viewed a film named “Billy The Kid”, a documentary about Billy, a teenage boy with Asperger’s. The only thing this documentary really focused on was the fact that he has trouble interacting with people. It didn’t focus on the positive sides of Asperger’s Syndrome. There was one scene at the beginning of the documentary that showed Billy waking to the school cafeteria, constantly scanning the hallway for trouble. He was scared somebody might try to harass him. This scene brought back my memories of being a student at the Freeport Area Senior High School. I desperately wanted friends, but people were too rude and judgmental to even let me sit at their lunch table. Everybody had their own clique of friends, and they had no room for anyone new. I couldn’t bare to watch the rest of the documentary because it seemed to me the film directors would drag Billy into social situations. I was fed up with this documentary because it focused on all of the things we Aspies have so much trouble with in life. With that being said, Billy did seem like a very intelligent person. This documentary showed the painful aspects of having Asperger’s Syndrome, as a result I was offended. I am not going to go into detail about the whole film, but there was one scene that made me go back to the bad memories of my high school years. He described how he dated a girl, then she dumped him in front of a bunch of people in school. When I heard about this, I immediately flashed back to my memories of freshman and sophomore year at Freeport. It brought back memories of people setting me up, convincing me into believing they were trying to be my friend, then turning around and behaving in a way that completely humiliated me. Because of this, I would probably give “Billy The Kid” two out of five stars. The film director should have focused on the benefits of having Asperger’s Syndrome instead of the fact that he has trouble connecting with people and dealing with change.

2.) “Children and teens with Asperger’s are rebellious”

We can thank the morning news and society in general for this stereotype. When you get the chance, I encourage you to watch this YouTube video. It’s talks about Indiana State teacher Kristen Woodward who called five year old student Gabriel Ross “pathetic” in class. The student brought a tape recorder into the classroom, and recorded his verbal beating in front of the whole class. Her comments went as follows.

Ten people in this building you have tormented and tortured for 149 days, I’m done! You’ve been ignorant, selfish, self absorbed, the whole thing! I’m done!

The teacher then went as far as addressing the entire class,

He has made every wrong choice possible, and he has had more help to make the right choices and he has chose not to. So, you guys think, is that somebody in class you want to be with?

Class: Nooo.

See, your friends don’t even want to be with you now.

Woodward was suspended with pay. While I don’t know the entire story, it seemed to me the teacher did not communicate with the parents about Gabriel’s “talking problem” in class. After all, the mother said it kept happening for 149 days. The teacher should have either called or sat down with the parents to talk possible ways to handle the “talking problem”. Instead, she wrote negative comments on his behavior log. Some of them read “talked non stop interrupting the teachers”, “terrible day” and “talked non stop today”.

Since the very first summer I started at the Computing Workshop, I’ve heard many reports from parents about teachers treating their children like this. The coordinator told me about a bad encounter with teachers and administrators at an I.E.P meeting. This student wanted to attend our summer program a few years back, and they had to attend the meeting to decide whether or not the school was going to pay for his tuition in the program. The entire meeting, the teachers and administrators at this school kept berating him about how “annoying” he was. They were trying to threaten him and make him feel like he was a “terrible child”. This child obviously didn’t seem like a major trouble maker. Again, the teachers should have communicated with the parents in private if they thought his “annoying” behavior was such a problem.

3.) “Children and teenagers with Asperger’s are violent”.

This is another one of the stereotypes that we can thank the media and Hollywood for. Do you remember the kid in my TV production class who told me I looked “just like a serial killer”. This was due to the fact that I didn’t talk to anybody. I ignored him after he made this comment because he was purposely trying to get an angry reaction from me. I remember John Elder Robison’s book “Look Me In The Eye”, the very first chapter described how people would say the same things to him. People threatened him with the military and jail. they often called him a “sociopath” and a “psychopath” One quote from the book said “I’ve read about people like you. They have no expression because they have no feeling. Some of the worst murders in history were sociopaths”.

My sister was a senior when I was a freshman at Freeport. This was the time I worked with that pushy therapist who wanted to “fix” me. She often commented how I would walk around the hallway with a scowl on my face. One of the key characteristics of Autism is awkward facial expressions. My pushy therapist got a kick out of the habit that I couldn’t control. He would imitate my facial expressions and try to get me to laugh about it. As I stated in my last blog “You Need To Laugh More”, he finally gave up on me after year. Hurting somebody was not on my mind, but I was pretty angry because of all the prejudices I received from people. Aspies tend to become aware of their quirks as they grow older. It does not always take somebody demanding them to change in order to fix their habits.

4.) “Teens With Asperger’s Syndrome Can’t Express Empathy”

This is probably the most ridiculous stereotype out of the five I am going to cover today. Scroll back to the quote from John Elder Robison’s book. I have began to realize that kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are far more empathetic than most average high school students. People should not confuse the word empathy with sympathy. If the were to be a death in your friends family, you would feel sorry for them. Therefore, you might send them a card or a gift expressing your sympathy. However, empathy a little bit different. My blogs help me express my empathy towards people on the Autistic Spectrum or people who are different in general because they show they are not alone. I know how it feels to be misconceived and misused.

While I am not a fan of reality TV, I am a fan of the show “World’s Strictest Parents”. The show focuses on changing the lives of rebellious teenagers who’s lives revolve around things like drugs, sex, partying and violence. Two teenagers are sent away to live with another family and experience “strict parenting”. The family has strict rules, but they are used to teach them about responsibilities in life. However, they try their hardest to do it with compassion, love and understanding. This particular clip shows British teenagers Sevda and Andrew. They were sent to San Antonio, Texas. They lived with the Frazee family for a week. Randy is a pastor at a mega church and Rosanne, his wife is a “stay at home” mom. My favorite part of this episode was part four. The second half of the clip showed them going to the local Boys and Girls club. While the group members were hanging out during break, Sevda stayed inside. The classmate Carlton walked over and talked to her. Sevda was drawing on a piece of paper when he walked over. Here is what he said.

Carlton: You like art, you’re very stylish, you have a lot going for you! I wanna ask you something. Do you like to party? A lot?

Sevda: Yes.

Carlton: You wanna know where I just got back from? I just got done five months in jail!

Sevda: Really?

Carlton: Yeah, my mom’s an alcoholic, my dad.. I don’t know where he is. I’ve been in every school in this town because of moving. I’ve been through rough times.

Sevda: I just hate doing this.

Carlton: You don’t want to do this?

Sevda: I just don’t like school.

Carlton: I say you go for it.

Even though Carlton’s advice didn’t encourage Sevda to participate with the group, it was a great example of showing empathy to a person. He calmly walker over and tried to start a conversation with her.  He encouraged her by explaining he has been through similar experiences in his own life. I didn’t understand myself during my freshman and sophomore years at Freeport. Coming to Lenape has helped me become more open about my differences. Since then, I have received many comments from people thanking me. Therefore, we most certainly can express empathy! There are still many things I don’t know about Asperger’s. It just takes time for us to understand ourselves while we try understand other people at the same time.

I used this entry to go the extra mile. I have tried to prove my “favorites” of the many Asperger’s stereotypes wrong.

Whether or not you are an Aspie or just a person who is not understood, I encourage you to comment and write about misconceptions people have about you. Try your best to prove them wrong!

Thank you for reading!

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