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Beat The Bully

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Beat the Bully

In high school when the effeminate boy presumed to be homosexual is bullied by his classmates, his most persistent tormentor is usually the swaggering type: an athlete whose masculinity is never questioned. He's the first to call someone a fag, and the last to be called one himself, though his most perceptive peers (usually the gay ones) might wonder if that's his secret.

You know the drill: the bully is secretly queer himself and "projects," as a psychologist might say, the contempt in which he holds himself onto the most vulnerable target available - the sissy.

Having been taught, most likely as the foot of a homophobic father, that homosexuals are pathetic perverts who wish to be women (the "weaker sex" and, therefore, inferior in the homophobic mind), these bullies hide their true sexuality under the facade of a hard a** machismo so absurd that it might lack credibility even in a cartoon.

The macho bully whose bullying is a cover for a sexual preference he's been taught to disdain came to mind when reading 'Tis Herself, the memoirs of Maureen O' Hara, the beautiful Irish actress whose flaming red tresses made her a natural for the vivid palette of the now defunct Technicolor process.

O' Hara thrived as a leading lady in the same era that her frequent co-star John Wayne provided the template for leading men. Strong, silent, and as likely to slap a woman as kiss her, the actor known as the Duke defined masculinity for several generations of moviegoers. Wayne's mentor and role model was the irascible director John Ford who was as legendary for his sadism as he was for his considerable talents as a filmmaker.

Ford bullied his casts and crews, and his favorite target was his most important star. It's hard to imagine John Wayne meekly accepting insults, but he was true to the title of his 1952 collaboration with Ford and O' Hara and remained "The Quiet Man" when his director belittled him as a "big idiot" and even disparaged his manhood.

What motivated Ford's cruelties?

Ford, as well as Wayne, had long since met his maker by the time O' Hara published her memoirs, and many critics took her to task for speaking ill of the dead by suggesting Ford was a closet homosexual. Such complaints represent the height of homophobia. Numerous accounts of Ford's life speak of his sadism and bullying, and no one questions the author's integrity. Ah, but if someone dares suggest that a man secretly loved other men, they've committed an unforgivable sin.

O' Hara does more than suggest. She relates how Ford filled a sketchpad with numerous drawings of penises during a meeting to discuss their 1955 film "The Long Gray Line." Later, when entering the director's office unannounced to discuss her wardrobe for the film, she was startled to see the macho Ford with his arms around a man - a famous star - and engaged in a passionate kiss.

O' Hara plays it coy with the reader by refusing to divulge the name of the actor on the receiving end of Ford's affection, but it's fairly obvious it was Tyrone Power, the film's star whose bisexual interests are now more famous than many of his films.

Are such revelations important?

Yes.

Bullies don't disappear once high school diplomas are handed out. They return to torment us as bosses, barflies, and sometimes as political leaders. Bullies take out their frustrations and failures on the most vulnerable targets they can find. Gay people are still a more vulnerable target than most.

Being gay can still cost you a job and, as the reaction to O' Hara's decision to open John Ford's closet door demonstrates, it is still considered a grave sin, a slander, to suggest that someone is gay.

Understanding bullies won't make their taunts any less hurtful, especially in high school, but insight into their wicked ways can give you an edge in the battle. Bullies are generally cowards who crave attention and back down when challenged. The macho a****** who picks on a sissy would probably crumble if that sissy challenged him to back up his insults with his fists. After all, what if the sissy kicked his a**? The bully would be exposed and his reign of terror would end with his own humiliation.

The only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him, in public, where you can do the most damage to his outwardly indestructible but inwardly fragile ego. If his bullying persists, report him to a teacher or another sympathetic adult. Today, with gay community service centers operating in most big cities, gay kids can often find help there.

In adulthood, of course, legal action is one recourse against bullies. If the bully is your boss, make it clear to him, politely but firmly, that his behavior is unacceptable. If necessary, go over his head and report him to his superior. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Those who remain silent are ignored. It's also wise to be a dues paying member of a gay rights organization such as the Human Rights Campaign or the Gay and Lesbian Task Force that speak up for those who can't.

Sometimes we're too ashamed to admit that we're being bullied, especially if it's because of our sexuality, and we are embarrassed to seek help. But almost everyone has, at one time or another, been on the receiving end of a bully's abuse. There is no need to feel shame. Remember, even John Wayne was a victim.

by Brian W. Fairbanks

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