By Robert Gosselin
When I was 16 years old, someone in my neighborhood took a can of white house paint and painted “Bob Gosselin is a fag,” in large letters down the middle of the street near my house. At the time I was a sophomore in a large high school, and for the next two years I suffered through a living hell of constant bullying and harassment every single day of my life.
Through all those long years I had to learn how to survive in a brutal and violent universe of hate. When I walked down the school corridor, larger boys would push me into the wall, and no matter where I went on campus, I was subjected to wolf-call whistles and relentless homophobic taunting. Horrible and disgusting words were repeatedly scratched into the paint of my locker, and going to the bathroom was usually accompanied by the physical and emotional pain of a guffawing punch or two.
It did not take long before that dysfunctional environment turned me into a frightened and damaged young man. As a matter of self-protection I started skipping school constantly, and eventually retreated into a life of dysfunction and humiliation. As the hate continued, this long nightmare led to a complete academic and social collapse, and the malice behind those crudely painted words left me uneducated, emotionally damaged and completely unable to attend college or any other school of higher learning.
Before I continue, I should probably put this story in perspective. The year this happened was 1977, decades before stories about cyber-bullying started showing up on the evening news. In those days, this sort of thing was not discussed. If any action needed to be taken it was commonly believed that it was the victim who had to retaliate, and by doing so prove his worth as a man.
This was also a time before cell phones and the internet, but none of that really mattered. All of the hate still found a way to propagate into every nook and cranny of my existence, and the pain and terror of those years has haunted me throughout my entire life.
After finishing high school I went on to the military and after being honorably discharged I proceeded to spend the next 20 years struggling through a long chain of unsatisfying jobs. Then, in 2007, circumstances allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream when I was finally presented with the opportunity to attend college. Now I am a very successful English Major at Fitchburg State University, and every day at this institution has been a miracle of gratitude and appreciation. Words cannot describe the joy I feel every time I walk across the campus or stop for a talk with students or professors between classes.
Unfortunately, last Thursday something changed. Prior to registering for my senior year, I had to go to Student Health Services to clear up a medical hold, and as I was leaving the clinic I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. I was just about to take the crosswalk over North Street to the Hammond Center, and when I paused to check for oncoming traffic I noticed someone had used a black marker to scrawl a word onto the small pedestrian stop sign at the bottom of the stairs. It was the same word that made my life a living hell at another school decades ago. Suddenly, I was 16 again. I stood on the sidewalk shivering and frightened. I could hear the insults and cat calls, and I emotionally braced myself for the terror and violence that was about to re-enter my life. For a few horrible moments I stood on that sidewalk lost in a place of great darkness. Fortunately I was able to break out of that stupor and continue on to the library, but that brief moment reminded me just how incredibly painful words can be.
As an English Major and a writer, I truly love words. They can be used to describe images and feelings in such profound and beautiful ways. Words are also wonderful tools that can enlighten and entertain people all over the world. Unfortunately, I also know that words can also be terrible and hurtful things, and sadly there are many of these painful words commonly used today that should just be unceremoniously tossed in the dustbin of history because they are only designed to do one thing, and that is to terrorize and insult those that are considered different and defenseless.
Why do I bring this all up now? Partly because I am an idealist and I want to use my past as a way of trying to make the world a better place. Another reason is that I am selfish and I hope to use this article as a way of washing away the terrible nightmare of my past. I also wanted to let the person who scrawled that word onto that sign know that words, even when they are small and perhaps considered to be humorous, can have awful consequences. But the main reason I am writing this is because I want Fitchburg State University, the university that I have grown to admire and respect, to be a place full of tolerance and understanding.
It has been over a week since that graphic incident, and I am still waiting for the shock of that day to subside. Hopefully I will move past all of this soon, and I keep telling myself that in this enlightened age things are different. Perhaps they are, but sometimes I wonder how much of the hate is still out there, hiding in the shadows, waiting to terrorize the next defenseless victim that comes along.