Picture the scene. A boy, early teens is being dangled head first out of his school’s first floor window. For my American friends, that’s second floor window. Twenty feet above the paving stones, the only thing keeping him alive is the weight of the bully on his ankles. The same bully that’s doing this until the boy cries out that yes, Doctor Who is gay. And yes, he is a girl for liking it. Eventually he’s pulled in, thrown to the floor. Most of the class laughs. Later on, three of the toughest girls in the class will attack the boy beside the stairs and wipe lipstick over his face as ‘that’s what girls wear’.
Sounds terrible? Over the top and made up? That to me was called ‘Wednesday’. And yes, it happened exactly like that. Did I complain? No. I’d done that so many times to no avail. I was a geek, a nerd, a skinny loser, and I was the scum of the earth. I know this because I was told regularly.
I’ve just heard Felicia Day’s new song with The Guild, ‘I’m The One That’s Cool‘, written by Jed Whedon, brother of Joss and it struck a chord so much, that I just had to write this blog.
As a kid, I liked Doctor Who. I liked Star Wars. Blake’s Seven. Half a dozen other such shows were loved with equal passion, like Battlestar Galactica, Airwolf, MacGyver. This was the eighties, and TV season videos and DVDs didn’t really exist that much then, so I watched what I could, when I could. I remember staying up until stupid O’Clock in the morning, just so I could watch the first showing of V when it aired. The following day I told my friends about it, only to be laughed at by the bullies in the class, people like Lee, and Craig, and Martin. I won’t give their surnames, but I remember. Every one is etched into my soul.
I was skinny. I was half the weight of everyone else, a human X-Ray. If I was clever, I would have shut the hell up and stayed hidden, but I was never the brightest of buttons. I read comics and loved Sci Fi and Fantasy. I didn’t like football that much. That made me a ‘gayer’ and meant that sports lessons would be a private hell, where I’d stand against a wall and have tennis balls struck at me, or where I’d be pushed to the floor, have a bully grab the back of my pants in a ‘wedgie’ and then carry me around like a suitcase. I liked acting, and was in the school play as the ‘Mighty Muscles’ one year. It was a music hall show and, being the skinniest kid, the strongman act was a shoo in for laughs. It wasn’t funny though when. in leopard skin top and black tights, I had to line up with my class during a fire drill. Oh no. That was extra amusing.
I wrote a Doctor Who fanzine called ‘K9‘ in 1982 – it talked about the Fifth Doctor and stories I saw in the newspapers, re-typed on my mother’s typewriter (the same typewriter that I wrote my first stories on) and stuck onto a new sheet of A4 before photocopying it. Only about five people ever had one. One day, one of the bullies that made my life hell found a copy. They made me eat it. All of it. At the same time our library had a ‘Computing Club’ and I took my ZX81 to it. Yup, I was one of the first computer nerds out there, and that too became an element of scorn.
I played computer games. I even learned how to code them in those early days. I wore ‘fancy dress’ (now Cosplay) to Doctor Who conventions, watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, played Dungeons & Dragons and read Fighting Fantasy books, this being before the days of Magic: The Gathering, which I also played later in life. And as such I was made pariah for such things. I ended up with a few other of the quieter types, keeping to the side of the music block during break time, hoping to God we wouldn’t be seen, discussing things in quiet whispers that these days I would happily shout to the world.
At fifteen I was given glasses. Nowadays I would say I looked like Harry Potter. Back then? It was Adrian Mole, not a good person to be likened to. ‘Boney Tony’. ‘Skinders’. ‘Ratty’, the nicknames came hard and fast. Some didn’t bother with names, simply punctuating their hatred of my ‘non-normal lifestyle’ with their fists.
If liking things like sci fi, comics and gaming could be non-normal, that is.
But you know what? I survived. Not only did I survive, I embraced it. My first writing job was a Games Reviewer for Your Sinclair magazine back in 1987. That started me on the path I’m still on, so my ‘geeky little nerd joys’? They made me the man I am now.
I’ve got a lot of ghosts from my time at Hayes Manor School, and I’m glad it’s changed for the better in the years since I left. I went back a couple of years ago to give my old English teacher an award, and was happy to see many of the things I was ostracized for were being embraced.
I never stopped loving the things that I enjoyed during my time at school, as to do so was to let the bullies win. I wore my bruises and scars like badges of honour, even if I was so terrified to go to school one time I managed to give myself psychosomatic chicken pox. Doctor Who wasn’t ‘Gay’. Neither was liking comics, playing games or dressing like Tom Baker with a scarf my Mum made. They were fun, they were cool. Creating imaginary films about Daleks attacking my local swimming pool wasn’t an invite for Lee and Craig to come by and punch me in the face, they were chances for my imagination to take shape, again creating worlds I would come back to later in my life.
I’ve seen the bullies since I left, you know. I met one of them a few years back, when I was visiting my hometown. I was in my mid thirties, as was he. However, our lives had drastically changed. I’d become a New York Bestselling writer, while he’d left school at fifteen, married his pregnant girlfriend and, all of them living at his parents, started work in a factory. Fifteen years later his daughter had become pregnant and moved into a flat of her own. The factory had collapsed, his parents emigrated and he lost the house. Unemployed, living in a two room flat with his daughter and granddaughter, he now spent his days standing on the street so not to be near them. His hair was grey and matted. I actually took him for a drink in a pub when I met him, because I felt so bad for him.
I met a second one at a Doctor Who convention a year or two later. He came up late to a signing with his son, around fourteen years old. You could immediately see that the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree, and he walked over, all smiles and laughter, trying to grab me by the shoulder in a matey way. I, naturally was civil yet cold. He then started explaining to his kid that we were the ‘best of mates’ at school and of course I’d stay a moment longer (I’d finished for the day) and sign some books for him – and even sort out a massive mates rate discount, as apparently he was a ‘massive fan’. The kid didn’t seem bothered. I looked at the father, the man who, as a kid had made me so terrified of classes that I would even stay behind with the kids on detention so as not to leave the same time that he did.
And then I said ‘No’.
The ex-bully was surprised. He started to get angry, explaining that ‘look mate, you’re making me look a dick in front of my kid.’ I informed him that I was a lot older and fatter than I used to be, and would quite happily finish this argument while punching the living crap out of him. I then apologised to his son while ‘Dad’ stood open mouthed, explaining politely that ‘Dad’ had made my life such a living hell that one day I almost killed myself, before realising that I shouldn’t die just because he was a dick. The kid was stunned. I pointed out again that it’s never good to bully someone. At this point the ex-bully starts to plead, pretending it was all fun. If you’ve seen the Big Bang Theory episode where Leonard faces his bully? Yeah. It was that all over.
Eventually, I agree to sign the kid’s book. After all, it wasn’t his fault that his Dad was a dick. They walked off, the Dad no longer the ‘coolest guy the kid knew’. And you know what? I felt like crap for even letting it get to me. I feel bad for even writing about it now.
It’s not that the jocks and the witches did these things deliberately, even if they did them deliberately. Their wiring was simply wrong. My timing was wrong. I was a nerd in a time that it wasn’t cool to be one. Now I go to things like the MCM Expo, look at the cosplaying kids and go ‘Man, I wish that had been around when I was a kid‘ as I’d have been in there like a shot.
Felicia Day and Jed Whedon and everyone else involved have created an anthem for the people who, like me were picked on for liking the things back then that were deemed uncool. Things that now are deemed trendy and hip. And dammit, I am cool. And I wish I could go back to my teenage year old self and show him all the things that would happen to him, all the places he would go, the cool and famous people he’d meet, the amazing woman he’d marry, the books he would write – to be able to go back and go ‘Hey, you know you get picked on for liking Star Trek: The Next Generation and Doctor Who? Well yesterday I did a signing in Forbidden Planet for a book I helped write that combines both of them. And the queue was so big it snaked around the store’, or ‘You know you always wanted to show people your Doctor Who stories? Well you did, and you’ve now stood in front of a hall filled with hundreds of people who love your work and cheered for more,’ or ‘You know you always wanted to see more MacGyver? Now you write him.’
Screw you bullies, I am cool. And so are my friends. And so are all my readers and fans.
And if you don’t think so? I’d like words with you.
Go HERE for Felicia and The Guild’s song. Tell them I sent you.