I know what it feels like to have people call you names. Coming out as queer in the seventh grade and being an activist since the sixth, I have always had a barrage of derogatory terms targeted at me. I didn’t feel safe anywhere at my school, and attending class each day was an anxiety-inducing and terrifying process.
Now, I’m 15 years old and in my sophomore year of high school, and name-calling isn’t as big of an issue in my life. I wish I could go back in time to give advice to my middle-school self, because there are so many things I’ve learned that would have helped me so much back then. It’s important to know that there isn’t a “quick fix” guide to ending name-calling altogether, but there are certainly things that can make the situation easier.
1. Practice self-care.
Being bullied and called names can really drain you and stress you out. When there’s so much negativity targeted at you, it’s important to fight back with positivity towards yourself. When I was having a rough time with people at school, I took an afternoon to focus on my own mental and emotional needs. For me, that usually involved brewing tea and writing in a journal, but self-care comes in all different forms. Remember, you deserve to have something that feeds positivity into your life.
2. Ask for help.
A lot of the time, when we’re being bullied and called names, we think that asking for help will either a) make things worse, or b) mean that we’re weak. When I was dealing with name-calling in middle school, I didn’t want to ask for help because I thought it would mean I wasn’t strong. In reality, asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do for yourself. Absolutely no one in this world should feel unsafe going to school, and if you do feel unsafe, it’s so important to speak up and tell someone about it.
One way to do this is through joining your school’s GSA. If your school doesn’t have a GSA or something like it, GLSEN has some great resources for starting one! Another way to speak up is by reaching out to a counselor. I did this after seeing a GLSEN Safe Space sticker; educators with Safe Space stickers are great people to confide in when you’re dealing with name-calling. If there aren’t any Safe Space stickers at your school, talk to a teacher or counselor about getting a Safe Space Kit, which helps educators be allies to LGBT students. (You can purchase one here!)
3. Know this won’t last forever.
When you’re being called names every day in school, it’s really easy to feel like it will never end, but I promise that it does. As you grow older, you’ll start to gain more independence and control in your life, and as that happens, you can begin to choose the people you’re surrounded by.
And with movements like GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, your school, community, and peers will get the skills they need to combat name calling at all levels. Suddenly, you won’t be forced to be around immature bullies, and your life will improve exponentially. Although things might be really hard right now, better days are coming and you deserve to see them.
4. Remember that you are a valuable person.
When I was in middle school, I was called a “freak.” But I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that someone else’s words don’t have to dictate the way I think about myself, and they don’t define who I am. When other people are trying to make you feel small, the best thing you can do is continue to grow. You’re so much more than the hateful words that other people call you. Above all else, you are worthy, loved and valuable, and nothing that anyone says can take that away from you.
GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week is this week. How will you join the movement?
Katie Regittko is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.