Relationship Views Evolve, But Bullies Are Eternal

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By Maria Padhila

There’s a theater / performance art / storytelling project called Mortified that I heard about a couple years ago through a young woman who has become a regional producer for the events. What happens is, you bring your journals, diaries, poems, art, etc. from your adolescence and read these aloud in front of an audience.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

“Hear grown men and women confront their past with tales of their first kiss, first puff, worst prom, fights with mom, life at bible camp, worst hand job, best mall job, and reasons they deserved to marry Jon Bon Jovi,” Mortified puts it, calling it “personal redemption through public humiliation.” It has grown into productions around the nation and a cable series.

Part of the appeal lies in seeing how much has and hasn’t changed in each person. You may no longer believe you deserve Bon Jovi, and you might have learned how to give (and ask for) better hand jobs. Now you might be happily married to a woman who has a beautiful bluesy singing voice. Or you might be a singer yourself. Your young dreams and views of the world shape what you love and what you want and what you believe, but unless there’s something quite wrong, you’re not trapped within them. You change. You — excuse the term, my Evangelical friends — evolve.

Both our president and the leading Republican presidential candidate have had their Mortified-style moments recently, with incidents and writing from their younger days surfacing. A long Washington Post article went over Mitt Romney’s propensity for “pranks” at his tony prep school in the 1960s, such as leading a mob to attack and forcibly cut the hair of a fellow student the boys believed to be gay.

Although Mortified disallows content produced after age 21, on the basis of a quick read of excerpts in the Vanity Fair article, President Obama’s recently released love letters to an Aussie girlfriend, written when he was 22, would certainly qualify. That convoluted explication of T.S. Eliot, designed to impress his literary girlfriend — embarrassing!

While many express uncertainty regarding Obama’s birthdate, time and horoscope, I’d come down on the side of anyone who sees Leo and Capricorn prominent. When his girl said, “I love you,” he said, “Thank you.” That’s so Leo. Tribute must be paid. (And can you believe that? How long would you have stuck around with a dude who said such things? If you’re me, the answer would be “quite a while, if he’s hot and interesting,” because I don’t put much stock in the typical romantic stuff. But a lot of women I know would have shown him the door at that statement.) And the professorial, condescending tone of his letters, as well as the “distance,” “coldness,” and feeling of his being “old” that his girlfriend references are very much young Capricorn. They reverse-age, and it’s easy to mistake their depth for reserve (and sometimes reserve is just reserve).

For myself, I loved how damn normal it all was. A young man and woman meet at a party, warily circle each other, and hit it off. They’re smart, passionate, international, but this is no early-80s disco coke party, it’s at someone’s apartment where she can’t find a glass and just decides to drink out of the bottle, which is her usual habit anyway. A date or two and he cooks her dinner at his freezing apartment; they wake up together.

And it shows what he was struggling with at the time. Seeing his friends go into the mainstream business world of the 1980s, he wondered:

“Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me. The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and] classes; make them mine, me theirs.”

Also from the David Maraniss book excerpt:

Looking back on that period from the distance of the White House, Obama recalled that he was then ‘deep inside my own head … in a way that in retrospect I don’t think was real healthy.’ But the realization that he had to ‘absorb all the traditions’ would become the rationale for everything that followed. ‘There is no doubt that what I retained in my politics is a sense that the only way I could have a sturdy sense of identity of who I was depended on digging beneath the surface differences of people,’ Obama said during an interview. ‘The only way my life makes sense is if, regardless of culture, race, religion, tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and passions and hopes and moral precepts that are universal. And that we can reach out beyond our differences. If that is not the case, then it is pretty hard for me to make sense of my life. So that is at the core of who I am.’

This glimpse into his younger self gives depth and conviction to the announcement the president made last week that he supports gay marriage rights. His personal life is a testament to how deeply held feelings can change over the years. People who scoff at his profession that his thinking on gay marriage was “evolving” and don’t believe that there was a personal change there tend to gloss over the actual changes his life evidences. Here’s a real biggie: He has had close, long-term relationships with women of different races. How many people, whoever their parents, have done that? Many of us imprint on a type and stick to that. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I would like to claim a certain sincerity for those like myself, for whom change is the only eternal.

I’m not saying I support every last thing Obama does and says, nor that I don’t believe there was any strategy in the announcement. He’s a politician, for heaven’s sake. And I spent most of my journalistic life working in majority-African-American communities. I know the political power of the conservative black churches — and the depths of their anti-gay bigotry. (Plus the depths of the closets, as well. Silence=death is still an operative equation in some worlds.)

At the same time, I respect the evolution of his thinking. He used to say: This is the LGBT community’s struggle and battle to fight. It’s not mine to lead. It’s essentially a “nothing about us without us” style of leadership, one I’d like to see more of. But can there be such a thing as a FUBU president — or must that role encompass all the diversity of a nation? That’s the paradox he spoke of as a student, and one that continues today.

I believe that changing one’s views, particularly about relationships, is not evidence of insincerity or lack of conviction, but evidence of life and compassion. It has to do with the difference between integrity and paralysis. What direction are you moving in? What’s guiding you? Convictions are for navigation.

Which brings us to another accused of flip-flopping. Romney’s ‘pranks’ sound to this reader like they run the gamut from creepy (using Eric’s definition, which includes “knowing violation of boundaries”) to full-on assault (the ‘haircut’).

Romney and his people didn’t comment to the Post, but, the paper reported: “In a subsequent interview Thursday morning with Fox News Channel, Romney said he didn’t remember the incident but apologized for pranks he helped orchestrate that he said ‘might have gone too far.'”

This is the quote from Romney on Fox News:

“I don’t recall the incident myself, but I’ve seen the reports and I’m not going to argue with that. There’s no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school, and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.”

This would not to my mind be an example of an evolution in thinking. Nor of a person who thinks, reflects on life, reflects on himself, the world, or others. It’s flat thinking. The ‘if you were hurt, I apologize’ non-apology is so common these days that I fear we’re used to it and just go with it. It doesn’t count. It doesn’t work. I don’t accept this apology.

I have been bullied pretty much as long as I can remember, and there are still some who would like to continue the practice today, but I’m good at evading those types now. I didn’t start getting bullied for my sexuality as early as did others, however, which might be a fortunate thing for me. It was almost with a sense of relief that my tormentors (who changed as I changed schools and environments) were able, as adolescence dawned, to pin their hatred for me on my being a ‘slut’. Before that, I was just weird and unsettling and they couldn’t say why.

This was in the days before there were Goths in every small town. I was lucky to run away to a city where I could find some artists and musicians and weirdos as well as some mainstream types who liked crazy young women like me. Certainly some used me, but could I submit that this was mutual? And I was never bullied among them.

The bullying for being perceived as genderqueer, is, I think, probably the worst kind. I think this even though I haven’t been the victim of it. Those who are bullied because they’re poor, or have a bad time at home, or have a disability can still have the grain of hope and sanity at their core that this is not happening to them because of something they are, but because of their circumstances. Bullying because of gender identity strikes at the heart of who a person is.

But I don’t want to get in a victim competition. I’m saying this only to say how deeply horrifying it is that such assaults as Romney was said to be involved in happen so often and that they happen at all. And I’m mortified that we’d consider it so inconsequential that we’d be OK with electing someone who had done such a thing to run our country.

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9 Responses to Relationship Views Evolve, But Bullies Are Eternal

  1. mariapadhila says:

    thank you all so much for your comments on this. i have to tell you that my eclipse issue has been whether my writing has value, for me or anyone else. it’s so funny to have gotten my answer–in the form of your own sharing about dealing with bullying. i love these exchanges. that is the value, loud and clear.

  2. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:


    I thank you so much for sharing your eclipse/bullying story. In this moment I will share my own brief story — I went out to one of the common areas at my apartment complex to watch the eclipse – I could already hear the voices and knew that someone was there – someone who is a bully and who has recently gathered a little group around him. They have chosen me as a target because I seem unassuming and because I speak up and ask for my right to quiet enjoyment of my apartment. I have known this person for sometime and while I do not care for what he is, I am always respectful and even friendly. Anyway, I took my deep breath and went to where I intended in order to view the eclipse. There were several other people there as well as the Bully Team and one new neighbor who had brought his telescope. So we all viewed the eclipse together and it was clear that the one bully was not happy that I was there too – and friendly among other positive social traits – and it was a positive experience. Bullies are not happy when the negative things they say about people are shown to be questionable! Anyway, there are no great revelations to this non-bullying bully experience – only that I shared a lovely eclipse viewing with neighbors….and that I too find that Bullies are Bullies. Period. The ones I have known seem to having something mixed up in their make-up and I have no interest in them other than “walking away” — which is something I can more aptly do now that I have gotten better at discerning when I am being “bullied”. Good for you for remembering who you are, what your intentions were with your sister and embracing all the goodness in your life!

  3. Sina says:

    Dear Maria,

    Thank you so much for this great article. The eclipse was just about to happen when I read the title of your article and had to read on. I just returned from Australia after visiting my younger sister whom I hadn’t seen for 8 yrs and younger brother for 5 yrs. Last year my wish was to be authentic. This year my wish was to heal my family relationships. I had huge healing earlier this year regarding the beatings my mum gave me just because I was the oldest, so reuniting with mum was beautiful. I had a great time with my brother, and felt the healing and love in our relationship, which even his wife felt and benefitted from.
    But as usual, I was walking on egg shells with my younger sister. I could feel that usual pattern of “her bullying me, and me not doing anything coz I’d cop it from Mum”, was lurking under the surface. My sister has a tumor in her neck, and another one recently diagnosed in her spine. She’s supposed to be on stage 2 chemo but only takes treatment intermittently. I spent 4 days with her, first giving her an organic scrub, and island massage to help relieve her sick body. The next day it was a full body reiki treatment. After that, she didnt want any more. I came back to my sisters’ for 5 more days. She accepted reiki one more time even tho I offered it everyday, and she accepted a tarot reading. My time was coming to a close and I could feel the tension rising despite me keeping it as peaceful and calm as I could, still the scared victim walking on egg shells. The morning I was due to leave, I spoke over my sister, and that gave her the excuse to verbally attack me. All I wanted to do was leave, but she was on a roll, and her partner joined in, as did her 20 yr old daughter, the one I breast fed for three months when my sister couldn’t cope and left her with me. They were screaming, swearing and attacking me doing everything to make me attack back, like a pack of wolves decending on a small animal….it went on for two hours while I tried to pack and get out of there. The worst part was when her partner was telling my neice to hit me, to whack me one! I was horrified at the lack of respect, I came to offer peace, love and healing to my sister, and they just wanted to “get” me. I realised then that the relationship had healed because it was over, and no amount of family roots and connection were ever going to get me back to her place again. The plane couldn’t fly fast enough to get me back to the island, my beautiful husband, my sweet children, and our peaceful home. I learnt that at nearly 50 yrs old, I don’t have to accept bullying from little sis ever again, no matter how sick she is, and that for her, “bullying is eternal”. She married a bully and is now teaching her children that bullying is ok. I love my sister, and will always pray for her and her kids, but she has taught me that people get away with, what you let them get away with. And I will never let her, or anyone else bully me again.
    Last night, I couldn’t sleep, and felt that fear rising in me, as if I was in her presence again, and in danger – solar eclipse taking me back a week! Then I remembered where I was now – next to my beautiful husband, kids sleeping soundly and safely in our mountain home – I’m in heaven! Healing complete.

    Thank you so much for highlighting what afflicts so many human souls. You’d think in this age of enlightenment, the highest of created beings would be over behaving like the lowest of low. I guess we still have a way to go……

    Forever hopeful, and in love and light,

    Sina xx

  4. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Bless you, sweet P. Sophia! And I hold you in my heart too – and wish the very best for you, and to everyone, in these healing, transformational times. xxx

  5. P. Sophia P. Sophia says:

    Dear Huffy,

    Read late last night your entry fim other article regarding your revelation and theme for this weekend elliptical transformation.   I want to say I am feeling for you, but at same time lifting you up in my heart today.   I know somewhat of the feeling you are dealing with and the nature of bulling as was a pattern in my family as well and as child had to live with horrible abuse of my Father although not Physical, there was and continues  emotionally and mentally abuse, injustice and impatience for my mother which is co-dependent and everyone was affected by this as well.  Of course this all goes back to his fears and insecurities transfered on others as most certainly came down to him.  

    Anyway too much to say now, but he is of Italian decent and all these thoughts occurrences here this morning as you observed are running together and did not know where to post.   All the themes, the earthquake in this part of the world and the eclipse i believe our universe is quite literally throwing it all up!

    Ii have to run now unfortunately,  but the tittle of this article really does really say it all/ best.   “Relationship Views Evolve, But Bullies Are Eternal”

    Yet maybe, if we pray, eternity will evolve, if even just a little bit today.

    Sending blessings of comfort, growth and love to all here at PW today.

  6. Miss uk says:

    Hi Maria,

    Thank you for another great article, interesting, balanced and so honest as always.

    As I read your comment, ‘I believe that changing one’s views, particularly about relationships, is not evidence of insincerity or lack of conviction, but evidence of life and compassion’, I was reminded of a favourite quote of mine by Ralph Waldo Emerson ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.’

    It says it so well. It takes a bigger man to admit to changing and evolving views than it does to cling to narrow minded or outdated ones.

  7. Lizzy Huffy says:

    aword (love your avatar story!) “”So interesting to me that Bullying is the theme of your article this week – having come to understand that it is the theme of my eliptical transformation this weekend”. I read Maria’s piece after Judith’s – but you’ll see from my comment that I’m dealing with the same themes. This is one hell of a time for bringing these hidden patterns to the surface to clear and heal. As you can see, you’re not alone. Go for it, gal!

  8. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece, Maria. “And I’m mortified that we’d consider it so inconsequential that we’d be OK with electing someone who had done such a thing to run our country.” you are so bloody right! And as always, I just love your rip-roaring, life-loving, honest writing.

  9. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:


    So interesting to me that Bullying is the theme of your article this week – having come to understand that it is the theme of my eliptical transformation this weekend. I have put many names to my experiences over the years, and this is the one that brings it all together on one spindle, into one thread this weekend.

    The First Fate, Moirai or Moira is exact my sun in natal chart at 2 PI. Square the eclipse.

    The second Fate, Lachesis is exact on my MC at 0 Taurus. Semi-sextile the eclipse.

    The third Fate, Atropos is transiting AR….29 Aries, close enough to be conjunct natal Lachesis at 0 Taurus on the MC.

    I embrace my found “family” of goths, artists and “misfits”. This weekend has something to do with cutting threads. Thanks for your words and thoughts here, Maria.
    My goddess bless us everyone.

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