Dear Papa Bear,
Ok, so I recently began identifying as a furry after finding out about the fandom, and I have decided to write to you about a thing that happened. I apologize in advance if my letter seems spacey or too long. I'll try to make sense as much as I can and keep it short-ish.
I joined the furry community in secret at the beginning of last month, and (sort of) broke the news to my parents by asking what they would do if I wore a tail keychain to school, then slowly introducing them to the community after that. My friends are all ok with it; in fact, one of my friends who we call Candy Cane was the one who gave me the idea to check out the furry community, so nothing bad there.
The problems started when I actually got my tail keychain this month, a raccoon looking one, and began wearing it everywhere including school. You see, there is this group of boys who tease me for liking the anime genre of cartoons, so when they saw my tail they asked if it was an anime character's. (Specifically, they asked if it was Pikachu's even though they know the tail looks nothing at all like a Pikachu's.) I could tell that they were not being sincere and were just trying to annoy me, so I ignored them. Later that day in another class I was in we had a group project so there were a lot of people walking around. I was getting supplies for my group when someone came up and pulled on my tail, but I couldn't see who it was because of all the kids. Another boy who likes to annoy me asked me the other day if my tail was a girl, which was just met with confusion on my part. Those are just the more memorable incidents, too. I've had people saying sarcastically in the hall that they "liked my tail," and asking if they could wear or have it, to which I always respond no because they might ruin it as people have scrawled curse words in pen on my drawings before so I'm rather protective of my things.
What I'm wondering is how to get this to stop. It's been a while now and most of the kids are still teasing me. I cant go to the teachers of the school for a few reasons; one is that the vice principal will just say to stop wearing it, the actual principal doesn't like me, and I'm really bad with faces so if I try to get the more noticeable ones in trouble I will most likely get told that I got the wrong person and the whole report will be shoved into the corner of a teacher's desk somewhere. It's happened before when I tried to report fake and sarcastic "love confessions". (Ugh.) My friends aren't very popular either except for Candy Cane and she just kind of blows them off, so I don't have any "kid power" to help me with this one. If you have any ideas can you please help?
Kind Of Stuck Here,
Maya the Wolf
* * *
Ah, yes, life as a teenager in school can be so much fun when you are not part of the “in” crowd, no? I remember when I was your age growing up in Van Nuys. With me, because I had not discovered the fandom yet, it was being teased because I was unathletic, shy, and fair-skinned (which is illegal in southern California when you are a minor, apparently). I got beaten up a couple times, too.
That all started to change when I was in junior high. One day, I was in the hallway getting stuff out of my locker and this very well-muscled guy with a nasty expression on his face confronted me. For some reason—I have no idea why—he demanded I give him my bungee cord. Something just clicked inside my head, and I told him no. He grabbed me by the shirt and pushed me against the lockers, again demanding the cord. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t scared. I told him firmly, no, you can’t have it. After trying to intimidate me a little longer, he gave up and walked away. It was very strange. He was much stronger than me and could have taken it by force, but I think he was taken aback by the fact that this scrawny pale kid just was not afraid of him.
Now, so far with you, it seems like no one is physically threatening you, which is good. But they are being very unpleasant. Bullies, really, though that is rather hard to prove when you don’t have something like an email to show the school or, worse, bruises. So, I agree, you do need to do something yourself to stop it. One thing is to not be afraid or intimidated. You’ve already tried ignoring them, but they can probably see by your expression that they are bothering you, and that’s what keeps their petty, small-minded desire to hurt you alive. You see, Maya, such kids are to be pitied, really. They are so afraid to be themselves that they feel they must fit in with the “popular kids.” Part of reinforcing that bond is making fun of those who are different in any way, like you.
I applaud you for being yourself and wearing your tail. You are actually in very good company. Some celebrities who got beaten up and bullied for being different in school include Robert Pattinson, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock, Tiger Woods, and President Bill Clinton. Gee, I wonder where the people who teased them are now? Nobody knows, and probably for good reason: they were not unique or special because they were too busy trying to gain acceptance of the “normal” kids.
Now then, other than ignoring these dolts, what to do? The key is to be smarter than they are, which doesn’t seem like it will be a challenge for you, given that they don’t know what a Pikachu tail looks like and, apparently, think tails have genders. (Another trait that often characterizes bullies is that they tend to be stupid).
What you need to develop is some comeback lines that are more clever and Oh! Snap!-alicious. For example, when that kid asked if your tale has a gender, you could say, “That’s about as stupid as asking if my cell phone is a boy or a girl.” If they ask if that’s a Pikachu tail, say, “Wow, way to show off your ignorance about anime for everyone in the hallway to hear.” If they ask to wear your tail, say, “Sure! If I can borrow something really personal from you—how about your earrings? Or your crucifix necklace?”
These people do not deserve your respect; when you shy away from them, it is the same as giving them power—the power to make you feel bad about yourself and uncomfortable. Don’t give them that power, and you can demonstrate that by sticking up for being you. If, after giving them comebacks like the above, they try to draw you into a war of words, simply say, “Well, this has been fun, but I have better things to do with my time than listen to people whose opinions don’t matter to me.” And then walk away.
Oh! I almost forgot to add: take photos. Do you have a cell phone with a camera? Every time you run into these teasers, say, "Smile!" and take their picture. This serves two purposes: you can now recall their faces, and it can really scare bullies off because they don't want to have a record of what they are doing. Even better, make a video of them. This is perfectly legal for you to do because they are in a public place, and the courts have repeatedly asserted that you have "no expectation of privacy" when you are in a public place.
Now, if this escalates into violence, that’s another matter. Many states have laws against bullying. It is illegal! And that’s not just violence. If these kids are making your life a living hell and making you depressed, you have a case. Visit the government site at http://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html to learn more. I don’t care if the principal doesn’t like you; he is legally obligated to help you if this becomes a bad situation.
It is my hope that that won’t be necessary, and simply sticking up for yourself more will end the bullying. Bullies tend to be pansy sissy boys and girls with low self-esteem who back down when faced with someone who is not threatened by them (see above). This is probably why Candy Cane does so well. She isn’t bothered by them, and neither should you be. If I were you, I would talk to her a bit about what I have written here and get some ideas from her, as well.
I hope that helps, Maya!
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.