When I read the story of 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu, who committed suicide last month after enduring consistent bullying for being a boy cheerleader among other things, I had two reactions. The first and obvious one is a stew of sadness and anger over how his school system failed him after complaint after complaint about the problem. The second is a wish for more children to have Ronin's level of guts.
If I had a chance to do my life over again, I would have started embracing Colonial and Scottish dance as a child and followed that passion right into adulthood. Kids picked on me already, and people would taunt me no matter what I did, so why not go all in? I could've donned the tricorn and kilts much earlier and set free a lot of internal repression I didn't realize I was carrying around.
I told my beloved Madame Noire this, and she replied, "But there weren't any groups like that around when you were a kid."
Maybe. But I could've found some.
The bullying of young Ronin makes even less sense when you think about the group he joined. What young boy wouldn't love being surrounded by beautiful smiling girls in bright uniforms? I bet you some of his bullies were secretly envious. But more than that, Ronin followed his passion, and he found kindred spirits.
When we help young boys deal with bullies, we often teach them how to defend themselves or tell them to "man up." We tell them nothing's wrong with them, but how far will we allow them to take it? Parents, be honest with me. If your 12-year-old boy wanted to join the cheerleading squad, would you let him? How about ballet? Or the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society? Or the Society for Creative Anachronism? Or a figure-skating group?
Every parent says they love their children and want to support them. Reality tells me a lot of parents don't want to bear the burden of having an unpopular sissy-boy. They would rather steer that child into being cool rather than dealing with the tears, fears and grunt work of being supportive. Ronin's parents knew their child, loved their child, and loved his heart. They didn't freak out about his aspirations. They didn't measure their success as parents by the hipness of their child. A friend of mine tells me about a father who found his son growing his hair long as a possible prelude to some classic sissy activity. He made that child get a buzz cut.
Parents, if you are raising a child to fit your personal aspirations, you are not raising a child. You are raising a trophy. You are creating something designed to sit on your mantle for boasting. When the child decides not to run your race, you grow bitter.
I remember talking to some friends of co-workers about a trip to New York City and enjoying the musical Wicked.
"Do you have anything from that show for my son?" one person asked. "He's a [homosexual slur]. He loves Broadway."
Shocked as I was, I gave him some Wicked swag to pass along, fairly confident that the son was only a homosexual slur in his father's eyes. I'll stick up for the child. I won't stick up for his father's loutish conclusions.
Ronin had a small circle of close friends, and although he showed a predominantly quiet side, he didn't fit neatly into the mold of introvert. When a child dies like this, we start looking for all the warning signs that came before it. I'm not sure Ronin gave us any.
Thus comes the guts. Whatever Ronin's support system was, it wasn't enough. They may have had his back privately, but not publicly. I'm inspired by the example of a squad of Queen Creek, Arizona high school football players who stepped up to defend a developmentally challenged girl. They made it clear: you mess with her, you mess with us. Ronin could have used his own special team.