You can’t forget the feeling.
One second, you’re going about your life with a carefree—almost happy—attitude. The next, it’s like you’ve been punched in the stomach. The ringing in your ears is only trumped by the intense beating of your heart. Tears swell up in your eyes, but you suppress them with every fiber of your being. Your face starts to flush and a wave of paranoia overcomes you. All of these people are staring at you. They heard the awful thing that guy just said about you. And they all agree.
I’m talking, of course, about being bullied.
As a gay man who grew up in the South, I was lucky. I didn’t experience the aforementioned turmoil on a daily basis, but the few times I did—mostly between the ages of 11 and 15—still haunt me to this day. They probably contribute to the inadequacy I deal with on a daily basis. Like I said, you can’t forget the feeling.
Sixth and seventh grade were particularly hellish for me. I remember one incident vividly when my class took a field trip to the county courthouse. I was sitting alone when I noticed two boys staring at me and snickering. This went on for 15 brutal minutes before one came up to me and made the most vulgar, offensive and cutting quip about my high-pitched voice. It’s too disgusting to write here, especially because it came from a middle schooler. He made the joke loudly in front of my classmates and teacher. And no one did anything.
I chuckled uncomfortably, as if I agreed with him, in hopes the moment would pass painlessly. The two boys eventually had their last laugh and walked away, uttering the “F” word so many gay kids dread as a final bullet. I was 13 years old at the time.
I went home devastated but too embarrassed to tell my parents what happened. Instead, I watched television for a little escapism, and that’s when I came across Mean Girls (2004). The teen cult classic starring Lindsay Lohan had just started, and it was exactly what I needed. Yes, a movie about bullies was what I needed to fight bullies.
I had seen Mean Girls a few times before but truly fell in love with it that spring afternoon in 2005. It’s biting, snarky and gloriously bitchy, yes, but it’s something way more important: hilarious. At a time when I felt my stomach was ’gonna fall out my butt (to quote Cady Heron), I needed to laugh. Hard.
I didn’t need to cry, listen to sad music or talk about my ordeal—not that I’m negating the value in these exercises. I was looking for a release—a warm wave of happiness. Mean Girls was that drug.
And it remained my drug of choice from that day on any time I was bullied. Eventually, my parents bought me the DVD, so I was able to pop in the film any time my face started to flush or ears began to ring. In its own bizarre way, Mean Girls’ outlandish humor assured me, somehow, everything would be OK.
But why Mean Girls? It’s a question I’ve contemplated for more than a decade, but I can’t come up with an answer. A part of me thinks it has to do with Damian (Daniel Franzese), the first gay character I related to on screen. As an unapologetic, over-the-top boy with curves, Damian showed me at some point in my life, it will be possible for me to be unabashedly myself. To see this as a pre-teen insecure about everything (my voice, mannerisms, fear I wasn’t walking “manly” enough, etc.) this was monumental. “Too gay to function” wasn’t an insult to Damian, but a badge he wore proudly. The film taught me I could get there too, eventually—that it will get better.
A part of me thinks it was my then-obsession with Ms. Lohan that fueled my affinity for Mean Girls. A part of me thinks Mean Girls is just a damn hysterical flick, and it was on at the right time. What I do know for certain is the movie struck a chord with my 13-year-old self and, in many ways, healed me.
So if you’re reading, Tina Fey, thank you. Mean Girls saved me. And it saved the teen comedy, too.
My love for Mean Girls hit a fever pitch in August 2013 when I recited the film in less than 30 minutes for my internship at MTV’s now-defunct NextMovie.com. Check it out below.