Art by Gaby Serrano
It was quite conspicuously the only thing my relatives would talk about. As the viral bullying video made rounds on Twitter, Facebook, and even the tables of my holiday gatherings, I was left to ponder just how harmful the high school culture must be for these kids to turn their campus into some arena. It was then I realized I was no stranger to the attitudes that allow these things to happen.
I came from an all-boys Catholic institution, where memories made in high school don’t really age well. When I catch myself reminiscing what people would often describe “the best years of your life”, I’m reminded of a rather dark time in mine; a time that fooled me into complying to flawed moral values; a time that made me feel like it was okay to be purely driven by self-interest just to feed my own fragile ego.
It took me years just to pinpoint what exactly was wrong with the all-boy culture that shrouded the hallways of my high school.
When I catch myself reminiscing what people would often describe “the best years of your life”, I’m reminded of a rather dark time in mine.
For starters, calling anything and everything gay was something I’d come to hear more often than I should have. Now it’s alarming, but to anyone back then, it was nothing more than a bat on anyone who’s displayed even the slightest bit of femininity in their interests. Sweet to your girlfriend? Gay. Admiring your friend’s appearance? No homo tho. Close-up selfie on Instagram? That’s so fucking gay gago.
And no one said a thing.
No class officers, no disciplinary authorities, no one. Calling people homophobic slurs was so widely accepted it became a way for people to validate themselves of their masculinity. It was never a reason to call anyone out; it was really just normal.
And to make matters worse, the use of language was something disciplinary figures tend to overlook. Whether or not it actually bothered anyone, there was no choice for people but to stomach it. Anyone who dared speak up also knew that it was much easier to tolerate the practice than to be loud. ‘Cause after all, loud was gay. I knew it was all wrong, but I clung onto the habit like my manhood depended on it.
Why did manhood matter so much, anyway? High school was a time that made me think people were generally more liked and respected so as long as they were into sports.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the NBA, or who scored that hat trick in the game last weekend, it was easy for me to feel less of a man and more like a social outcast. It felt as if the next best option into feeling more accepted was to be a douchebag.
So I did. Locker room talk was the only thing that gave me a sense of belonging among the people that have embraced the culture. I’d like to believe all the externalized homophobia and misogyny were attributed to the pervasive “alpha” mindset that made being a douchebag an in thing. It was the fuck-it attitude that downplayed any form of critical thinking and rationality, making people think just about anything can be resolved with fists so as long as their social capital was still in tact.
It was the fuck-it attitude that downplayed any form of critical thinking and rationality, making people think just about anything can be resolved with fists so as long as their social capital was still in tact.
When being an alpha, proper arguments don’t exist, and the only things that mattered were the physique, the sports, the reputation, and the ability to trash talk. Angas ka bro? Sapakan nalang. Ayaw mo? Supot ka pala eh. Do you even know who I am?
Because of course, whoever’s got the balls to throw a punch instantly puts a person on a higher moral ground. Talk was cheap, even when it shouldn’t have been.
So was it the movies? The institution? The household values? I’d like to think it was a bit of everything that made the high school ego so fragile, even up to now. It took the right college crowd and tons of self-reflection to put my finger on the problematic, and I was only able to do so years after I graduated.
To some such as myself, it was nothing more than a phase of self-discovery that I’m happy to say was short-lived. But to others, these very high school experiences serve as the backbone of a dangerous kind of behaviour that they can’t seem to grow out of. Maturity varies, and to some, high school just never ends.