What you’re about to read is the story of the second worst day of my life (my father’s death was the worst). I have waited almost thirty years to tell it, and consider it my greatest shame.
I am sharing it for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve needed to get this weight off my shoulders for many years. Secondly, this could have happened to you and we need to talk about it.
It’s time to talk about my greatest shame.
In 1991 I was sexually assaulted by two boys in a hostel at the boarding school I attended. It affected my school work, which was already a mess because I didn’t like being away from home. My history teacher even suggested that with my report card, I didn’t deserve to be in the school, let alone in his class. I hope he’s dead.
The boarding school system had a hostel for the new boys, and after your first year, you would be placed in one of the other hostels with the rest of the boarders. The idea was to get you used to boarding school life before throwing you in with the sharks.
I didn’t enjoy boarding school in general but I didn’t mind the first year so much. I got into trouble as most undiagnosed ADHD kids do, and it didn’t help that I thought I was the smartest person there. Does not play well with others.
In my second year, I hated the new hostel. I hated the older boys, I hated the hostel master, and I hated the paternalistic disciplinarian nature of the entire system. Does not play well with others.
I was small for my age, which didn’t help, because I was born at the very end of the year and was placed with kids as much as six months older than me. For reference, I only reached my full height a month after I finished grade 12.
I was bullied throughout school because of my mannerisms. I was bullied for having a large vocabulary. I was bullied for being gay (ironically up until around age 19, I was totally asexual). I was bullied for my size. I was bullied for not being interested in sports. I was bullied for reading a lot. Being a voracious reader, I took this as a sign that people were stupid and not worth my time, so I was bullied for being distant. I had things stolen from me and then thrown away.
In the new hostel, in the second year of high school, new boys were assigned a grade 12 boy to be their “master”. You had to make them coffee, clean their room, make their beds, cover their books, that kind of thing. If you’ve ever read Roald Dahl’s autobiography “Boy”, we had a lite version of his experience. My “master” was unlike the others, because he was decent. He didn’t like making me do things I wasn’t comfortable with. He and his roommates pranked me a couple times but I could handle that because it wasn’t mean.
Some of the other grade 12s were mean. Many of them were prefects. One particular prefect came from a sporting family who is famous in South Africa in cricketing circles. He was an absolute bastard.
Some of the other grade 12s who were bastards were not prefects because they weren’t the right personality type. You can be too mean, with your eyes too close together, that even a rural school with a major sporting roster thinks you’re not the right material to represent the school.
One bastard in particular liked the idea of getting young boys to do his bidding. He enjoyed making their lives miserable. He started his nonsense on the day I climbed off the train from home, and told me to carry his blazer to his room.
The train is about a kilometre downhill from the school. I already had to carry my own things as well, and given that I understood the system, I accepted his items of clothing and struggled up the hill (both ways in the snow, etc.). What I hadn’t bargained on was that this bully took a shine to me. Something about me was attractive to him, whether as a target for his anger, disappointment in not being given a surfeit of brainpower, or (with hindsight) a physical attraction. I’ll never know. What I do know is that he was unrelenting. Whenever he saw me at the hostel, he’d have a task for me. It was never an easy task. Sometimes the younger boys were expected to smuggle food out of the dining hall. Sometimes we were expected to purchase cigarettes for them. His goal, as I saw it, was to make my life as miserable as possible.
On one occasion while he was with his friend in the common room, the friend being a “post-matric” — which in rural boarding school parlance means “really good at sports” — he asked me to do something and I can’t recall the exact thing I said, but he got upset with me. The normal course of action would be to write up my transgression in the book of order marks (me being out of order, you see), and when I had earned six of these marks, I would be gifted corporal punishment in the form of between two and six canings at the hostel master’s discretion. Instead, my bully instructed me to visit his room after dinner so that we could resolve this conflict.
In his room later, he and this sporting legend friend were the only two other people there. After making me perform various physical exercises (are all bullies this simple-minded?), he instructed me to pull down my pants and underwear to show them my genitals. After much coaxing on their part I eventually did so. Reader, I can’t describe how this made me feel, but I still shiver at the memory to this day.
Then the two bullies suggested that I needed to be sexually aroused, to see how “big” I might be at the age of 14. Under these circumstances I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to accede, but they made me feign sexual movements on a bed in order to arouse myself all the same. Of course nothing happened, which they confirmed by once again asking me to expose the evidence.
Then the first bully, my nemesis, suggested that I go to the bathroom and stimulate myself appropriately so that they could … well, I’m still not sure. In tears I went to my room, where my friends asked me what was wrong, but I grabbed my roll of toilet paper and off I went into a stall. A few minutes later, two heads peered over the top of the stall to look at me, and the same two bullies started laughing so hard that they might collapse in a fit of hysteria. My utter humiliation was their entertainment. I pulled up my pants, ran back to my room. By this time I was sobbing, and there was a brief moment where the bullies realized I was not enjoying this as much as they were. They followed me into the room, and again I was asked what was wrong. To my shame I said nothing, and the two bullies, one of whom was over 18, asked me not to say anything.
A few days later I tried to bring it up with the head boy of the hostel and he suggested it wasn’t as serious as I thought, they were just boys being boys, and not to say anything else. I left the school after the middle of the year, the sound of the history teacher’s words echoing in my brain that I didn’t deserve to be there.