Easy Target.

TW: Narcissistic abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, fatphobia, queerphobia, depression, self-harm, brief mention of suicidality, Donald Fucking Trump.

“From the moment I met you, I knew I could work you.”

I sincerely hope you never encounter anyone who regards you this way or, worse, says this to you directly.

Whether it’s a family member, a partner, a colleague, a friend, or a commander-in-chief, you do not deserve to be manipulated.

If you have already experienced manipulation from someone you were supposed to trust, I am so sorry. Please be patient with yourself as you process and heal. It’s going to take time, even if that abuser is not part of your personal life or the Executive Branch of government any longer.

Ever since I was very young, the phrase “Easy Target” was often used to describe me. I was an “Easy Target” for bullying, because I was an outsider in my communities, perpetually the new kid.

I was an “Easy Target” for people to use as a body image punching bag, since I have never been thin or conventionally good-looking.

I was an “Easy Target” for homophobic disgust and discrimination as a minor, because I was openly queer and clockably unfeminine from a young age…And I had the misfortune of being dragged to live in swing states and red counties where people were simply louder about their abject intolerance than their neoliberal counterparts.

As if the passive state of simply being targeted wasn’t difficult enough, the label of an “Easy” targeting made me believe —until adulthood! — that my mistreatment was not only pointed; it was inevitable and caused by my own behavior or identity.

I believed I deserved to be treated poorly as a rule, because it was regarded as second nature and followed me everywhere I lived. I spent my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood clenching my jaw as others’ toxicity, trauma, and ignorance trained me to be complicit in my own damage.

Naturally, this pattern impacted my psyche and my relationships, and it wasn’t washed away with logic or a change of locale. In fact, since the pattern of mistreatment was solidified when I was a child, it was baked into my formative sense of self and only strengthened over time.

The label of “Easy Target” became a self-fulfilling prophecy that attracted not only garden-variety bullies but diagnosable narcissists.

Long before Donald Trump taunted Joe Biden’s intellect, his son’s addiction, and his life’s work on the national debate stage, I knew what it was like to try to maintain composure while being publicly humiliated. Some examples from my young life are:

“Fatty McCowskey” and “Pig with a Moustache” were some of my given names at this point.
  1. My teacher weighed me in front of my entire brand-new second-grade class, and that number was compared with the weight of the smallest student in the class. I will never forget standing in front of a room of my peers and being called fat the rest of the day. It certainly prepared me for the musical theatre industry.
Learning acoustic guitar and badly writing songs does not help your case when kids already call you a dyke.

2. During a middle school English class debate that would lead to an essay prompt, the teacher posed the question, “Would you rather be smart or popular?” Instantly, a popular student raised her hand to say that maybe being unpopular wasn’t so bad, specifically naming me as someone who was clearly unpopular but seemed “Fine”. My classmates instantly, unapologetically laughed. I fought back tears and tried to piece together a pithy comeback about anointment, but nobody else in the class knew what the word “Anointment” meant.

Truly should’ve predicted my caffeine dependency in the early aughts.

3. During the Day of Silence, only one cishet ally in my tenth grade math class participated in the silent protest in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students alongside me. My math teacher purposefully singled us out to conduct an experiment on liquid volume in front of the whole class. We tried to pour and measure liquids in the provided containers, working together in silence as the class laughed at us and at the demonstration at large. When Prop 8 passed two years later, many of those same laughing students gloated to me that the same-sex marriage ban was a “Victory on the side of the right” and that “The majority will never vote to support a minority.”

If I met this kid today, I would scream in their face that they’re fantastic and deserving of peace.

4.On Christmas Eve after Prop 8 was passed, one of those gloating kids who was my friend (who knew about my history of mental illness and self-harm and who kept our friendship entirely online but secret at school) sent me a link to a social media page he created, wherein he instigated and invited my classmates and alumni to write comments along the lines of “I don’t care where she goes, as long as she’s gone” as an attempt to oust me from the school theatre department.

Seriously, look at pictures of your younger self with warmth for that person. It helps.

5. A magnetic personality from my young adult life quickly became a best friend and roommate, and she went through my room, found an old diary, and read it aloud to another close friend and someone I was newly dating. Some of the readings included my deeply personal examining whether “Bi” was a better label for me than “Gay,” including private details about my sex life. I stayed in that friendship, and that roommate stayed in our apartment even after I found out from the person I was dating, far after the fact.

I can’t believe I never felt cool, attractive, thin, or worthy enough considered more than a joke.

6. I had a partner tell me, at a restaurant, on my birthday, that my aspirations for comedy writing and performance were farfetched, because “Nobody wants to see [me] be funny.” I cried into my cheap Malbec as this partner defended their behavior by saying it was constructive criticism to help me and then encouraged me to stop crying so they could befriend our server. They’re still friends (and I think the waiter comped my wine since it was my birthday), so I guess it worked out.

I’m anticipating that some people in my life may read into that last section a sense of bitterness, a cry for attention, or a lack of healing. It’s easy to assume that anyone disclosing uncomfortable stories from their young life is doing so as a desperate grab for praise, as if trauma is that simple or if needing praise denotes a weakness other than that of being human.

It’s easy to denigrate and distance from someone speaking about their trauma, because ostracizing the victim is a less involved task than helping them or investigating how your behavior could have adversely impacted others. No wonder “Fuck your Feelings” became a rallying cry for Trump supporters.

I am not sharing these anecdotes as a badge of brokenness; rather, I want to demonstrate very clearly that even though the years have passed, the memories never fully go away. And the psychological and behavioral patterns created in my upbringing and young adulthood still exist, even though the bullies and narcissists are not actively part of my daily life anymore.

Just because Joe Biden was elected President does not mean that we are healed from Donald Trump’s traumatic impact. This goes tenfold for marginalized populations.

Long after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are inaugurated, we will remember the things that Donald Trump’s administration said and did to immigrants, Latinx people, Black people, queer and transgender people, women, and countless other targeted groups.

We won’t assign blame to the marginalized people who spent years being humiliated and dehumanized by this overtly hateful administration. We won’t feel safe and whole just because a different older white gentleman will soon be occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I have an abundant support system of close friends who have graduated to chosen family. I haven’t self-harmed or attempted suicide in a decade. I live in the greatest city in the world. Even so, my body and mind still hold the memories of being treated as less-than. I still go through the world, questioning and apologizing for myself, fighting back the assumption that I am undeserving because I am, after all, an “Easy Target.”

We danced and celebrated in our living rooms and city streets. We cried happy tears at the gentleness of public speeches that surpassed the basement-level bar of human decency. We thanked organizers and Black voters. Even so, our bodies and minds will still hold the memories of a fascist, racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic administration endangering the public before and during a pandemic.

Wounds don’t disappear overnight. Some scars last forever.

You cannot blame a target for the function of a weapon.

(they/them) Singing server at Marie’s Crisis. Bylines at Catapult, Everyday Feminsim, Everything Sondheim, New Musical Theatre, SheSeek Online, and more.

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Maddie McClouskey

Maddie McClouskey

(they/them) Singing server at Marie’s Crisis. Bylines at Catapult, Everyday Feminsim, Everything Sondheim, New Musical Theatre, SheSeek Online, and more.

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