Refuge through Geography Club

Geography Club, Zooey Magazine Huffington Pictures has released its latest film titled "Geography Club," based off of the critically acclaimed novel of the same name. The film helps to define and present homosexuality as a normal part of every day life. While Zooey Magazine has never expressed a stand on LGBT rights on the website, we would like to now - we're proud of the LGBT community, and will forever uphold its deserved rights.

We were able to gather much of the movie's cast in Los Angeles (as well as Michael Huffington of Huffington Pictures - pictured above), and sat down to hear each of their individual stories on being bullied or witnessing bullies. Their inspiring stories only help us to further our belief that...things do get better. If anyone says otherwise, pay no attention to them. No one is immune to bullying, but everyone is capable of finding refuge. Speak up, out loud, and never let someone tear you down for something they do not understand.

Will you be brave today?

Geography Club, Alex Newell

For me, bullying came and went, because in high school I had already known what I wanted in life and known that I would never let anything get to me. I remember I was running for class president and someone wrote 'gay' on one of my posters, and I was more upset that they messed up my poster than what they wrote. I guess I had to learn fast to not let what people do effect you, because in a few short years no one will care what was said or done because we grow and learn. 

Geography Club, Ally Maki

The first time I can really remember the feeling of exclusion was riding the bus in first grade from my neighborhood suburbia block into the more posh area where the school was. It seemed as if every time the bus stopped to pick up another kid, the houses seemed to get bigger and more expensive. I lived in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood and was usually one of only a few Asian kids and definitely the only Japanese American girl in the area. The song that was hot at the moment was the sing-songy rendition of “Ching Chong trying to make a dollar out of 55 cents,” accompanied by all the kids slanting their eyes and bowing to each other. When I was in high school, I remember a guy shoving an Asian kid to the ground, slanting his eyes and telling him he was a “stupid chink.” Everyone around them either laughed or quietly slid away. I was one of those shy onlookers, who would go along with the crowd at the risk of not attracting attention and being the bully’s next victim, just hiding in the crowd as one of “them” but always knowing inside that something about it felt horribly wrong. I knew that if I just blended in and let them get away with whatever it was I could survive high school. This tactic of being somewhat of a chameleon usually prevented me from being a target, but I fantasized about a day where I had the courage and strength to speak up for myself and others. That’s often the thing about bullying; becoming a victim to bullying means that you were taking a stand for something, speaking an opinion, making the opposition. I admire those who were willing to do what I never did and face what is wrong.

Geography Club, Andrew Caldwell

I started to gain weight at seven-years-old. As any young person who struggles with weight can tell you, bullies will use this as ammunition to make life very difficult for you. I never let the way I looked define who I was, so once the bullies learned that my weight problem would not be enough to hurt me they found other ways to do so.

There are two stories in my life that stick out to me when I think of "bullying." One happened when I was in the 5th grade, our class had just taken our second bathroom break of the day... cause you know 5th graders have to pee a lot... I didn't have many friends in my class so I was always the first one back to the classroom while the other kids lingered and shook for too long. When the other boys came back into the classroom they all stood in the corner and watched me while I sat in my seat. After a few seconds of chatter, one of the students (we will call him "Chris") walked over to my desk and very calmly told me that he and the other boys from my class decided that as of today none of them would ever be my friend. Chris told me that I wasn't allowed to sit at the lunch table with any of them and that if I tried to play with them at recess they would all beat me up.

Four years later in high school bullying wasn't really an issue for me. I played sports, I was funny and for the most part I was liked by my peers. Until...I made the decision to move out to California to pursue my dream of becoming an actor. Like most newcomers I came out for a few months to try my hand at it and to my surprise things went really well. My mother and I decided we would make a permanent move to California. We came back to Michigan, where I grew up, to pack up the rest of our house. I told my friends that I went to California and had booked a few acting jobs and was planning on moving. This did not go over well.

At this time AOL instant messenger was the end all be all of teenage existence, kids starting attacking me via AIM claiming that I was lying because I was too fat and too ugly to be an actor, and that I probably wasn't even moving to California. Within a matter of hours, all of my long time friends had turned on me in order to fit in with what everyone else was saying about me, that way they didn't become the victim of the attacks. At one point I checked the AIM profiles (remember those things? People would post quotes from their favorite emo-song or some kind of not so subliminal message directed at the boy or girl they have a crush on...) Anyway, at one point I checked the profiles of everyone on my buddy life and all of them had posted in large bold letters "If you think Andrew Caldwell is a fat lying loser post this in your profile." And when I say everyone had it posted I mean everyone! Not to mention the constant insults and attacks that were being sent to me nonstop.

That day I deleted my AIM profile. A week or so later I moved to California, and I was lucky enough to have success pretty early on. The first time I was on TV my phone was ringing off the hook... I say hook but I don't think phones come on hooks anymore so... My phone was vibrating in my pocket... Every kid I knew growing up wanted to talk to me about the famous people I knew, the movies I was doing, the TV shows I was going to be on, and of course they all wanted to come to California to visit me. All of a sudden I was everyone's hero. There is one girl in particular, who instigated the bullying against me, who even asked if I could help her find an agent so that she could be an actress too.

I never gave any attention to my bullies after I deleted my profile the first time. I moved on with my life and lived it for myself. I found happiness in following my dream and in the process made real friends who mean the world to me. I hold no resentment for the kids who bullied my when I was younger, if anything they motivated me to work harder. 99% of those kids are still living at home and doing little to nothing with their lives. So that alone is proof that Karma does exist.

Everyone deals with bullies at some point in their lives. But it is how we deal with them that makes the difference.

Geography Club, Dexter Darden

I was born with the blood disease Sickle Cell Anemia. When I was younger, it caused me to miss a lot of school due to the level of pain I was in. There was a couple of kids who used to bully me about missing school, not being able to participate in some activities, and that never made me feel accepted. Thankfully, I had a solid support system in friends and family who were there for me through all of this. With the help of my loved ones, I then grew to learn that I wasn't different, but I was just a normal kid with Sickle Cell.

Geography Club, Meaghan Martin

I was fortunate enough to avoid direct bullying in my school years. However, I have experienced "cyber" bullying. Unfortunately, social media makes it easier to anonymously say mean things to people you know and people you've never met. When I had a Twitter account people would use it to say terrible things. I can't tell you the number of times I received tweets that said things like "Meaghan Martin is the worst actress of all time" or "I can't stare at Meaghan's ugly face for one more second". The list goes on and on! I learned to just ignore these messages. I am confident with who I am and what I do. I think the best way to deal with bullying is to put yourself in the bully's shoes. What is happening in their life to make them say mean things? Maybe they're not happy with their home life. Don't try to solve this problem yourself, and definitely don't fight fire with fire. Talk to a trusted adult and have them advise you on the best way to deal with your situation. 

Geography Club, Justin Deeley

My freshman year of high school there was a kid who was a teased on a daily basis. And in my P.E. class he really had it rough. Mainly because he was physically not very mature, and he had this beautiful imagination, and wasn’t afraid to share his thoughts to even those who teased him the most. Of course that only made things worse him. Sadly I sat by and did nothing afraid for my own reputation. Two years later, he was on my Junior Retreat, and talked about what it was like to go through what I had simply watched him go through. I realized then that he was one of the toughest kids I’d ever met. I admire and envy people, like this guy, who are able to be who they are no matter the circumstances. These are the people who strongly believe in themselves, so much that they refuse to be defined by those around them. If only that was the majority of our high schools. 

Geography Club, Zooey Magazine

Most of the bullying scenarios I can remember from high school directly relate to the subject matter addressed in Geography Club; moreover, sexual orientation and self discovery. I grew up in a mostly conservative place in Texas. Very few students in my high school were openly gay, and I can't remember even if we had a GSA group/club. I can only recall the incidents in a general manner because I have the worst memory ever. I remember the term "gay" being very negative and friends using it as slang in derogatory ways. I feel like the idea of someone actually being gay was very foreign to most people I grew up with. It is movies like "Geography Club" that need to be shown in high schools. It will allow those that are uninformed or misled to get a better understanding of the importance of finding yourself.

Geography Club, Allie Gonino

I suppose I've never really been personally "bullied" per se. The most hurtful memories from being in school had to do with my closest friends at that time. When I was young, I took my electives off-campus, and my mom would drive me a really long distance for me to take fiddle lessons. I can remember one occasion sitting at lunch with my then best girlfriend and a boy who had formally been my boyfriend and was my best guy friend. I mentioned that I would be leaving school early to go to my fiddle lesson and they both asked me why I was doing that. I told them it was because I love performing, and wanted to be a successful musician someday. They said things like, "You really think you're going to be famous someday? You realize that's never gonna happen." To have two people who I considered best friends saying these kinds of things really hurt me at the time. However, I've always been a wise soul, and even then I knew what they were saying had more to do with how they felt about themselves. If anything, it motivated me more to stay true to my dreams and keep pursuing my own happiness. Who were they to stand in my way, or make me feel small? Plus, if I was going to be performing on a big stage someday, I had better get used to skeptics and criticism. You can't learn how to not hurt, but you can learn how to turn the pain into something meaningful. Since then, I've become more aware of those who genuinely love me for who I am, who are happy for my success, and those who only pretend to be. Even more recently I've become aware of this in myself.

Sometimes I can be my own biggest bully. I have to be more conscious about my thoughts and focusing them in a positive, compassionate direction. It is extremely easy to become over analytical, critical, and judgmental of ourselves, especially now that social media plays such a huge role in daily life. But I truly believe if we can learn how to not be bullies to ourselves, to really respect ourselves, it becomes effortless to give that respect and forgiveness to others.

Geography Club, Zooey Magazine

Fortunately I do not recall ever really being bullied. However, I do remember being taught through experience that as a peer, you have a great amount of power when it comes to helping end any type of harassment. Often, if I was vocal in my disapproval of what was happening, or I befriended the person being bullied, the bullying would end completely. Peer pressure works both ways. It is easier to say this in hindsight, but looking back I am reminded of the times when my inaction contributed to the bullying, and those memories are amongst the few things I feel cowardly or regretful about.

Geography Club, Zooey Magazine - Brave

Go behind the scenes of our shoot with the fun footage below!

Photographed by Isaac Sterling Illustrations by Katy Unger Styled by Jill McFadden Makeup by Myke Spezzano and Courtney Hart Hair by Crystal Liz and Brittany Sullivan Styling Assistants: Rachel Campbell and Adryanna Perez

Special thanks to Goodie Girl Cupcakes, Popchips, and Vita Coco