Part of me is horrified to learn about what Sacramento’s Matthew Boger, a former celebrity hairstylist, went through as a teen — getting kicked of his Bay Area home after coming out (when he told his mother he was bullied at school for being gay), then suffering gay bashings at the hand of neo-Nazis while homeless and living on the street in Los Angeles. And then part of me is amazed to learn how he is now working with one of the very skinheads who pummeled his ass … to teach tolerance.
Now a role model for LGBT youth, Boger leads a program called “From Hate to Hope,” which travels around the nation to erach high school audiences, with a one Tim Zaal. They met while volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance. And just happened, over polite conversation, to realize one of them had tormented the other in a past life. The Sacramento Bee relays:
When he was 14, living on the streets of Los Angeles, a gang of quasi-Nazi punks – safety pins in their cheeks, razors on their boots – chased, beat and kicked Boger until they thought he was dead. All Boger remembers from the moment he came to was blood. He went to neither the hospital nor the police. He was afraid of juvenile hall. “I survived,” he said.
[…] After his beating, Boger went back to living in a park, sleeping on cardboard. He felt he had nowhere to go, but he refused to consider suicide. “I felt that suicide would allow them to win,” he said. With help, he got off the streets and – though he never got more than a seventh-grade education – he became a successful hair colorist for celebrities in Beverly Hills. He never reconciled with his mother.
Eventually, he came to think that though he was doing well, he wasn’t doing good. He decided to volunteer at the Museum of Tolerance not far from his salon in Beverly Hills. “It had nothing to do with my story,” he said, referring to the beating. “All I wanted to do at the museum was volunteer.” But he liked it enough to work his way up to a management position, leaving most of his coloring work behind. One day, he sat down to lunch with a museum colleague, Tim Zaal, to talk about a presentation to students from a school where white supremacists were organizing.
Zaal had spent decades – after his older brother had been killed by an African American man – in a variety of hate groups, and spent a year in jail for one attack. Zaal began to change that around the time his 2-year-old son caused tumult in a store by calling someone the N-word. “One of the reasons I do what I do (at the museum) is to try to make sure other people don’t make the mistakes I did,” Zaal said, in a telephone interview. He and Boger started with small talk. One day, Boger mentioned that, as a teen, he used to hang out with friends at a fast-food place called Oki Dog. Zaal said that he too hung out there, back when he was a punk with safety pins in his cheeks. The two men put the pieces together. Zaal knew Boger was the kid he thought he had killed. “He knew, like, minutes before I did,” Boger said.
The realization created “that weird, silent tension,” Zaal said. Boger broke off the discussion. “I actually never wanted to be friends with him,” Boger said.
Their story has been told in the media before, but it’s new to me, and especially prescient with the current attention given bully-victim relationship.