I did survive, I did get older, and I did fill that gap, thanks to the queer and punk scenes. I don't think I am able to consider myself popular, but I suspect that I am, at this point. But of course that kind of misery left scars (a few literal).
Being part of a crew makes me a happy man. A contented man. Nothing makes me feel safer and more centered then being able to reach out and put my hand on a friend's shoulder, slap someone's back, touch elbows. Pull someone into a hug for no reason at all. Ruffle hair, bump knuckles, all those little physical ticks that help define us as a group. I love having a shared anthem, a song that gets us all up shouting with our fists in the air.
That gang dynamic helps shut down that little voice that is still, decades later, whispering the back of my head that it's all a joke. That my friends are lying to me and will turn on me someday and point and ask how I could ever think it was anything but a prank. The damage remains, but it doesn't run me. I have my people.