16th October 2010
I can clearly remember the reactions of most of my friends when I came out. I've worded that carefully, notice.. Friends. All of my true friends were supportive, one guy, a bit of a rugby lad, put his arm around me and said "Well done mate".
Mind you, that was when I'd chosen to come out, of my own accord.
Truth be told, I'd actually been outed years before that. Let's take a look back at that.
I've known that I'm gay for a very long time indeed. I had a crush on a guy I knew while growing up in America, a kid called Evan. Let's see.. that would have been 1992-1994, so I'd have been ages 6-8.
Evan's folks had this massive "ranch-like" place a bit out in the sticks, or at least, that's how I remember it. He had this "secret" hiding place that only he knew about, and he took me there, and we did things, and I Liked It. (I'm being vague on details here, use your imagination if you absolutely must.)
In the very early years of exploring my sexuality, it was defined by points in time, with other boys my age, and "exploring" with them too. If I look back now, I can count about 6 guys who were similarly explorative, and this is still in the America Years. The strangest thing, perhaps because of our collective youth, was that nobody made a snide or derisive comment about any of this. It was just fun. It was never gay, queer, faggottry. Perhaps we didn't know the words, but I think that's not true. Perhaps innocence just wins out over all, and we don't know that it's "wrong" or "bad".
I think part of it is that we were mostly expat kids, at good schools, with good parents, and that kind of bullying and behavior isn't really part of the close community that had been built up. I don't remember any instance of persistent bullying at the Montessori School I went to. I suspect that might be because everyone lived in fear of the Headmistress, a seriously scary woman, who is still Headmistress there to this day.
But I digress.
In 1994/5, dad's overseas job ended, and we moved back to a smallish town in Worcestershire, called Malvern. I started school at the "West Malvern Primary", mid-way through the term, I think, and was widely accepted with wonder and confusion. A softly spoken, somewhat gangly kid with an american accent and foppish ways. I know this for a fact. I did not fit in.
I knew nothing of football, or well, anything that defines the british boyish primary school group of friends.
As a result, I did a better job of making friends with the girls, well, some of them. One friend I made then was Robyn, who has been my friend ever since, and was really supportive when I came out in 6th Form.
To the typical british schoolboy, apparently making friends with girls automatically makes you gay. I have to admit now, I've never followed the logic behind this one. I was a massive teacher's pet, and not particularly bothered about it. I enjoyed learning, and would have happily spent my lunchtimes pestering with the aging BBC Micros or reading away in the library. In fact, as time wore on, this is exactly what I did.
Around about 1996, I made a friend, a very boyish boy, he was on the school football team. Somehow (and I really wish I could remember exactly how this came about), we ended up "exploring together" too. First at his house, watching Neighbours while we did it, then at my house ,there was some element of computer gameplay rewarded with a wank, and this carried on for some time.
I once asked him, "What happens if I win the game?", and his reply has stayed with me for all these years, "I'll fucking suck your cock", he said.
Actually, there was another guy with whom I had some brief encounters, or perhaps another two, but they were fleeting, and largely unremarkable. (I never did win that game.)
The problem came a little later on, when we all started at a Secondary school (High School, for my american audience). Pretty much everyone who had been at the primary school went to one of two secondary schools. The bible-bashing Dyson Perrins, or slightly less mad, and much better The Chase. For obvious reasons, I went to The Chase.
This is where the trouble really started. Going from a small school in a good bit of town, to a much bigger school, with a massive variety of kids from different backgrounds and upbringings. This was terrifying. I still lacked the social skills to make new friends, and for a long time, was still riding on the old friends I had at primary school. The problem was, our timetables were largely different, and we didn't often see each other aside for a short period at lunchtimes.
Having a hard time making friends was made worse when some of the boys from my primary school had said something to the older kids, or the other kids in my year, about the experiences we'd had the year before. Apparently now it was wrong, and very bad, and I was queer, and gay, and I had big ears, and i was weird and not quite right.
Incidentally, whenever I got bullied, and told my parents, I always mentioned it based on the big ears fact. I still wonder whether anything would have been handled differently if it had been known homophobia at that stage. I suspect not, not least from the school's point of view. I just wasn't quite ready to admit it to my parents. Dunno what i'd have said under further questioning. It seemed better to base it on the tangible fact that, yes, I do have big ears.
I suspect my parents already knew that there was more to this story, but there it is, that's the truth.
To me, the scariest part of this story was that the bullying didn't stop for FIVE years. There was always somebody willing to make a jab at my alleged sexuality, or with some cover story, and make comments about the size of my ears, or the way I walk, or that I'm a geek, or a nerd, or any other derisive and derogatory remark they could invent.
Not all schools are created equal, I understand this now, but to the 14-year old me, this wasn't obvious.
The general pattern was this: Get bullied, tell someone, the bully gets a light ticking off, you get bullied for a) the original reason, and b) being a grass.
Now, the thing that annoys me most about all of this, retrospectively (although, it annoyed me then, too), was The Chase had a lot of "threats" against bullies. "We'll do this, and we'll make an example of you in assembly, or we'll name and shame you to the local newspaper". None of this was ever done, not in any of my time there, and I suspect little has changed. A look at the school's website today, they seem to have a clearer code on equal opportunities, and the bullying code hasn't changed. I do wonder if the prevalence of homophobic abuse at the school has changed.
I'm not afraid or ashamed to admit that on a number of times, I considered suicide, but ultimately, the reason I'm still here today, is because I didn't want to devastate my family. I don't want to go into detail on that for a number of reasons.
Let's jump forwards 2 years, to 6th form (or college), and I'm largely more comfortable with my friends group. The people around me are those who I want to be around me, and the folk who bullied me are now elsewhere, working in dead-end jobs where they will be for the rest of their lives.
I joined a youth group in 2000, Malvern Young Firefighters, and met a great group of people, from outside school, some I knew from primary school, others were unknowns, but the group, and leadership allowed me to develop a new sense of self-confidence that had formerly been destroyed by years of bullying.
There was rarely any bullying in this group, I think, for two reasons. 1) The group leaders ruled strictly, and 2) the peer group was much more tightly knit.
Everything changes again at University.
I went to Birmingham, and I spent the better part of 4 years there. It's funny, you go from having hidden your sexuality all through school and highschool, to an environment where not only are there a few people who look like you, and think like you, and fuck like you, but there's hundreds of them. Birmingham has one of the finest, and friendliest LGBTQ societies that I've ever found.
These people made me feel welcome, they protected and educated me about what it's actually like being gay.
It's all different, and it gets better. It really does.
You too will find people like you at university, and in bigger cities, and in liberal arts colleges. You will find your first "real" boyfriend, and you'll go through everything that your peers at school went through at age 12 with a girl behind the bike-sheds.
I'd never have met all the wonderful people I've met in the last 10 years, if I'd let the bullies win. I'd never have met my wonderful boyfriend if I'd died when I was 14.
First loves, first lovers, first boyfriends are all things that will happen, and can happen, but you have to give them the chance.
Here's the important point, they're all right, Joel Burns, Tyler Oakley, the numerous others on the Trevor Project and youTube. It does get better. It got better for me, and I promise you, it'll get better for you.
Sometimes you have to make a pro-active stand, and get yourselves out of the situation, other things just change over time, like people's attitudes to homosexuality. It's a continuum, and it's changing all the time. You just have to give it time to change. The vast population aren't perfect like us, they can't see the world the way we do, but the reason people are homophobic is because they're also ignorant, and they're afraid.
If you've been reading this, and thought at any point, "Hey, that's me!" or, "That's what they do to me", and you're being bullied, for whatever reason. Please don't suffer in silence, there's no need. Times are changing, and we live in a progressive world. There is somebody out there willing to listen. There are people who've been through the same things. There is support for gay teens, hell, there's support there for anyone.
Please give yourselves a chance for things to get better.
It gets better. It really does.
If you're in the USA:
If you're in the UK:
London Gay & Lesbian Switchboard:
List of local LGBT support groups / helplines:
Tom can light a fire by rubbing two ice-cubes together.