Twentysomething blogger and writer Hadley opens up about the use of the word ‘gay’ in the school playground and how he feels we all have a responsibility to challenge homophobic bullying…
Ask any gay or bisexual man about their school experience and I think there will be varying answers. Not everyone was bullied. Not everyone was singled out as being different. Not everyone struggled to accept who they were, because of what everyone else thought they should be. Yet, I wasn’t one of those lucky people.
Although I would describe my school days as pretty easy going, I wouldn’t say that it was all that plain sailing. Before I even knew what the word ‘gay’ meant, I heard people using it to describe me. At first it was older kids and then it was people the same age as me. They didn’t seem to do it to the other kids, only me. And every time they used that word, I just knew it meant something bad. I was seven years old. I worshiped the Sound of Music, had more friends who were girls than boys and hated football.
Fast forward a few years, I knew exactly what ‘gay’ meant and it filled me with dread. The word that had been used back when I was seven years old and, in fact, the word that people were still using to put me down at school, was the word that was starting to describe a part of who I am.
Nobody ever talked about gay men in a positive light. I can’t remember hearing a really inspiring story involving an LGBT person. The people around me would describe gay men as being ‘dirty’, ‘weird’, ‘week’, ‘infected’ – the list goes on. Sure there was the occasional gay storyline on a TV soap, but that didn’t seem that relatable to my life. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to look up to who was a gay man. So, you can see why I was feeling a bit anxious about realising that I was starting to have feelings towards other boys.
The name calling continued for some more years. By that time I was one hundred percent sure. I used to practice saying the words out loud in front of the mirror “I am gay”. Sometimes the last word wouldn’t come out. It would get stuck at the back of my throat – caught between the scars from the words people would associate with gay men. Until finally, one day (it was a Wednesday), I said those words and I came out.
Of course, I then said those words a few thousand more times.
And for some reason the name calling stopped. People stopped laughing at me. Granted, a very small minority still continued. It was as though I’d finally managed to take back some control of a word that I use to describe myself.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. And I was still me and I still had my friends.
This isn’t everybody’s story. In fact, I consider myself rather fortunate. I have heard some very shocking stories. It sickens me to think that people can be so cruel to another human being. And it scares me to think that the other people around them would let that happen.
Sometimes people talk about how bullying has shaped the person they are today. They talk about how this made them a braver person and more resilient. I don’t know if bullying changed me. To be honest, I’m not about to thank the people who bullied me, because they caused me a great deal of pain. I would have preferred to have grown up without their pejorative words about gay men.
It’s ironic that the only people who seemed to have a problem with me being gay was other people. Yet, I am the one who’s gay. This was a part of who I am. I didn’t have a problem with being gay, just like I don’t have a problem with having brown hair or being a Capricorn. These are all parts of who I am – so why did my sexual orientation bother people over the many other parts of me? I accepted my hair colour, but it took me a little while longer to accept that I was gay. And I can only put that down to the actions of other people.
We all, as a society, have a collective responsibility to young LGBT people. We should be challenging homophobic language in schools. We should be highlighting and praising the work of the many inspirational LGBT people, who are role models to future generations. We should be celebrating ‘being different’.