Being non-binary in a school that calls itself a “boys” school is going to have its issues, how has it affected me?
I remember the childish behaviour in Primary school; students telling me that going to a single-sex school was “gay” or would “turn me gay” because obviously, all a child knows is that straight people are only straight because they’re around girls every day. I tried not to let it affect me, considering it’s all I was told from the age of 8 by students my age and older. Back then, being gay was a bad thing because that’s all we knew.
Infuriatingly, they were kinda right. I’ve turned out more LGBTQ+ than I could ever have imagined in primary school. I’m sure year 6 Io would have been horrified at the prospect that they would have turned out “one of the gays” and I’m sure they would diagnose that as a direct response to going to a single-sex school. Of course, this notion is preposterous, one cannot turn Queer, and it is definitely not the fault of my school that I’ve turned out the way I have, but it has affected my perception of myself and the haste at which I’ve managed to discover who I am.
I see bigotry spread in three forms. Ignorance, Unintelligence and Inheritance. The latter is the most common amongst children since we are surrounded by all sorts of information and people, that to be bigoted due to lack of education is virtually impossible compared to the concentrated groups we end up associating with later. The responsibility of schools is to give people a wider world view because we know it increases empathetic ability. Obviously, on LGBTQ+ issues schooling falls very short – but being around all kinds of people online and in real life ought to bring a small amount of tolerance into someone’s life. The main form of bigotry in children comes from inheritance whether from parents, friends or religion. Bigotry can be learnt.
On the set of Ru Pauls Drag Race, Devina de Campo spoke about the effects of Section 28 on her time at school. It was British law prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, and was in effect from 1988 to 2000 (in Scotland) and 2003 (in England and Wales). It caused many organisations such as lesbian, gay and bisexual student support groups to close or limit their activities or self-censor, even impacting the way teaching staff dealt with bullying. De Campo described that teachers felt that they couldn’t intervene in homophobic bullying because the clause “promotion of homosexuality” was so ambiguous. This led a generation of kids to grow up thinking that making fun of LGBTQ+ people is okay, entitled to say what they want and if anyone takes offence to their “jokes”, they’re snowflakes or something. This is the lasting impact of inherited bigotry, individuals upset because no one’s ever questioned their “right” to make fun of minorities before, and just like inheritance passing this on to the next generation.
Section 28 was still legal when I was born, for a short while, meaning I am very much living in a world still experiencing lasting damage from Conservative “neo-liberalism”. The education system has got better, I can now run a small LGBTQ+ society in my school and talk openly about my identity and ask the teaching staff to respect my pronouns, but the children are still extremely stuck in the 80s. It’s always worrying that I hear middle age religious people more easily adapting to my pronouns quicker than my own friends and peers.
I came out for the first time in the summer after my 4th year at high school. Year 10 was a really tough year for me. I was so insecure in myself, always doubting everything because I was so unsure of who I was. Pansexuality was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to wrap my head around. I first came out to a room of my friends in a Youth Hostel in Belgium. Ypres, a place of loss and hurt after the tragedy of the Great War and, for me, where I lost one of my closest friends – because his personal views couldn’t match my identity. I came out as bisexual because allowed me to live as myself without having to really think about who I actually was because it meant I could date whoever I wanted without it changing who I was and I was very open about that with them, but he still couldn’t let me live as myself. He cut me out.
That was where the paranoia started. Always looked over my shoulder, whipping my head around whenever I heard someone laugh because I thought they were laughing at me. Sometimes they were, sometimes I couldn’t tell. I got so unsure of anything in regards to my sexuality that I forced myself into a relationship that I wasn’t ready for so I could somehow validate something I didn’t even know was real. He was a kid in my year and we pretended to love each other for two months, but in reality, we could barely touch each other in public – not even hold hands, because we were too scared of who we were. Insecure and unsure and in permanent fear of being attacked for just publicly showing who we were. An accepting country does not make its children feel that scared of who they are.
I’ve learned to live with the fear now. I know that I’ll feel terrified whenever I leave the house because someone could see me and decide that I am subhuman, even before I realised that I’m transgender. Whilst I was in my first relationship, I came out as bisexual to my parents and I started the worst summer of my life. It’s fair to say that my grandmother on my mum’s side is “old fashioned” if you catch my drift and I was so used to people’s bigotry being inherited after my friend cut me out that I projected that onto my mum, thinking she was rejecting me too, even though she was just adjusting. In trying to diagnose my mum’s bigotry, I showed my own. I had been taught by everyone around me that religion was the almighty homophobe and that learnt fear was perpetuated through the way I treated my mum that summer. I shut her out. I shut everyone out. I felt that no one in my home life could possibly understand what I was going through. But they did. They might not have been able to know exactly, but my parents have mental health too. They’ve had low times too. I was too short-sighted to see that.
Forgetting your parents are people is the worst thing a person can do when they need their support.
When I decided I’d had enough of faking our relationship, I ended it with my boyfriend and I faced school on my own. I was surrounded by a group of supportive friends, but it was so hard to demonstrate the paranoia I was living with being at school. I was constantly being teased and pushed and made fun of to my face. The bullies thought they were smart by never outright bullying me. They would patronise me, pretend to be kind to my face so they could get something out of me to laugh at. It meant I could never go to anyone about what I was experiencing, because any time I tried to talk to a teacher about it, the bully would just say they were being genuinely kind and that it was my problem if I took offence to what they were saying. It was always my fault.
TW/: Sexual Harassment (skip the paragraph)
That was when online sexual harassment started. There was one person in my year who was out at the time and he would mask his predatory urges through games like truth or dare, trying to convince me to take pictures of myself and send them to him. He even tried to get me to video call him and do stuff to myself. One time, I answered one of his video calls by accident and he was just sitting there naked. I ended that call as quickly as I could, but not before the words “you will fuck me” left his lips. I felt disgusting. Like I had violated myself by simply picking up the phone and I couldn’t do anything because it was my choice not to block him, my choice to keep talking to him. I thought he liked me. After that video call, he asked “are you even bisexual, you don’t seem interested in men at all?” and blocked me.
After that, I couldn’t stop questioning myself. He had successfully got into my head to the point that I felt that I was lying about who I was just because I wasn’t attracted to him. I still can’t get him out of my head. He’ll constantly be sat there, teasing me. The identity crisis he caused lasted for months, until the latter part of 2019.
I understand that this has come off-topic. This has nothing to do with being trans in a same-sex school, but I think that the reader cannot fully comprehend how hard it still is to be LGBTQ+ in modern schools until I set up the groundwork. This is my story, condensed into one blog post because I am tired of pretending that it’s been easy to live. It’s been easier than if I’d come out 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 30, but my experience as an LGBTQ+ person hasn’t been a walk in the park. It hasn’t been for anyone. I was so uncertain and paranoid about who I was that I let myself be harassed online because I felt like it would validate me in myself. That’s what the bullying did to me and I have to live with that.
I lose recollection after that point. After it happened I wrote in my diary for a few more months and then lost all motivation to do it. From March to December of 2019 I spiralled, as anyone would after such an experience and I won’t lie it nearly killed me. I started smoking in the summer because it was a light relief from what was going on in my head. Love got me through it. I met my girlfriend at the end of that year and we’ve dated ever since. 2020, although a living hell, was a welcome break for me. Years prior, I was hounded by a constant onslaught of work and doubt and identity crisis. In 2020 all I had to think about was my work and my relationship. I quit smoking and I was finally ready to hear myself think again.
Then the universe blessed me with a gender identity crisis. I’m convinced that if I had been in school, my trans identity would have been a lot harder to come to terms with, but being at home meant the person I was spending the most time with was my girlfriend on facetime. I was so ignorant to myself I didn’t even realise that half of my body issues came as a result of dysphoria, not low self-esteem. The question came with how my school would react. How am I going to live authentically as a non-binary person in a single-sex school?
The whole telos of this article was to demonstrate why I was so anxious to come out for a second time. Attending a school whose students I already knew weren’t kind to LGBTQ+ people, where food was thrown at me for being out, where the student who sexually harassed me used to attend, where I have a history of feeling unsupported.
Funnily enough, when it came to it, I wasn’t that anxious. I told my parents the day before my birthday and on my 18th I just went ahead and changed all my bios to add my pronouns and told the remaining friends who were yet to find out and that was that. I was just lowkey about it and to be fair the response has been a lot kinder than the first time. I am more sure of myself now than I ever have been because for once, I have the means with which I can defend myself. I know the facts, I know the science and although hate crimes are still on the rise, I am less paranoid than I was the first time. Or that’s what I thought. The thing is, this time I’ve been more low-key. I haven’t gone around telling people, coming out on public platforms (other than my Twitter because no one my age has Twitter) or dating anyone to prove it to myself. I realised that the reason the response was better at school was that I approached my coming in fear of a negative reaction, not because it was necessarily valid, but because I was insecure about who I am.
Unbeknownst to anyone, I started this blog anonymously at first, a closeted non-binary person attempting to make sense of their own identity and publishing diary entries because I was scared. I walk around school checking my back because I am scared. I don’t correct people when they misgender me, because I am scared. I’m scared because I know that not everyone knows gender theory to the same level as me and will have less educated views of what gender is. I’m scared because I know that I am part of a group of people who are considered jokes and targets by the media. I’m scared because politically I am considered less worthy of being myself than people who exist within the binary genders. I’m scared because I know people in my school have inherited bigotry. I’m most scared because my problems aren’t seen as the problem of a group but the problem of an individual. To most, I am an isolated incident, a blip on the chart, an incongruent piece of data. Is it too much to want to exist as me?
Being trans in a single-sex school on its own is okay. Manageable, especially knowing that the school seem to be trying to support me in any way that they can. It’s the people that make it hell on Earth. I don’t mind going to a same-sex school and occasionally being included in the collective of “boys” or “gents” because they are the majority, even though I’d argue that we shouldn’t address people as a collective gender because of the experience is so vast a diverse. I don’t mind having to wear suits and ties and look traditionally masculine for the remainder of my time there even though the dress code should be a bit more inclusive to keep people who don’t want to present masc comfortable and happy. However, I do mind having to go to a school with a group of people who have systematically judged me for being who I am and others who have overlooked my problems as if they aren’t there. I do mind being referred to as “him” by people that are supposed to be some of my closest friends. I wish it could change overnight. I’m sure that by the end of the year, no one will slip up with my pronouns anymore and no-one will misgender me and no one will make me feel scared to exist. Right now, though, I can’t even begin to say I’ve reached that point.
I know that the people who I want to read this won’t and people who I’d prefer didn’t will but I want to tell my story. I need people to know that they’re not alone. School sucks for everyone and I wish that I could take that away, but I can’t. Just know, if you feel alone and scared and unheard that you’re not. So many people have gone through it too, and we turned out okay.