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In this blog post, the author reflects on their experiences as a non-binary person in a boys’ school and the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. They discuss the lack of equal representation and the ongoing issue of hate crimes. The author also talks about the importance of small acts of representation and the role of visibility in promoting inclusivity. The author highlights the impact of toxic masculinity and fear of association on queer people and calls for a society where everyone can feel equally treated and represented.
Preface: I was asked to write an article for a school magazine. This was my first attempt but I was told I was sending the wrong message. It was an unrealistic recount of the school’s approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion and too negative for parents and closeted LGBTQ+ children to read. I wanted to tell my story and call for support in an overwhelmingly homophobic and toxic environment and rather than support that, I was told I was being too angry. I agreed to re-write it but I was told the deadline was in the distant future and was not warned before I missed it. Now no LGBTQ+ story will be told, no closeted kids will see a message, no homophobia will be called out. I decided that I will publish the article here, the original, but for legal reasons, I will not include the name of my school. This is a school magazine article for its LGBTQ+ Society.
Hello, I’m Io Cutmore and none of you will ever know me. All things considered, I started my social transition very late into my time here, so most of you will know me as someone who I thought I was. A character I played. Being Non-Binary in a Boy’s school was always gonna be an interesting experience, to say the least, but I never knew that a mixture of my politics and my identity would allow me to lead an LGBTQ+ society and, ultimately, write this article.
I think that’s a fun concept to play with, considering how things could have turned out differently. Looking back at the unravelling spool of life left behind you and thinking “What if I’d made this one life decision? How would that have changed my life?” It raises the question, how much are we actually in control? We all tend to feel in control of our own lives, for example, I chose to have the coffee that is currently sitting next to me as I’m writing this and I felt in control of that decision; but it is undeniable that there are factors of our lives that we aren’t in control of. Genetic factors play a role in how our life turns out along with aspects of our childhood before we could even comprehend the difference between a plane and a helicopter beyond the abstract shapes we did not yet understand flying through the great blue expanse.
We can choose, but we also can’t. One thing people don’t choose is who they are and who they love. As you navigate life, people will try and tell you differently but I can assure you that if people could choose their identity and who they loved, they would not choose the identity that got them bullied, teased, subject to hate crime and (sometimes) kicked out of their home. This is the life of members of the LGBTQ+ community, stuck in identities that we did not choose.
The fights of old are over. Same-sex marriage is legal, being transgender is legal and laws warranting Queer discrimination are nearly completely eradicated in the UK and yet we still get used as talking points and political pawns in the end goal of society. We do not have equal representation with straight people, we don’t have the same freedoms to self-identify as cisgender people [it’s a long process to transition your gender identity in the UK which doesn’t even include non-binary people] and socially we are now more at risk of hate crime than has been seen in recent years [hate crimes against transgender people quadrupled between 2015-2020].
The question of how we deal with this inequality all comes down to small acts of representation. Those are the key to creating a society where all people can feel equally treated and represented, because right now not enough is being done to make people feel seen, let alone included.
I always knew that it was going to be a challenge setting up an LGBTQ+ society so late in the year, however, I decided it was important to have that space there for you, the students. Generating interest for it was so much more difficult than I ever anticipated, with the smallest uptake I have ever seen, however, I don’t think that this year was a total failure for the LGBTQ+ community at this school.
As a non-binary person, I know that the UK isn’t a safe or accepting place for me. Legally, I am not recognised at all under the Gender Recognition Act and socially my identity is always up for debate. I am never allowed to just exist as myself. Setting up LGBTQ+ society this year forced me to come out on a massive scale using the Google Classrooms of every year group to publicise it, which was terrifying. However, one of the teachers who helped me run the society pointed out that it was important to let people know that an area where all can be included was there. Visibility is the easiest form of activism and I realise now that running an LGBTQ+ society and writing this article will mean more of you are exposed to new terms and concepts that otherwise would completely skip your radar because of the enforced heteronormativity of 2021 Britain.
The problem lies in the fact that the ghost of Section 28 – the law that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools – has very much worked its way into the wood of the rafters that hold up the roof of any educational institution. For that reason, support and validation from teaching staff can still feel very forced with regard to Queer people however, I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that some amount of misunderstanding comes from the ever-changing and growing community of people who exist outside of society’s expectations, constantly re-defining what it means to be human. If the change happened too quickly, the metaphorical roof would surely cave in.
This year at LGBTQ+ society, we have pushed the message that we’re proud to be different and unafraid to be ourselves. There is a trend at this school of toxic masculinity which inspires ignorance through fear of association. In other words, students can feel reluctant to be around queer people because of what their friends will think. The fear of other opinions is the main cause of ignorance in students because being ignorant is safe. A student won’t have to defend themselves, their opinions or their actions if they’re not seen to have any that stray from the norm – even if that ends up at the expense of other students. We chose the message “Proud to be different” because we, as the LGBTQ+ Community, shouldn’t have to live in fear anymore.
I remember living in fear when I first came out in year 10 because, despite the mixed response, the negative aspects always stood out to me. Friends cut me out because they couldn’t associate with me, others would treat me with contempt, others would shout slurs at me in the corridors and a minority would throw food at me and my Queer friends. Those fears arose again when I came out for the second time at the start of this year and even though the response was better there were still negative repercussions. Coming out as non-binary makes people feel entitled to an opinion of who you are – as if your gender identity is up for debate or a talking point. This is the main issue I have faced because the media perpetuate the idea that LGBTQ+ identities are debatable issues when in reality we are who we are whether you agree or disagree with the “politics” surrounding us.
After going through all I have, the message I want to leave at this school is a message of empathy. Empathy with those who are going through a similar situation to the one I experienced. Unaccepting friends, intolerant peers and an identity that doesn’t match the “norm”. I hope, also, that you reading this article will go forth and be a better ally to the community, knowing full well that the experience of a Queer person in a same-sex school is unequivocally difficult.
The thing is, we are here to stay. Whether you look at Sappho, King James I of England, Nikola Tesla, Silvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson or David Bowie – LGBTQ+ people have been around for centuries. Regardless of any political discourse surrounding the rights that are extended to them in 2021, it’s reasonable to think that the political belief that some people don’t deserve rights despite the countless contributions of Queer people to the modern world is abhorrent. We are not equal yet, but we deserve to be in the same way you do. In the same way that everyone does.
LGBTQ+ society, in my eyes, marks the beginning of a more accepting school. We’re not tearing down the rafters or imposing a “woke” agenda, we’re just existing and I hope it can continue to exist for students in years to come.
I will go forth now, from this school and continue to work and fight for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the UK and you’ll be able to find my work online on my blog and maybe one day on the news or in the House of Commons. What you have to decide, as students, is whether you want to stand with us as we fight for the equality we so rightly deserve.
To find my socials go to iocutmore.com. On my website, you can also find LGBTQ+ support links as well as a list of brilliant (mostly LGBTQ+) creators to who you should go and show some support. I hope you farewell until next time,