“Why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?” That question has stayed with me since it was first asked by my chemistry teacher in front of a packed class when I was just 13 years old. The year was 1989, Thatcher was in power and had passed Section 28 the year before and it was the year that Stonewall was founded by Peter Ashman, Deborah Ballard, Michael Cashman, Duncan Campbell, Olivette Cole-Wilson, Fiona Cunningham Reid, Simon Fanshawe, Dorian Jabri, Ian McKellen, Matthew Parris, Lisa Power, Dr Peter Rivas, Pam St Clement and Jennie Wilson.
I often look back on that moment, in that class in front of my classmates, and wonder why it has stayed with me more than everything else about that dreadful time at that dreadful school. Over the years I’ve battled with my mental health, most of it due to trauma of living through the homophobic abuse I got day in day out when I was just a young boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and who was mercilessly picked on by his peers because he wasn’t boisterous or violent, because he preferred the company of girls, because he wasn’t into football, because he did crazy things to his hair, and because he liked Doctor Who.
It’s used to be curious to me that the constant abuse, and being told by my peers that I was a “disgusting queer that would die of ‘Gay AIDS’ like every other dirty faggot”, them wiping shit in my school books, the physical attacks, the deep sense of isolation, the humiliation of them pushing their cocks in my face in the changing room, does not sting or hasn’t stayed with me in quite the same way as those seven little words: “Why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?”
When my chemistry teacher asked that question, and the entire class all laughed, it hit hard because it was coming from a different place, and I perceived that it had a truth that only a position of genuine power and authority could give it.
As I seem to move through life from one period of depression and anxiety to another, only punctuated by short periods of feeling relatively okay, I consider my reluctance to get too involved in the messy business of long-term relationships – preferring as I do the predictable and easy to manage state of just being me with a couple of good reliable friends in my life – to be a direct result of this time in my life.
I’ve never been able to manage large groups of people for long periods of time without being inebriated. During my 20s I spent a lot of time in various altered states of consciousness doing things that I look back upon and realise were just continuations of the abuse I suffered at school.
If I was a dirty worthless faggot, then by God I was going to fucking own it.
But as I look back, I realise that it was that question that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and that did the most damage. The fear and anxiety around being humiliated in front of a large number of people that I can trace directly to that question that has stayed with me the most.
Up until that point my 13-year-old brain was able to rationalise, as best it could, that my classmates were just common bullies, and that what they were saying and what they were doing was borne out of a childish need to hurt people. It was a distraction from their own insecurities, an acting out of what they had seen elsewhere, or just something that they did because it made them feel a little more in control of their own lives. When my chemistry teacher asked that question, and the entire class all laughed, it hit hard because it was coming from a different place, and I perceived that it had a truth that only a position of genuine power and authority could give it.
It triggered in me a period of intense dysphoria where I struggled with what I thought was the truth. A truth that spoke directly to my insecurities. The truth that I was damaged and broken, and that there was this terrible mistake and I had been born in the wrong body. The terror of that perceived truth stayed with me until I fully came to terms with my sexual orientation.
But the truth for me after that teacher’s question was for a time, what if I really was a girl? Was that why I was getting crushes on boys? Is that what my peers knew but that I up until that point was not aware of? The actual reality was that the question was spiteful, red hot and dripping with homophobia, but to 13-year-old me it was confirmation of my worst fears, why was I wearing a boy’s uniform?
The bullying intensified still further and two years later I had a nervous breakdown and had to take six months off school. Needless to say I failed all but two of my GCSEs.
Stonewall helped me to understand that being gay was something to be celebrated. I took strength in that and it’s a message that helped me get through the difficult business of getting into adulthood.
I share this story to give context to why I am so deeply angry with the way Stonewall has betrayed its founding principles as it chases money and a reason to continue to exist. When Stonewall was formed the message that we as gay men are not broken, and there was nothing wrong with us, eventually filtered down to me. It was a light that I could cling to, being shone by adults who understood what I was going through because they had been through it themselves.
Stonewall ultimately helped me overcome my dysphoric feelings while I did the work I needed to do to come to terms with who I am.
Stonewall said that I was not a freak, or broken, or born in the wrong body, they said that I had every right to wear a boy’s uniform as the next boy in my class, or even wear a girl’s uniform, it didn’t matter as I was still a boy – I didn’t need fixing, as I was perfect just as I was.
Stonewall helped me to understand that being gay was something to be celebrated. I took strength in that and it’s a message that helped me get through the difficult business of getting into adulthood. Eventually I would return to education and get a relatively successful career. However, I still sometimes have to deal with the damage of that question at odd moments when I laugh a little too camp, or when I catch a glimpse of a school photo that someone put up on Facebook, or when I see family photos and wonder how no one in my family noticed the light in my eyes slowly dimming over the years and the sadness reflected in my face as I tried to hide who and what I was.
Yes, that question still haunts me even today, and it still triggers the intense negative feelings that I had at the time until I pull myself together and I remind myself that that my chemistry teacher was just a massive c***.
So, what now for the 13-year-old boys who no longer seem to have a community of strong adult LGB people looking out for them?
The way that gender ideology has metastasised into every area of public life means that things for children today struggling with sexuality has gotten worse in recent years. It’s Stonewall now asking: “Why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?” I wonder if Stonewall would congratulate my chemistry teacher for being progressive and inclusive? It is Stonewall after all who now seem to look down on homosexuality as something to be ashamed of, something to be belittled, to be redefined, to be brushed under the carpet as an inconvenience to their gender identity homophobic pseudoscience.
So, what now for the 13-year-old boys who no longer seem to have a community of strong adult LGB people looking out for them? Adults who are there to reassure them that they may grow up to be straight, they may grow up to be gay men, or they may grow up to be bisexual; it doesn’t matter because whatever they discover is their sexual orientation they’re perfect just as they are.
No, now the message to the boys like I used to be is: “Why are you wearing a boys uniform?”
I can’t help but feel that just like we lost an entire generation to the horrors of HIV we are in danger of losing another to the horrors of gender identity and the institutionalised homophobia that’s grown up around it, while it’s been given a sprinkle of glitter and painted with our rainbow flag. All this happening while high profile gay men clap, cheer it on, and are sometimes even given awards, safe in the knowledge that they’ve pulled the ladder up behind them, leaving the boys like we used to be to fend for themselves.
Some of those gay men were founders of a charity in 1989 that was set up to fight that kind of bullshit.
And they have the cheek to call us the deceitful hateful monsters?