No one needs to tell you school is hard. One mistake and it will haunt you till your dying day. One boy in my primary school wet himself in Year 4 and by the time we left, people still wouldn’t sit on a seat he’d been on in case he wet that one too. How anyone escapes that environment without needing therapy is a miracle.
But being anything other than cis and heterosexual?
Oh boy. That’s school on hard mode.
Every non-straight identity faced their own kind of bullying. Lesbian girls are fetishized by teenage boys; bisexual kids are forced into the label of their same-sex attraction and mocked for that. And gay boys… well, I’m most familiar with this kind.
In some places, it’s just name-calling. The usual playground stuff and it’s hard to talk about this without being called a snowflake. But the constant taunting is dehumanizing and will isolate even the most strong-willed of people.
Beyond that, there’s the obvious physical violence. Flaring up in locker rooms where there’s no adult supervision, or in classrooms where gay boys are always the subject of attack. I saw all of this in my school, and a bit of it directed at me.
I grew up in a town in the county of Essex, just outside of London. One of the many things that part of England is known for is creative use of words. That was people’s main weapon against me. We don’t really use the word faggot, but Ali G gave the boys ‘batty boy’, which I’m sure every non-straight kid is happy for.
A lot of it is tame. My last name was bastardized into Tom Gaypon, Gay-capon, or Tom ‘Gay Boy’ Capon as if I was a combatant in the world’s worst banter boxing match. What I’m getting at is I got it easy. I grew to the size of an adult as soon as I hit 14, like an acne-ridden beanstalk. People mostly left me alone.
I know people who were followed home and attacked. People beaten up in the park. Other kids parroted the bigotry of their parents, with the kind of blind hatred of a religious zealot. It’s just their peers who being burned at the stake.
Playgrounds really are a battlefield.
But in any field of battle, you need allies. In school, there was probably only a handful of other LGBTI people to rely on. Most don’t find their queer family till after school. So what did we all do in the meantime? We found girls.
They were the ones that took us in when our male peers shunned us. We sat with them at lunch. They invited us round their house. When all the name calling and physical violence looms over a school career, you can pretty much guarantee that a gay or bi boy has a gang of girls surrounding them.
With the straight or bi girls, you could openly talk about boys – an act of liberation, you were no longer ashamed of your feelings. With gay or bi girls, you could revel in that bond of otherness, without the risk of pressures and entanglements of teenage love.
While no one should be expected to put themselves at risk to help others, a lot did. They’d call out the bullies. At the very least, being in a pack offered the best kind of protection – and it was the girls who would let us into the pack.
But it’s not just about being saviors: they were – and are – our best friends. The ones we could talk to about anything. The ones we loved in the most ridiculous years of your life.
So thank you to all the girls out there doing the good work and saving their gay friends from the torments of idiot teen boys. And thank you to all the women who did that at school; for me, and for everyone else. You might never know how much of a difference you made.
Author: Tom Capon
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