Secondary school was a pretty grim time for me.
In spite of being bright, having lots of friends and attending a pretty good school, it was a hideous time in my life and one that I shudder to recall. Markedly effeminate and obviously gay, I was a sure fire target for the homophobic bullies and there’s nothing like a touch of bullying to make life a living hell. I still recall evenings at home sitting and crying in my room, the lurching nausea of a Sunday night with the prospect of school the next day and the soul-destroying erosion of my confidence.
30 years later, I wondered what advice I might give my 12-year-old self, should I discover that elusive time machine. Here are my top five tips to mini Chris. I’m sure that they won’t apply to everyone and I know that facing up to a bully is a complex issue but here’s what I’d tell myself. Hopefully it might have some advice transferable to others too.
1) Tell people about it
The worst bullying of all came from a sport’s teacher (clichéd, I know but people often do behave in a way so tediously true to the expected norm). The belittling comments and name calling during sports lessons set a precedent. If it was acceptable for a teacher to call me ‘the poofter’ in front of the class then it was acceptable for everyone, surely? The resolution came when he blacked my eye (accidentally) by throwing an icy cold football at my face with velocity whilst shouting some retro homophobic name at me. Cue a minor inquiry and a partial resolution of his nasty behaviour (it was the ‘80s, people could get away with more bad stuff than now). It’s easy to see, in retrospect, that I could have made it end a lot quicker had I spoken out sooner to maybe my parents or a sympathetic teacher. At the time this felt terrifying and impossible but I realise now that I didn’t deserve this and that whatever I did to speak out then the moron couldn’t hurt me any more than he already was doing.
2) There’s safety in numbers
Take comfort in your allies and if possible, befriend the like minded. I’d tell 12-year-old Chris that he has a great bunch of friends who actually seem to like him and will stand up for him. I made friends with two other gay teenagers and that was an incredibly lucky thing for me. I was lucky that they existed and we got on. We’d hang out together and to our surprise, it was harder to bully three people than one. My loyal female friends were a support too. There was a memorable incident when a boy tripped me over on the way home and my female friend punched him squarely on the jaw. He didn’t cross me again for fear of her firm left-hook. Naturally, I wouldn’t ever advocate violence but I really wish I’d known before that my group of friends were so willing to take no nonsense whilst I was prepared to take so much.
3) What they’re saying is rubbish
Just because you have a crush on the singer from Duran Duran and like a good show tune doesn’t make you inferior. Whatever names they might call you are utterly irrelevant. The opinion of someone who terrorises someone due to his or her sexuality really doesn’t count at all. It’s worth less than zero. In fact it’s worth less than that even. It needs a whole scale of its own; it’s so beneath contempt.
4) Look for positive role models
Not so easy in the 1980s but this is a bit easier now, hopefully. Even back in the bad old days of leg warmers and The Kids from Fame, there were strong positive people to look up to. It was a revelation to me, at the age of 14, to discover gay literature. I devoured books by Edmund White and Felice Picano and took a keen interest in historical figures like Harvey Milk who had fought so strongly for the cause. Pop music gave me idols too and Andy Bell and Jimmy Somerville were strong and unashamedly gay figures. These people taught me more about humanity and strength than any meathead sports teacher or vile acting teenager with an axe to grind.
I also found comfort from a local gay youth group and the local gay switchboard. I was amazed that other people understood what the strife I was going through and that I wasn’t alone.
5) Remember: You really are a lot more fierce and fabulous then they’ll ever be
Nothing to say about this on except: fact!
This is just my advice to myself and doesn’t apply to everyone. Bullying is a hard thing to stand up to and to get through alone. If you are being bullied because of your sexuality or any other reason, whatever age you are, then please get some professional help and advice.
Here’s some useful links:
And for more contacts visit: http://www.thegayuk.com/Bullying
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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