Keeping it hidden
I was never out as a Trans person in school, back in the 1980’s when I was a teenager there was no support at all. LGBT kids generally kept it hidden, pushed down as far as you could. That's not to say I didn't get bullied for it. You can only ever suppress your true self, you will never completely hide it.
Hearing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language around you constantly when you are not yet out to the world keeps you there. It reinforces your fear that no one else will understand how you feel about your gender or sexuality.
‘Oh, stop being such a girl’, ‘be a man’, ‘sissy’, ‘you’re too soft’, ‘Man up’, ‘why don’t you just wear a dress, you big girl’. No, I was being myself. In secondary school, there was an occasion where I had a perfume poured over my head by another pupil. I was presenting to the world as a boy at the time, struggling with my gender identity, just trying to figure myself out. For the entire day, I was teased with homophobic and transphobic slurs. My anxiety was sky high, had someone figured out how I felt about my gender? Had I sent out subconscious signals that marked me in some way as Trans or LGBT? My confidence and mental health took a big hit.
Struggling with depression
This was also the first point in my life that I can remember struggling with depression even though I didn't realise that was what it was at the time. Outside of school I started keeping myself to myself. Staying indoors, playing computer games, all so I didn't have to deal with people. I was depressed, I had increased social anxiety and I was isolated.
So let's jump forward a few years to my 20’s in the 1990’s. Attitudes were changing towards LGBT folks but I was still firmly in the closet and working in a job that was very male dominated and had a culture of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language.
We used to have a delivery driver who turned up occasionally who was trans. The abuse and language that used to come out was abhorrent, it affected me deeply, I hated the bullying and yet I felt I couldn’t stand up for her because they might realise I was trans and I would be bullied.
None of this behaviour was ever challenged
We had out gay staff but the language used changed when they left the room. The homophobic language started. Being in the closet and hearing that around me was holding me there, it affects your mental health, strips your confidence, raises anxiety. It produces a situation where you no longer want to be present in that workplace.
None of this behaviour was ever challenged. Seeing that transphobia and hearing discriminatory language towards LGBT people just reinforced my fear, it increased my anxiety in day to day life. I felt like I may never get to live my life authentically, as who I really was. It increased my bouts of depression, I had suicidal thoughts at times.
It was only after becoming redundant from that job that I suddenly had time to reflect on my life. I was 42 years old and I realised that I couldn’t live a lie anymore just out of fear of what might happen. Through my life every single time I heard a homophobic, biphobic or transphobic slur, phrase or joke it became a brick in a wall of fear, anxiety and depression that was blocking my life from moving on. It was stopping me from reaching my potential. Those bullies who had hurt me physically and verbally were part of that wall too, every punch, every insult.
Showing the real me
I reached a point in my life where I couldn’t move forward without tackling the wall. So I did, I transitioned to show the real me, the authentic me. That single action brought down that wall like a demolition wrecking ball. Behind that wall was the real me, the confident me, the me who could now find the strength to tackle anything.
No one going through school should have to suffer bullying of any kind for being themselves. But also homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language in schools deeply affects the mental health and happiness of pupils who are not out yet. Those who’s confidence and potential is still blocked by their own personal walls of fear. Remove that language from the education environment and you remove a lot of that fear, that can lead to empowerment and happier students with better mental health.
This is why I believe passionately in the work carried out by Diversity Role Models. I am proud to be part of this organisation as one of their visible role models, to share our stories with the students, to educate about how bullying and abusive language towards someone’s gender identity or sexuality can have a huge impact on their lives and their mental health.