I was nine years old, the first time I remember being bullied because of my sexuality. “Bummer,” was the word of choice, as in, “Get away from me you bummer.” I had no idea what it meant, or why the other kids were picking on me – and I wasn’t about to ask. But I certainly knew it wasn’t something kind.
That I was teased at such an early age about being gay, as well as that there was no mention of LGBT issues in school sex education, meant that I grew up with a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be LGBT. I found it incredibly difficult to accept my sexuality; to accept myself for who I am.
My own insecurities, the combination of depression and isolation brought on by bullying and the lack of social skills and relationships which that brings, all meant that I missed out on the part of growing up – that bit of being a teenager – where you learn about this kind of thing. The ‘out of the classroom’ bit of sex – and, more importantly, relationships – education, for want of a better phrase.
So, I learned through the internet. Through a combination of pornography, dodgy websites and nascent social media platforms such as IRC and AOL. None of these was an ideal – or safe – place for a by now fifteen-year-old to be learning about sex and sexuality.
I was spending more and more time on the internet, becoming ever more secretive and isolated. My schoolwork suffered; and what few social relationships I did have disintegrated as I found it impossible to come to terms with being something that a part of me refused to accept.
There was, I felt, nowhere for me to turn.
Over the following years: I dropped out of university, was unable to hold down a job, and equally unable to form any meaningful or lasting relationships. All the while, my behaviour was becoming more and more worrying, and my mental health was deteriorating further and further.
Depression, as I experienced it, can lead to a vicious spiral. Over time I was growing more and more isolated, which was causing me to spend more time alone, at home, on the internet. This was, in the long run, not good for me – far from it, in fact. I was losing my connection with the real world.
And, dangerously, becoming more and more anxious and uneasy about being gay.
Dwelling, as I was, on my sexuality – denying it, or trying to – led me into thinking about it almost 24/7. It’s been said that men think about sex every seven seconds; at the time, for me, that was probably true. Perhaps even more so. And because I had no other way of meeting the need that comes from that, my use of pornography was increasing more and more, and becoming increasingly disturbing.
Then, one sunny summer day in 2014, my world collapsed. Through ill-health, and stupid behaviour brought on by it, I had lost jobs, friends, relationships… so much of what makes life worth living that, not for the first time, I could not see the point in carrying on.
Fortunately, for me, I found myself sat in my GPs office, crying my eyes out, relating to him the story I have written here. The alternative, I don’t like to consider.
Nearly three years, and too many therapy sessions to count later, what has changed? Quite simply, I have begun to come to terms with what little nine-year-old me could not understand: being gay.
I’m not there yet. I’m 32, as I write this, and dealing with the last twenty years of baggage will be a life-long effort. But now I know that I can, and will, get there.
No other young person should have to go through this.
Earlier this week, the UK government announced that they were making sex and relationship education mandatory in schools. Except for two things:
- they didn’t make any mention of including LGBT issues, and
- they continue to allow parents to take their children out of these lessons, for example on religious grounds.
We know that currently, over half of young people never hear any mention of LGBT issues in school sex education; yet I firmly believe that, had they been included when I was in school, I wouldn’t have been writing this blog. In believing this, I am not alone.
The Department for Education has said that it is going to hold an expert review before it releases its final plans for sex and relationships education. Justine Greening, Secretary of State has said that the new curriculum needs to “teach children and young people how to stay safe and healthy, and how to negotiate some of the personal and social challenges they will face growing up and as adults.” If that is really her aim, then she needs to make sure that the new curriculum is both LGBT-inclusive and compulsory for all.