When I was at school I carried around a yellow lever-arch folder. I preferred to carry it rather than jam it awkwardly into my school bag. That rectangle of yellow against the navy blue of my uniform became a shield against everything.
When the school first found out I had a crush on another boy, I was in the music department over lunch time, eating lunch in a piano practice room. A music teacher came in and said there were lots of boys looking for me. He had kept them outside. However one boy had snuck in lying that he had wanted to borrow a book. That boy was particularly vicious. He must have looked in to all of the different practise rooms seeking me out. When he found me he came in saying “Why have you told everyone you’re in love with Will? You are sick and disgusting.”
I ran out of the room, down the corridor and out of the music building. I was greeted by a crowd outside waiting for me. That’s when the shouting started. Everything and anything homophobic you could imagine was thrown at me for the remaining few years of my education there. This was when I was in year 9, so I was 13 or 14. I knew I was gay and I had a crush on a boy. I confided in a friend who was also coming to terms with his sexuality. He then allowed the rumour to get out. It spread within seconds. This was an all boys school. The other boys united against me, I was a good enemy. I was an abomination. I made all of them normal by comparison.
I clasped at the yellow folder. I held it tightly against my chest with both arms to guard myself against the attacks in the corridors. It wasn’t just the boys of my age group. It was older boys, even some sixthformers. New boys who had just started from Primary school were soon inducted in the ways of screaming homophobic slurs at me. Every time I walked through the corridors between lessons, at the beginning of school, at the end of school, walking to and from school, sitting on the bus on the way to and from school. It was a constant deluge. Boys threw things at me, punched me, spat at me, and pushed me down flights of stairs. They pushed me into the mud, pushed me into bushes, pushed me into oncoming traffic. Boys planted “joke” love letters in my blazer pockets, they threw their lunches at me. It was practically mediaeval. I was the outcast they threw their rotten tomatoes at.
It took a lot of pressure to really dig a biro into that yellow folder, for the folder’s surface to admit the ink and make letters. I wore the letters in over and over as a stress reliever. I collected lots of quotes all over that folder. A cacophony of words, often snippets of poetry that helped me. On the side that faced the world it just said “STOP”.