Every morning on the bus ride in to school as more and more kids got on through the other villages and the town, the taunting grew and grew. Someone would almost always say something. They’d laugh about my hair, try and steal my bag, throw things at my head. It was a school bus, no-one cared. I’d get off the bus as soon as possible and walk the rest of the way into school. By the time I got to the underpass my heart started to beat faster. Crossing the road and walking up the side path I’d see the school buildings and feel my heart pounding heavier. But I had my white shirt on and my navy blazer with the school badge on the breast pocket and I had my backpack on and wore it with one strap, across my heart. And of course I had my yellow folder the last thing that protected my heavy-beating heart from everything outside.
I was good at school. I often wonder how much better I could have been if I hadn’t been bullied. If I’d had more time and mental space to work instead of being pulled down into depression.There was a dark dread I lived through anticipating that place. The fog that descends on Sunday nights before another week. For me this was a feeling I had each school night. I was also coming to terms with who I was at a time when being gay was still very under represented in the media and incredibly taboo in day to day life. I don’t ever recall meeting a gay person when I was growing up until I slowly realised I was one myself. I don’t really know how, but I managed to piece together who I was. I read lots of Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster in my spare time. They both wrote with the exquisite joy but also the silent agony about being gay. It was something that could be beautiful, it could be the most glorious thing, but it was always to be a secret. This was the best I had to work with at the time.
When we were studying Carol Ann Duffy in English, our teacher said “You’re reading the poem wrong. It’s a love poem. You can’t all just assume that everybody in the world is straight.” there was a powerful silence in the room and I felt all the eyes in the back of my head and I thought, other people are gay too, you idiots, listen to the teacher. That was one of those rare moments where being gay was addressed at school. During my time at school a piece of government legislation called section 28 was in force. This meant there was a strict control over what was said about gay people (and the gay “lifestyle” whatever that is) in schools. I don’t know how far this went in terms of teacher guidance and I don’t know whether this was why teachers never really intervened in what happened to me. I certainly never had help from my form tutor or any of the many teachers who overheard the taunting in the corridors. I remember only one teacher asking me if I was okay, my chemistry teacher who was young and very nice. Chemistry was never a strong subject for me but she asked me once if I was okay, because she “was worried about me.” She never said why. I was so depressed and felt so hopeless I just shrugged it off. I was numb and the best I could do was remain silent.
After our GCSE German exam, everybody from my class streamed out of school back to town. As I walked behind the crowd I kept finding abandoned German Dictionaries on the paths and road to town. I picked them up as I went along and kept them for myself. All these different German dictionaries for free, different editions and sizes. I came home with my school bag stuffed with them. Alongside English, German was my strongest subject. I loved speaking it and I had a natural talent for it. When I looked at my options for A Levels, only one other boy wanted to study it so I was told by my teachers it would be not offered. One option available was to leave the school and go to another school in the nearby town, which was a language college. They offered German and had a great English department too. This school was an all girl’s school but accepted boys in the sixth form.
After I had decided to do this, I was cornered by the headmaster who asked me why I was leaving. I told him this other school offered German and I was sick of being bullied at the school. He was shocked, acting as if it was the first he had heard about it. I told him how long it had been going on for and how depressed coming to school had made me. How homophobic the other boys were. I felt brave using that word. I was essentially coming out to him but knowing I finally had an escape route, I had a little more confidence in myself. He told me to go to his office if it ever happened again. I laughed and told him it happened every day and there was nothing I could do about it. He seemed angry that I hadn’t told him before. As if it was a normal thing to go to the headmaster’s office and effectively come out. Before then I didn’t have the confidence to speak out about it. I was crushed by it. The constant name calling and threats made me feel useless. How could anything really change? Leaving the school entirely was the only solution.
I was so depressed, I found it hard to be happy about leaving, but I was. I wouldn’t have to wear the uniform again or to walk through busy corridors being shoved and screamed at. The worst of it all was by the end all the boys had to scream at me was my own name in a mocking tone. They didn’t even need to scream horrible homophobic words any longer, just being me, just my name and reputation was a bad, dirty, disgusting enough thing.
The last time I walked away from the school my heart was pounding. It was one of those moments I knew I would remember. I would never have to walk up that hill towards that building ever again.