I would describe myself as a late bloomer. I was bullied and or insecure ever since primary school because I was different. Periodically away on mysterious hospital visits, returning in a wheelchair, having physio therapy in the library while the other children had PE. I think I took so long to arrive at the idea that anyone might find me physically attractive, that it was an unusually long time before I started to really think about sex, and it was still something shrouded in mystery for me by my mid teens. My fantasies generally centred around escaping the mundane working class surroundings I was born in to, and finding like minded people who accepted me. In this ideal world, someone was bound to fall in love with me. I think I legitimately gave more thought to the kind of dog we would get (a pug), than the sex we would have.
During my last years of senior school I was teased horribly by a girl who told everyone I was gay. I was in an all girls Catholic high school, and our sexual education in the early 2000s was still limited to how a baby is scientifically made. In terms of sexuality and relationships, we were basically told that straight sex was for marriage, and gay any engagement in gay sex meant you were going straight to hell. My bully had come out by the end of our first year in sixth form. It was in the months before I went away to university that I really began to consider my sexuality, and wonder whether my feelings for people of the same sex came from more than a desire to be the object of my admirations, to be like them. Did I also want to be with them?
Coming out to my mother was easy. While waxing lyrical about a singer I was particularly infatuated with during a walk with our family dog, she actually asked me if I had sexual feelings for this woman! I admitted it, and that was the last we really said on the matter. I was about eighteen. Now, I'm a 30 year old bisexual woman in a long term heterosexual relationship. In this sense, I think it has been easier for my family as they have never been confronted with a long term girlfriend. For them, my bisexuality has likely been pushed to the same dark corner of their mind where the fact that I have a sexual relationship with my fiancé lives. I feel it must be much easier to live as bisexual than homosexual, at least for those of us in straight relationships, as we can opt 'out'.
My sexuality feels like it's only a part of a whole truck load of 'otherness' I have lived through ever since I was old enough to be aware of the similarities I had with other children – many of us lived with a lady called 'Mum', and my differences – most people didn't learn to ride a tricycle with a plaster cast on their leg! While all children enter the world with their own unique experience, it doesn't take long to develop ideas about what is 'normal'. In the playground, the tendency can be for those youngsters whose versions of normal fit nearest to club together and make those who don't fit feel excluded.
'Other' can turn in to something beautiful. The old wisdom is that hardly anyone who had a smooth, uneventful school experience ever goes on to greatness. But, I know this can be of very little comfort to a fourteen year old staring at four more years of compulsory education. Who really wants to wait that it out for the time when they are empowered to go forth and find their people? Our society likes to think it has moved on leaps and bounds, and that we're living in a post phobic world where everyone instinctively knows that love is too hard to find for it matter how it plays out between consenting adults. The reality is, visibility can lead to targeting, and that just because the rules say we aren't to discriminate, every day life for LGBTQI+ individuals, including young people can still be fraught with danger, judgement and hopelessness.
At the Albany Centre Conference on 'Being and Belonging' a host of guest speakers will be talking about the important work that is going on to support young people through the many things that can make it much harder to find your place in the world. Sexuality is just one of these things. You can join us on Saturday 25th March at the Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley. Tickets are available here, where you can also hear Albany Centre Director, Jon Wilson Cooper, talk more about what you can expect on the day.