The chemistry teacher’s question

At Lesbian and Gay News:

“Why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?” That question has stayed with me since it was first asked by my chemistry teacher in front of a packed class when I was just 13 years old. The year was 1989, Thatcher was in power and had passed Section 28 the year before and it was the year that Stonewall was founded…

I often look back on that moment, in that class in front of my classmates, and wonder why it has stayed with me more than everything else about that dreadful time at that dreadful school. Over the years I’ve battled with my mental health, most of it due to trauma of living through the homophobic abuse I got day in day out when I was just a young boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and who was mercilessly picked on by his peers because he wasn’t boisterous or violent, because he preferred the company of girls, because he wasn’t into football, because he did crazy things to his hair, and because he liked Doctor Who.  

The much more overt and disgusting stuff his classmates did to him has not haunted him in the same way.

Up until that point my 13-year-old brain was able to rationalise, as best it could, that my classmates were just common bullies, and that what they were saying and what they were doing was borne out of a childish need to hurt people. It was a distraction from their own insecurities, an acting out of what they had seen elsewhere, or just something that they did because it made them feel a little more in control of their own lives. When my chemistry teacher asked that question, and the entire class all laughed, it hit hard because it was coming from a different place, and I perceived that it had a truth that only a position of genuine power and authority could give it.

It triggered in me a period of intense dysphoria where I struggled with what I thought was the truth. A truth that spoke directly to my insecurities. The truth that I was damaged and broken, and that there was this terrible mistake and I had been born in the wrong body. The terror of that perceived truth stayed with me until I fully came to terms with my sexual orientation.

But the truth for me after that teacher’s question was for a time, what if I really was a girl? Was that why I was getting crushes on boys? Is that what my peers knew but that I up until that point was not aware of? The actual reality was that the question was spiteful, red hot and dripping with homophobia, but to 13-year-old me it was confirmation of my worst fears, why was I wearing a boy’s uniform?

But now, somehow, it has become the enlightened and “kind” thing to do – to assure people that they really are the other sex since they’re so clearly not comfortable with the conventions of their “assigned” sex.

I share this story to give context to why I am so deeply angry with the way Stonewall has betrayed its founding principles as it chases money and a reason to continue to exist. When Stonewall was formed the message that we as gay men are not broken, and there was nothing wrong with us, eventually filtered down to me. It was a light that I could cling to, being shone by adults who understood what I was going through because they had been through it themselves.

Stonewall ultimately helped me overcome my dysphoric feelings while I did the work I needed to do to come to terms with who I am.

Stonewall said that I was not a freak, or broken, or born in the wrong body, they said that I had every right to wear a boy’s uniform as the next boy in my class, or even wear a girl’s uniform, it didn’t matter as I was still a boy – I didn’t need fixing, as I was perfect just as I was.

But now Stonewall says the opposite.

The way that gender ideology has metastasised into every area of public life means that things for children today struggling with sexuality has gotten worse in recent years. It’s Stonewall now asking: “Why are you wearing a boy’s uniform?” I wonder if Stonewall would congratulate my chemistry teacher for being progressive and inclusive? It is Stonewall after all who now seem to look down on homosexuality as something to be ashamed of, something to be belittled, to be redefined, to be brushed under the carpet as an inconvenience to their gender identity homophobic pseudoscience.  

It’s horribly sad and destructive.

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