Bullied at school? Stonewall report that more than half of LGBT pupils experience bullying as a consequence of their sexual orientation, something which I experienced daily at Fettes College, Tony Blair's alma mater. Almost half of those experiencing such bullying consider taking their own life and, although I was never undermined to this extent, my confidence was eroded by a continual barrage of verbal abuse.
"Gay" was frequently used pejoratively as an insult, to describe anything unpleasant and phrases such as "that's so gay" were bandied about to describe anything perceived as negative, from a flamboyant shirt to the weather. As a teenager I was undermined and left with feelings of inadequacy. Although the aggression was largely verbal, I was continually on my guard, apprehensive that a situation might escalate.
Insecurities regarding my burgeoning sexual orientation were compounded by compulsory participation in the Combined Cadet Force, Ministry of Defence sponsored training which was compulsory from the age of thirteen to sixteen. My stint in the Navy Section was not illustrious. Nothing of a homosexual nature ever took place in our CCF; however, both the Navy and the RAF Sections were considered quite "gay" as they were not the Army Section. I ended up the only person from Kimmerghame in the Navy Section, which, I thought, was unfair, as there were others in my boarding house almost as academically gifted and creative as I was.
I remember one lunchtime, pursuant to having a creased uniform at parade, that I had to do an additional lunchtime inspection. I was ashamed about having to wear the uniform all morning and frightened of the comments it would generate, so I hid the uniform in a bag, changing in a toilet cubicle. There was nothing homoerotic about this and, although I did once have a wank in my uniform and wish I had kept the cute beret, the whole experience was rather humiliating!
I didn't feel physically attractive, at all, until I was sixteen, when, with the benefit of some hair dye, fake tan and a catwalk outfit, I suddenly realised I was quite handsome; however, this was when I went out partying illicitly on the gay scene and I, effectively, led a double life. I was straight and introverted at school, but gay, good looking and at ease with myself when I went out to meet other gay men. This was empowering for me and the acceptance I received was to be replicated more broadly at university and then when I "came out" regarding my HIV status in the workplace.
At school, while I still had friends, the remarks regarding my sexual orientation were increasing. To a certain extent this didn't bother me as, academically, I was coming into my stride and my social life, which I hid from my straight counterparts at school, was more fabulous than theirs anyway. I was having sex once a month when I went out gay clubbing, while my peers in Kimmerghame considered themselves lucky if they had sex with a girlfriend after six months of dating! However, having a sun bed or applying fake tan, borrowed from my mother, caused a scandal in my boarding house, so I had to be very careful.
At Fettes, during the first part of the last decade, as I moved into the sixth form, despite all the social advances made by the Labour administration, it seemed impossible to be open about my sexual orientation. There were no teachers who were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual to act as positive role models. Regarding Section 28, the controversial 1980s legislation prohibiting the discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, a photographer was even allowed to take photographs during classes for inclusion in a press article condemning its repeal. Sex education did not even touch on the possibility that two men might want to have sex with one another. Teachers did nothing to combat homophobic language in the classroom and I recall the humiliation of being taunted in front of my teachers regarding my sexual orientation. My response to the bullying was to concentrate more on my academic work, which was rewarded when none of the twats from the rugby team got into Oxbridge.
In my final year unpleasant boundaries were crossed regarding homophobic behaviour towards myself. Firstly, my phone was stolen and a flirtatious text message from a gay guy discovered. I recovered my phone half an hour later and deleted the message. The guy who found the message insisted vehemently the message was there, but somehow I got away with denying its existence to my peers and laughing the incident off. Secondly, the bully who stole my phone made a snide remark about my sexual orientation in front of a teacher, who ignored it rather than challenging him. As a consequence the bully became more arrogant and he became increasingly aggressive in his attacks, culminating, thirdly, in an unpleasant incident on the way to the canteen. He grabbed me in front of my boarding house year group, which they found funny. This occurred during my final term and I no longer went to meals in the canteen. I complained to no one about the bullying, fearful about raising the issue with the teaching staff, as this would have amounted to outing myself as gay.
The isolation, confusion and shame which these early experiences engendered soon dissipated and were replaced by a new confidence at university. I applaud the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Education's recent £2 million initiative to tackle LGBT bullying in schools. In a cosmopolitan society, such as ours, surely it's right that young LGBT people should be able to express their sexual orientation without fear of violence or abuse.