These were the two words that I typed over AOL messenger one evening changed my school life. The word lesbian didn’t seem right. I had agonised over how to tell one close friend about my sexuality. I trusted them, but by the next day, the news had reached the entire school – an all-girl grammar school in the South East of England.
My friends made crude jokes and new nicknames, but they were accepting enough and defended me if anyone from outside our circle tried to tease me.
Other girls in the classroom had questions: ‘does that mean you fancy me?’ ‘you can’t change in our changing rooms though now, can you?’. I understood – for the most part – that they were curious, but the undercurrent of homophobia was still there, and only thinly veiled as ‘banter’.
There were few occasions where the beast of homophobia was easily identified and easily named, like the time a girl stood up in class to say gay people should be ‘hung drawn and quartered’. For the most part though, my other experiences were subtle, and accumulated, but were more instrumental in my internalisation of homophobia.
The straight best friend who pretended to be bisexual and kiss me to attract the attention of boys. The girl in another form my year, who pretended she wanted to go on a date and then turned up to mock me with her friends, and sent emails telling me I was an idiot for thinking she’d ever be interested in me. The other girls in my class no longer feeling comfortable with me in the changing rooms, so I would change outside alone, in the toilet, or skip class altogether.
As the bullying took its toll on me, and I went from being shy and studious, to a whirlwind of rebellion that was caught smoking behind the bike sheds and ‘canoodling with Tarnya Templeman in the B Side Corridor’ as one detention slip remarked. As far as I know, I was the only ‘out’ teenager in the school, and fell harder into the online community. I desperately sought friendships with people who were like minded.
In those days it wasn’t Twitter and Facebook where people went to connect with old and new friends. It was the era of Myspace (think Facebook but centred around sharing and discussing music) and Habbo Hotel (one of many chat rooms designed to appeal to children and young adults). Unlike today’s social media – which tends to be quite public – these websites provided a place to talk privately with people all over the world.
This is how I found the website Genderfork. Here, I discovered the idea that I could be a boy born in the wrong body. It all made sense. This must be why I hate traditionally feminine things – this is why I can’t bond with the girls in my school. This must be why I want to be a boy – because if I feel like a boy, then I must actually be a boy.
At this time, I had a new friendship group of bisexual and lesbian girls, and we loved Genderfork for celebrating the gender non conforming. We were opened up to a world far from the conventions of our traditional girls school and we absorbed the information like a sponge (I have no doubt because it was the first and only information we had access to away from ‘boys should be [stereotypical] boys, girls should be [stereotypical girls’). They started identifying as non binary, or as boys. We would watch ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ surgery reaction videos and YouTube channels dedicated to hiding our figure and appearing more masculine. The others in my group started taking hormones.
I look back on those days and wish we had embraced rejecting traditional ideas of what it means to be a girl. What we hadn’t considered, and has become part of my core beliefs as a gender critical feminist, is that gender can be – and should be – completely abandoned.
I bought my first binder from T Kingdom with the support of my new friends. I remember anxiously waiting for the 12 weeks it took to deliver, unwrapping the thin plastic, and smelling the synthetic plastic of the binder – a smell that would become comforting and familiar in the following months. Later, I would be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and order illegal testosterone online (though not take it, as thankfully I was bright enough to realise it might not be what it said on the tube).
My dysphoria was heightened when I started working in the security industry, as I desperately tried to fit in with the men on my team. Being seen as a boy became an obsession, though I expect I rarely passed.
Eventually, I started university, and my obsession with ‘passing’ and people using the ‘correct’ pronouns disappeared as I became absorbed with my work. My binder started being left behind as 8 hour lectures wearing one made it difficult to breath or sit comfortably, and is now banished to the keepsake box in the attic.
I recognise now that my experiences of homophobia (and oppression of the female sex) made me want to be a straight man. That an ideology that teaches gender is ‘felt’ and that sex isn’t real is why I didn’t feel like a girl.
There needs to be much less of a focus on ‘you could be born in the wrong body’ and much more information and role models centred around accepting and loving your body, and embracing the freedom that comes with ditching gender. Children and teenagers lives are driven by the desire to find ‘their people’, and I am concerned about a movement telling children that there is such a thing as a boy brain and girl brain and they can be born with the wrong one.
My gender dysphoria remains an ongoing battle. have no doubt it will continue to be a battle – I will need to put a lot of work in undoing years of self loathing. But now I have real role models. Butch women-loving-women who reject gender completely.
They embrace their sex, I am proud to stand with them.