I am a disabled woman, a mother and a lesbian. I have been working alongside Safe Schools Alliance since they were formed.
I have never been particularly political. My interest in politics started and ended with shouting at the television and drawing my cross at election time. I’m more at home with my head in a book, writing a poem or strumming a guitar. Activism was about the last thing I expected to become involved in, let alone passionate about.
I came out as a lesbian in 2013 at the age of 31. I always knew that I was different to the majority of other girls and women around me, I just could never put my finger on quite how, or why. My younger self would not allow me to explore my sexuality because by the time I was old enough to think about such things I had already internalised all the homophobia I heard and witnessed in my everyday life.
If I try to think of words that would characterise my teenage years, they all end in ‘n’t.’ ‘You can’t do that.’ ‘I don’t want that.’ ‘That isn’t for you.’ ‘You won’t be able to do that.’ ‘You don’t fit in.’ ‘You aren’t like everybody else.’
I spent my childhood and teenage years wishing I was a boy. I envied the boys their effortless power: how they commanded attention in a way that I never could; how they could enter a room and everybody would take notice of them; how they could do what I wanted to do without being made to feel as if they weren’t allowed, were asking too much of themselves or others, or made to feel silly or unnatural. I never felt as if I had that power, or that I could ever possess it.
I hated my female body for years, even into my early 30s. It was too small; too weak; too conspicuous. My female body was the reason people decided what I could and couldn’t do, would be good or bad at and what I should and shouldn’t like, or want to do, before they even spoke to me, before they even knew my name. It was the reason I couldn’t walk down the street, or enjoy a night out without being looked at, sized up and pawed at. It was the reason why I would always be viewed as decoration, a front, and the bait that would draw people in so they could then admire the real talent, which belonged to the boys, the men. I felt as if I should have to apologise for my femaleness, as if I was an inconvenience I had to excuse myself for.Mother and Lesbian, 38, South East
I understood this in my trans friends. I understood how they felt cheated, constrained by the bodies they were trapped in and how society would never see them as they really are because all they would see is a body, but however much I empathised with my trans friends I was always aware that they weren’t really the opposite sex. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that my friends were really men, or women, I knew they weren’t, and I knew that fact mattered, to me, but more so to them.
It is a great sadness to me that some of the trans people who used to be my friends now think I’m evil, and some of you who are reading this might think I’m a hypocrite, but I have never been friends with anybody because of their sexed body, or their clothing choices or how womanly or manly they feel: I choose my friends because I like them for their personality, for who they are and because they enrich my life.
I only consider the matter of sexed bodies when I choose a sexual or romantic partner. I’m now told by certain people that that makes me a bigot, but I have already compromised myself, my sexual boundaries and my happiness when I did what many young lesbians have done: I married a man, because it seemed like there was no choice.
I know what it is to live a lie; to put exhaustive efforts into something that if it was the truth, should come naturally, and to live with the constant anxiety that I wasn’t doing it right and that somebody would call me out for being a fraud. The worst hurt you can do to a person is to point out the truth when they are desperate that you shouldn’t see it. I know that fear, and I also know you can’t live with that fear, not for ever, because sooner or later the part of you that is the real you will kick back and say, ‘Why are you pretending to be what you know you aren’t? How can you really be the real you when you’re so afraid of the truth?’ ‘How can being yourself be worse than what you have changed yourself to become?’
This is the reason I became involved with Safe Schools Alliance, and the wider movement to preserve the right of women and girls, and boys and men, to have privacy in the spaces where they feel most vulnerable. I, like every other woman and girl on this planet, have been subject to the kind of attention from men which makes us fearful, but I have also seen my son, practically curling himself up cringing at the mere thought of a girl, any girl, even me, seeing his body.
I find it shocking that any child or young person who is struggling with their identity and the shape of their body would wish to shift that level of discomfort onto others. How could anybody who is so painfully aware of their own body wish that on anybody else?
Every day on the internet and walking down the street I encounter girls, and boys, who are just like I was: struggling to find their place in a world where they don’t fit what society tells them they should be, and struggling with disability, mental health issues and internalised homophobia, just like I did, and I know that they will feel compelled to compromise themselves to fit in, just like I did. Transgender wasn’t a thing when I was a teenager, otherwise I would have transitioned. The way out of the maelstrom when I was young was to get married, paste on the mask and make the best of a bad job, but now the mask won’t ever come off once you put it on, because the mask is puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and surgery. I could get divorced, come out and move on with my life, and while painful to come to terms with, I was never trapped for ever. For young people nowadays the escape route from pain, anxiety and turmoil closes behind them as soon as they enter, and if life and experience has taught me one thing, it has taught me that what you think you want when you’re young is rarely what you’ll want when you’re an adult. It hurts me to see young people who will be trapped for ever by the decisions they are making before they are even old enough to understand what those decisions will mean; and that they are able to make such life altering and potentially devastating decisions when their minds are clouded by anger, frustration and pain.
It is my greatest wish that we create a world where everyone can grow up with the freedom to be themselves without feeling the need to change who or what they are. Where other people don’t decide what they should be capable of achieving, what they should like or dislike or what kind of a person they should and shouldn’t be because of what body they have, or how they dress or how their hair looks. A world where young people are allowed to do, and think, and feel things when they’re ready and where nobody is forced to fit in to pointless boxes that fit no one. A world where nobody feels they should apologise for what they are.
I wish I’d had a world like that to grow up in.