A story about overcoming bullying and being true to yourself
This article was written for http://www.rucomingout.com a wonderful site and resource. Please check it out.
Written exclusively for rucomingout
by Simon Wright, Talent Executive at BBC Academy
Follow Simon on Twitter @spimon
“I’m not sitting next to Simon Wright; don’t want to sit next to that poof”. The classroom exploded with a fit of giggles and I felt 30 pairs of eyes staring at me. I wanted to be invisible; I wanted the earth to swallow me up. “Don’t let this affect me”, I thought. “Don’t look flustered or upset.”
I could feel my face getting redder and my hearing became sharper as I heard all the comments ripping apart my personality, appearance and general being. I was 14 years old and had never kissed anyone but girls. I had never claimed to be gay but there was just something about me that seemed to aggravate people. I think part of it was that I was not ashamed to be who I was and I didn’t pander or change. However it wasn’t always easy; the words hurt but they also gave me strength and courage because I always knew that things wouldn’t always be like this. Things would get better.
There is a website called http://www.nohomophobes.com that monitors homophobic language across social media by recording and showing when the words like ‘dyke’, ‘faggot’ and ‘so gay’ are mentioned. It is astounding how much casual and blatant homophobia there is out there right now. Language is important – words hurt and that is what we need to remember. We can point this out to people when their words hurt us and also, just as importantly, make sure we are conscious of what we say!
In her song, ‘Mean’, Taylor Swift sings, “someday I’ll be living in a big old city and all you’re ever going to be is mean”. These lyrics kind of summed up my relationship with a lot of my classmates. I’d have friends and then someone would say, “why are you friends with that poof?” and then we would no longer be friends. I don’t want to sound like a victim or self- pitying as these events shaped me, made be stronger, more empathetic and more appreciative.
When I look back to my 14 year old self I admire how I was true to myself. One incident in particular springs to mind. I was sat in English class, trying to blend in and not draw too much attention to myself. The teacher addressed the class and told us that we all had to prepare a 20 minute talk on any subject of our choice for the following week. My mind raced and I remember thinking what on earth will I talk about? In my comprehensive in Merseyside, most of the lads would talk about Everton or Liverpool and the ‘geeky’ ones about science or Star Wars.
“I decided that I wanted to talk about Janet Jackson. I loved Janet Jackson and so I made the choice no matter what abuse would befall on me.”
I stood in front of my class and waxed lyrical about the musings of Janet, about the Rhythm Nation project and the charity behind it. I spoke about the art direction of the videos and the more I talked, the more people sniggered until I became a bit of a laughing stock. It was like a scene from Glee; in fact I’m surprised I didn’t break out into dance. I didn’t care though as I was being myself. It may not have been cool but I talked articulately and with passion; it gave me strength.
On October 19th it was Spirit Day. Spirit Day was founded by a 17 year old Canadian student called Brittany McMillan who literally caused a violet revolution. The premise is simple; on October 19th people should wear purple to show their support for gay youth and to take a stand against homophobia and bullying. Brittany says, “I want people to have the spirit to stand up to homophobia and support their friends and family. For those being bullied, I want them to have the spirit to persevere through it and to keep going even though times are tough, because their lives will get better.”
This wonderful movement which was launched by one single teenager cascaded across the US and Canada and to many other parts of the world. It is something I think UK schools and communities can easily adopt for 2013. Brittany states that straight allies are essential in the success of Spirit Day and that although straight males could traditionally be teased for offering their support to the cause, it sends out a greater message. “If you have ever imagined finding ‘The One’ then at least stand up for that, stand up for every person’s right to find ‘The One’ regardless of their orientation. If you are brave then that will encourage others to be brave too.”
I am so blessed to have a wonderful family who always encouraged me to be myself, even if it made me stand out from other people and even if it made me appear quirky and different. On Saturday afternoons when other boys my age would be out playing football, I would be sat at home watching old black and white movies. I loved Katherine Hepburn and Fred and Ginger and would escape into the glamorous world of 1930s Hollywood. My family loved me and loves me for who I am and that gives me so much strength and stability. I do remember coming out to my Mum initially in my late teens and she said, “Oh me and your dad have known for years, we’re just glad you’ve realised it.” No drama, no fuss, just acceptance that I was who I was. I know not everyone has that, and for that I will always be grateful.
Although I knew my own identity and was comfortable with it, as I grew older I sometimes questioned myself and tried and be the person that I thought I should be rather than the person that I was. At Uni I was popular and when I moved to London and discovered gay life I threw myself into it and with that I would at times choose friends or relationships that weren’t always the best for me. People would say things like, “Oh you are the gayest person I know” (what does that even mean?) or “You would be so much hotter if you spent more time in the gym.” The sad thing was that I believed them and I distanced myself from that brave 14 year old who not only knew that he was different but chose to embrace it too.
In the collection ‘It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life worth Living’, David Nichol states, “I felt like a real person and I wanted to be perceived as a real person. I wanted to grow up to be someone who was proud and made the people he loved proud. Yet I didn’t think that I could because inside I felt different, and that is a terrible burden for a kid to carry. I should have not had to carry it and you shouldn’t have to carry it either, but you don’t have to carry it forever, because I am here to tell you that it gets better!”
People change and people grow up but it’s useful sometimes to look at the 14 year old you and appreciate them. We get so wrapped up sometimes around images of what being gay means and ideas that you have to be this or that, (have the hot gym body, sleep around, be stylish, be uber successful) but actually all we really need to be is ourselves.
The gay and lesbian community is wonderfully diverse and we should all feel free to be who we are, without fear or repercussion. Now that may sound idealistic or naive but hey, wouldn’t the world be a much a better place!
I ran a trainee scheme for the BBC and last year I was sat around with my trainees talking about random things and I was so proud to hear some of them openly talking about being gay. “Oh my boyfriend said this…” or “My girlfriend is cooking tonight”. There was no hesitation, no shame and no excuse, just this is who I am! That is how it should be!
When I was 14, I had big hair, and large glasses that took over most of my face, I wasn’t popular or particular cool and was achingly different from the other people at school. I am immensely proud of the 14 year old me, as I stayed true to who I was and that made me stronger. It made me more determined to succeed and gave me a desire to learn and do better; principles which stay with me today.
So if you like dancing around your room to Beyonce, keep doing it! If you love playing rugby and having beers with your mates, keep doing it! Whoever you are or whatever you like doing; don’t compromise because people think you should be more like this or less like that. Whether you’re gay, straight or bisexual just try and be true to your self because ultimately this is the key to our happiness.
Follow Simon on Twitter – @Spimon