To celebrate IDAHO 2012, Polari Magazine is publishing stories from its writers about their experiences of homophobia and transphobia. Some tales are funny, some are shocking and some are sad.
In this first story, Polari‘s editor, Christopher Bryant, writes about what it was like to be outed at 17, and how the schoolboy homophobia seriously backfired.
I went to a Boy’s School to study for my A levels, which is not as much fun as it might sound, although I can still remember the distraction of the deputy headmaster’s son Matthew before he morphed into a steroid fuelled meathead. I seriously learned the truth at seventeen … Where was I? Right, yes. Schoolboy homophobia.
I lived in a small village across the border in Cornwall, and each morning I would hitch a lift with my friend Emma, who lived in the same village and went to the sister school, Devonport High School for Girls. We would climb into her mini and head over the border into Devon. Emma played in the school band, which was a combination of students from the boy’s school and the girl’s school. At one practice session Emma was talking to a friend about the new man I was seeing – radically, I think he was all of 19 – and she was overheard by one of the lead bullies, a lad called Mark. I know, a bully in the school band? What kind of self-respecting bully would be in a school band? Mark, who didn’t like me already because I didn’t grunt in class and claim to worship U2, took this news back to school. Naturally it spread like wildfire.
That is when the homophobic commentary started. And also the steamtrain sounds. I never figured out what that was supposed to mean.
I was sufficiently sure of myself at 17 to shrug it off. At least at the start. It was around the time that my father nicknamed me Trotsky because I was forever in rebellion against something. This was just another rebellion. And it was fun to watch the increasing heterosexual panic. Incidentally, why is it that straight boys, and especially the really unattractive ones, assume you want to give them a hard buggering?
He turned and said, “I wouldn’t fuck you if you paid me”. It was as if time stood still.
I was lucky that my best friend Greg, who had no problems with his being straight and my being gay, had gone to the school since he was 11. He’d developed a healthy hatred of Mark and his followers, who assumed Greg was gay – he didn’t grunt in class and claim to worship U2 either – and he saw no need to deny it. That proved to be a critical source of strength as the intensity of the bullying increased, which was coupled with threats that the lads could hardly wait to kick my head in.
One day we were walking along the corridor to an English lesson in a room where someone had written “Mark has a nice cock” on the wall next to where I sat. No, I didn’t write it, and to this day I have no idea who did. The steamtrain noises started up again, and one of the angrier, more testosterone fuelled lads shouted the usual “Backs against the walls lads”. Rather than taking his advice they formed into a pack, circled, and tried to intimidate us.
Greg turned to the leader, and said, “I wouldn’t fuck you if you paid me”. It was as if time stood still.
And that marked the start of the backlash. The snarls did not stop, but the insults decreased because I always had an answer, as well as support from the boys who were comfortable in their own skins. Therein the lads just looked angry. And at this point I’d reported the bullying to my favourite teacher, Pam, and she made sure that no-one picked on her best student. That was the icing on the whole experience.
I was incredibly lucky, I know, to have friends and teachers who supported me. It’s a sad truth that there’s no reasoning with a bully, and that the best way to deal with the situation was, as it turned out, to strike back. I do not respect people who only respect others when they’ve stood up to them.