IDAHO(T) May 17 – So What If I Am!
To celebrate IDAHO(T) 2013, 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 story, singer/songwriter Andi Fraggs writes about how his school failed to support him when he was mercilessly bullied, and cited the Thatcher government’s anti-gay legislation Clause 28 as the reason for their inaction.
Last year, I was trying to decide what my new show should be themed around. I wanted it to be something to do with my personal life story, which has had many ups and downs so far, but also not to take away from the original stories in my songs. It was then I realized that all of my songs can relate to several different things that have happened in my life, or other people’s for that matter. I themed my show around the struggle I went through after coming out at the age of 12. Yes, 12!! People often ask me how it’s possible that I knew I was gay at that early age. I didn’t exactly know I was ‘gay’, but I knew I ‘loved’ Dean Cain from the New Adventures of Superman when I was 9 (even then I had impeccable taste!!) and I had several other crushes over the years that followed. I knew I’d never fancied a woman, never have since. I also felt that I was different to the other boys. I’d already had years of abuse from other kids, forcing me to change school for the first time at 9. They didn’t mind me listening to the B52’s, Kate Bush, and not the latest pop bands at the new school. I developed more than a little interest in Madonna. In fact, her music and words would later literally help to save my life. She also helped me to realize from an early point that their was nothing wrong with me.
When I started High School, I ended up back with the people who had bullied me at the first Junior School. By that point, the thought of being ‘gay’ was just so natural to me. I’d watched hours of Absolutely Fabulous, Eurotrash and In Bed With Madonna. I rather strangely confided in one person, who I hardly knew, that I ‘fancied’ a boy at School and the rumor began to spread.
One day, I decided that the next time someone called me ‘queer’ etc, I wasn’t going to deny it. I was going to say a great big: ‘SO WHAT IF I AM!’. The following morning, 8.10am, I arrived at the local bus stop, which I always dreaded anyway because of the constant name calling. The first thing I heard ‘ Oye, queer‘. ‘Yes?’, I answered. ‘Oh my god!! He answers to queer!! ‘Ask him, ask him…. Are you queer‘?’ – ‘So what if I am!’ I valiantly replied. From that day on, I never denied being gay. In any situation, even with a gang attacking me, I wouldn’t deny it. In the following days, the few tormentors turned into literally hundreds of people shouting abuse, calling me names day in, day out. I put my walkman on (iPod’s weren’t around then) and tried to ignore every word they said. I would walk down corridors between lessons and be pushed around, always to the sounds of my favourite hand picked songs. If the soundtrack was ever made, it would be great. Boys would walk past me and push there bums up against the opposite wall. ‘Backs to the wall boys, It’s Bennett‘ (Fraggs is my middle name). The teachers refused to do anything about all of this, blaming section 28 and saying that they “couldn’t acknowledge that it was wrong to bully someone for being gay”.
As the second year began, the history teacher stood in front of the class and said ‘Are there any queers in this class? If there are, then stand up’. People turned around to look at me, snickering to themselves. My only regret is that I didn’t stand up on that occasion. I wonder to this day what would have happened to me if I had. Over the coming months, the bullying escalated to a new and dangerous level. One day, a boy who was at least 4 years older than me ran the entire length of a corridor and kicked me as hard as he possibly could in the leg. My leg was black and blue and that’s the first time my mother noticed something was wrong. I told her I’d fallen down the stairs. A few weeks later, following endless days of name calling, a boy in the fifth year came walking up to me and grabbed me the shirt and tie at my neck. He lifted me up and strangled me, until I was almost unconscious. At that moment a teacher came along and he dropped me. In another incident, a parent coughed up and spat in my face after School one day when his daughter told him I was ‘queer’. I was later taken into the head of years’ office, to be told that they had no other option but to tell my parents that I was gay. I said, ‘Please don’t’, but they kept telling me it was the only option, especially now that things had escalated so much
A few days later, I sat in Geography looking at the clock, knowing that my parents were being told that their son was gay. Bear in mind that I was still only 13 at this point. I had already contemplated suicide many times and felt completely alone, apart from music and a weekly call I made to ‘Melissa’ at Child-line, which gave me the strength to carry on. Over the tannoy came ‘ Can Andrew Fraggs Bennett please come to the headmaster’s office’. My heart was beating so fast. Even the thought of my name being boomed over the whole School made me feel queazy. I walked in and my parents were there. ‘We love you and we are going to buy you a new carpet for your bedroom‘. Erm, OK then! Not really the reaction I was expecting. ‘So, you’re really alright with this?‘ – ‘Of course we are‘. A few years later, my being gay came up again and they seemed shocked, as they thought it was just a ‘phase’. I then had to come out to them all over again.
I returned to School, only to face more bullying. I couldn’t do P.E because of the drama that was caused by my presence in the changing rooms, so I used to spend that time by myself, walking round. The School didn’t care. The headmaster asked me for a list of names, only to later tell me that “the boys say you stare at them”. Basically, the School failed on every level and took their side.
Following a serious attack at the age of 14, I was taken out of School. I had home schooling for almost a year, 3 hours a week and rarely left the house.
I was then placed in a new ‘unit’ that the local education authority had set up. Suddenly I found myself with kids who had serious mental health problems, most of whom self harmed and had been in children’s homes because of their problems. Remember, I was only there because I was gay! Luckily for me, I finally made some friends there. While other children my age were offered to take around 14 GCSE’s, I was only offered to take two GCSE’s. Not because of own my ability, but because that is all that was on offer to me within the unit. That is all I ‘officially’ had to set me up for the rest of my life, although I had educated myself in many areas. I would later have to explain this at every job opportunity or interview, before music became my full time occupation in 2010. This is another example of how I was deprived of a normal life, just because I was openly gay.Even in that college unit, I faced homophobia from much older students. People knew I was gay just from looking at me. I’m just pleased I have never denied who I am as a person and I never will.
In the local area, there were no gay bars and I rarely met any other gay people. I just had to believe in that magical world out there, which is what it seemed to me at that time.
I was originally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the age of 14. It’s taken years for me to truly move on from all of the things that happened to me. I still have nightmares to this day. The sound of a football being kicked is a trigger for me. Always expecting it to hit the side of my face; I can feel the stinging now.
Despite all of the things I have faced, today I know that everything in life happens for a reason. I don’t necessarily forgive all of the people who have abused me, but I accept it and have used it positively as material for my songs.
I am disappointed that, on two occasions over the past 6 months, I have been verbally abused on Old Compton Street in Soho. I am also disappointed at the lack of ‘community’, with people all too often turning on each other and not supporting each other. There are too many people on the gay scene who don’t want to give me a chance, largely because of their own insecurities. I find I get much more work away from the scene. Most of the time, Pride events, gay magazines and gay venues feature X-Factor acts, niche acts or straight boy bands, rather than an openly gay musician with something to say and some self made success. Everything I have done so far on the gay ‘scene’ has been an uphill struggle, although I am truly grateful for the support I’ve had from gay people who regularly attend my shows and support me online, some well known ‘scene’ DJ’s, radio stations (especially Gaydar Radio, who made my song ‘Beautiful Feeling’ one of their ‘Anthems of 2012’) and, of course, Polari Magazine who have provided me with a brilliant outlet to voice my opinions and tell my stories.
Strangely enough, I feel I get more homophobia from the gay community these days than any other. I choose to wear make-up, but I’m not a drag queen and I am not a trans. I can’t be put in a ‘box’. I don’t like to wear a label and I rarely feel the need to describe myself as ‘gay’. I’m just a person who happens to be gay and chooses to dress in an unconventional way, which people seem to find very difficult to understand. If I go into a gay venue, I get so many dirty looks. It’s like I’m somehow letting the ‘team’ down by wearing makeup and not trying to conform to what society expects.
I’m thrilled to have done some of what I wanted to with my life; I can stand onstage and perform my own music to a great audience, an audience who understands, or are open to understanding, what I’m talking about.
I have already climbed a proverbial mountain, by myself and at a very young age, which took true inner strength. I will now do what I want with my life and I hope that I inspire other’s to do the same. I will always make music. Make something positive out of everything. With every bad thing that happens to me along the way, I will always say with a smile, ‘SO WHAT IF I AM!’.